Category Archives: Voice

Secret #2 – Your Voice

Your voice is one key to an especially powerful business presentation . . . or a disastrous one.

Your voice and your appearance are the constants that pervade your presentation from start to finish.

Voice is one of the seven dimensions along which we measure the Power Presenter, and a strong, clear, confident voice is one of the seven secrets of powerful presenting.

Paradoxically, we take our voices for granted.  Because we do, this nonchalant attitude can undermine us and destroy all of our hard work.

But you can become quite a good speaker, a presenter whose voice exudes confidence and is welcomed by the ear.

“If nature has not endowed you with a good speaking voice, you can do much toward acquiring one. The organs of speech can be trained, like any other part of the body, by assiduous attention and practice.”[1]

You can do many things to improve your voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.  If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations and are drawn to improve your voice’s quality through study and practice, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940 – and the advice contained therein are about as universal and timeless as it gets.

The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.

Ready for Change

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It’s an instrument with which you communicate.  You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.  Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality.  Working to improve it with the exercise will improve its quality dramatically.

Let’s consider here just two things you can do to improve your voice.  Nothing extreme at all.  And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way.  We have two goals.

First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp.  That crack and rasp is a symptom of meekness – no confidence.  Do you have this crack and rasp?  If not, congratulations and let’s move along.  But if you do . . .

“In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, the speaker should make a special effort to vocalize every particle of breath passing over the vocal cords. There should be no wheezy leakage of air.”[2]

Push air across your vocal chords and complete your sentences.  Don’t trail off at the end of every sentence with a crackling sound like folks on Disney Channel.

Second, we want to deepen your voice.  Why?  Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible.[3]  A Stanford University study, one among many, gives the nod to deeper voices:

Our studies show that directions from a female voice are perceived as less accurate than those from a male voice, even when the voices are reading the exact same directions.  Deepness helps, too.  It implies size, height and authority.  Deeper voices are more credible.[4]

Now, should things be this way?  Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage?

But . . . but that’s not fair!

It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT.  It’s neither fair, nor unfair.  It’s simply the reality we’re dealt.  If you want to devote your life to fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support.  Have at it, and Godspeed.

If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice a bit so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female.  Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you.  When you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

Many simple and effective exercises exist to deepen and enrich your voice.  A simple awareness of your own voice-cracking should be enough to remedy that issue.  Record your voice, and listen critically.  A personal coach can help, or even a trusted confidante as concerned with voice as much as you.  Listen to each other, coach each other, and work together to achieve an improved voice.

No, your voice is not a sacrosanct.  Voice is the second secret – the second dimension along which speakers are assessed.

Work to improve yours and you’re on your way to an especially powerful presentation style.


[1] Grenville Kleiser, “How to Speak Well,” in Radio Broadcasting (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1935) , 42-43.

[2] George Rowland Collins, Platform Speaking (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923), 33.

[3] Suter, J. K. (2003). Der Eindruck vom Ausdruck–Einfluss paraverbaler Kommunikation auf die Wahrnehmung von Nachrichtensprechenden [The impression of expression–the influence of paraverbal communication on the perception of newsreaders]. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Bern, Switzerland.

[4] Anne Eisenberg, “Mars and Venus, On the Net : Gender Stereotypes Prevail,” (The New York Times, 2000), http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/Cyberculture/Eisenberg.pdf

CLASSIC: “I feel especially powerful today!”

I truly don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering students, but one exercise that elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”

It consists of everyone rising to a standing position and striking a confident stance with feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.

Picture it.  This is a critical and powerful pose.

Power Personified

Then visualize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”

Several times.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, indicating a robust and vibrant embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Which is . . . what?

Why do I engage in what, to some, might appear gimmicky or cute?

First, I don’t do cute.  Second, the exercise accomplishes several superb physiological goals that improve a range of characteristics associated with business presenting.

Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.

In short, much of what we call body language.

Body Language

We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.

For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.  Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.

But it is essential for another equally important reason.

It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power.  Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.

William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.

Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:

“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion.  Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike.  The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth.  We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”

And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.

The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.  On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . .  Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.

So what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?

Everything.

We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that. Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.

But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect?  What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?  Impossible, eh?

But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.

Turn Negative Energy into Positive

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.

This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.  Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.

This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”

No, there’s no catch.  And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.

Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.

A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.

Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.  In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.

Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.

The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence.  Square your shoulders.  Fix a determined look on your face.  Speak loudly and distinctly.

Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.

Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

And remember . . .

“I feel especially powerful today!”

For especially powerful guidance on delivering a sterling presentation every time, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Cartoon Voice, Uptalk, and Dum-Dums

Reality TV Mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation.

But judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your voice is probably pinched and smaller than it ought to be.

This is a result of many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

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.

One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.

This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

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, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit.  Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.

Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?

One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak.  As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.

Reality TV Infests Everything

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 at the end of every sentence.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

I often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms.  Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices.  These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s have an example.  Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.”  It was heinous.

I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.”  Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it.  And apparently “totally” so.  Ya know?

“Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever.  Ya know what I mean?”

She fired them out in machine-gun fashion.  A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying.  Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre.  It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.

A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.

The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks.  Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone.  No resonance came from the chest.  The voice rasped on the ears.

Every sentence spoken as a question.

Dum-Dums . . .

Two major problems surface here.  First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating.  Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”

Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into  virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.

“Like.  Totally!  Ya know?  Ummm.  Like.  Totally!  It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know?  Ummm.  Whatever.”

Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.

Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this.  And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility.  Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill up the empty air with dum-dums.

Dum-dums are the result of lazy thought and lazier speech.  It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.

