Do you have a bad presentation voice? Be honest with yourself.
Consider your presentation voice right now.
Try it out.
Speak a few sentences.
Do you like what you hear, or do you have a bad presentation voice?
Is your voice pinched?
Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone? Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?
These are symptoms of Bad Presentation Voice, which can have several manifestations that degrade our presentations.
Fix that Bad Presentation Voice!
Bad Presentation Voice has been around a long time and has plagued speakers for many generations.
Public speaking expert George Rowland Collins said back in 1923:
“The tone becomes rough and impure when the column of air passing over the vocal cords is not allowed free and unrestricted movement. The cure for impurity of tone is primarily a relaxed and open throat.”
Judging from what I hear in class, in the elevator, and in campus coffee shops, more than likely your voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.
This is a result of many influences in our modern popular culture.
Within the last decade or so, these degrading influences have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, for the most part, folks actually choose to have a bad speaking voice. voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.
Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
Take this person called Elizabeth Hasselbeck.
She is one of several chatterers on the ABC Network daytime television show “The View.” Hasselbeck has a high-pitched, squeaky, pinched cartoon voice. I do not recommend that you watch this horrid broadcast, but if you happen to be in a doctor’s waiting room with nothing else on the television, do pay attention to the voices of the personages.
Another cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on various television shows.
These shows serve up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes. Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine is typical of many folks.
Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.
Commonly called “divas,” their voices (barely serviceable for even routine communication) embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations, exhibiting habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way. They surround us.
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.
Focus on the voices.
Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence. Or the sound of a voice rasping across vocal cords.
A voice that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I most often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator each day as I commute between my office and classrooms. Conversations in the elevator are sourced from scratchy voices. These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.
Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse. Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”
You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.
Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this. The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice. This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as ersatz individualism. This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.
With it, you hold yourself back.
It is also a manifestation of fear. Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation.
It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication?
Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.
Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most powerful, pleasing, and effective presentation voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?
Interested in more tips on how to correct Bad Presentation Voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.