Exaggeration?  No, it’s a voice you hear every day.

Listen for it.  Maybe it’s your voice.

Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption

In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a certain lowest common denominator stripe.

If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with this kind of laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying.  The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who are waiting to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.

Cartoon Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show.  You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way.  You are toast before you open your mouth.

Badly burned toast.

You’re on the express train to failure with a first-class ticket.

But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions:  Why do I speak like this?

Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way?  Why do all of my sentences sound like questions?  Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t seem to express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?

Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!

Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone, but you don’t have to do it!  Nope, don’t change a thing!

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on!  Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers.  Relish it.  Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.

Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!

But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.

You make a conscious choice.  Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences.  You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?

Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.

When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.

For more on improving your professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Improve Your Business Presentation Voice for Power and Impact

Fix your presentation voice
Start Improving your Presentation Voice Today

Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being – such as our business presentation voice.

Business students get antsy when I talk about improving the presentation voice.

Why?

Because the subject implies that there might be such a thing as “bad” voices and  “good” voices, and this kind of value judgment is usually verboten in most liberal arts classes they take.  Supposedly, there are only  “different” voices, and we are urged to  “celebrate” these differences.

That may work in the test tube, but not in the cold and harsh business world, where people are judged on how well they communicate.  And voice is a large part of that.

Your Presentation Voice isn’t Sacred

Your current speaking voice is neither sacrosanct nor “natural.”

Your presentation voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.  Why not evaluate your voice today?  See if it gets the presentation job done for you.

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?  Do you uptalk?  Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

Why not change for the better?

Develop an Especially Powerful Voice

Recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your being.  It’s an instrument to communicate.  You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.

Simply thinking of your voice in this way can improve its quality.  Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically.  You can build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Consider here several things you can do to improve your presentation voice.  Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

For more especially powerful techniques to improve your presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Are You a Prisoner of Uptalk?

The Disease of Uptalk
Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility Question by Question

The verbal up-tic is the most ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.  Its most common manifestation is Uptalk.

Once it grips you, Uptalk won’t let go . . .

It’s maddening.  And it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It screams amateur when used in formal business presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility

If you have this affectation – if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.  But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.

But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling uptalk?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

Uptalking.

This is the unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt . . . and it conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Someone calling herself Kim Kardashian is the main carrier of this virus.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.

Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalking.  Reality television females, as a breed, express themselves no other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.  And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.  Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

For more on correcting the uptalk pathology and building a credible business presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Your Especially Powerful Voice

As a business presenter, you obviously want to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can.  Doesn’t this make sense?  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?

Well, some people don’t think so. If you don’t want to accept this advice, then don’t. Leave yourself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis others who are more flexible and less precious. If you see this state of affairs as perfectly fine, then leave your voice unmodified. Celebrate your certitude and stop reading now.

And in doing so, surrender incredible competitive advantage to others with less precious attitude.

But if you open yourself to the possibility of improvement, then read on.

Weak and Raspy?

A weak, raspy voice calls out weakness. It erodes the image of confidence that you want to project.

You have several options to deal with this. You surely have the option to accept your voice as-is. You can accept it as the willy-nilly product of years of neglect and nonchalance. You can enshrine that product as somehow “natural” and superior to a voice that is well-trained to communicate clearly.

Again, if you bristle at the notion that you should “change” your voice to suit the ear, then don’t change it. It’s that simple.

But if you want to improve, then the time to start improving is right this second, and you can do so by training.  Presentation Master Grenville Kleiser observed in 1935 that:  “If nature has not endowed you with a good speaking voice, you can do much toward acquiring one. The organs of speech can be trained, like any other part of the body, by assiduous attention and practice.”

Let’s consider two things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way. We have two goals.

First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp.  That crack and rasp is a symptom of meekness – no confidence. Do you have this crack and rasp? If not, congratulations and let’s move along. But if you do . . . “In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, the speaker should make a special effort to vocalize every particle of breath passing over the vocal cords. There should be no wheezy leakage of air.”

Second, we want to deepen your voice. Why? Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible. A Stanford University study, one among many, gives the nod to deeper voices:

Our studies show that directions from a female voice are perceived as less accurate than those from a male voice, even when the voices are reading the exact same directions. Deepness helps, too. It implies size, height and authority. Deeper voices are more credible.

Now, should things be this way?  Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage?

It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT. It’s neither fair, nor unfair. It is simply the reality we’re dealt. If you want to devote your life fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support. If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female. Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you. And when you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

If your voice is already deep, congratulations and move along. If not, and you’d like to add some depth, have a look at the next section.

Two Basic Changes

Let’s start by acknowledging that there are many things you can do to improve your voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone. If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations and are drawn to improve your voice’s quality through study and practice, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940 – and the advice contained therein are about as universal and timeless as it gets.

The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.

This site has no such ambition of transforming you into Barack Obama. Rather, I want to help you quickly and effortlessly to make the major changes necessary to dramatically improve your voice for business presentations. To 1) make you aware of major flaws and 2) to correct these flaws, if you have them.

The quality of business presentations is generally so low in the United States that even minor improvements in your voice technique and quality yield major returns in personal competitive advantage.

What about my voice?  Professor Ridgley’s voice?

Am I satisfied with it? Do I consider it “resonant” and top-notch? No, not by a long shot. And so I work on it . . .

I begin each day with resonating exercises in the privacy of my home, where no one can hear me run my not-so-deep register. I stretch and develop my vocal cords. Daily, I attempt to deepen my voice, to increase its resonance and pleasant qualities. And so should you.

Begone Crack and Rasp!

The goal is to rid ourselves of the crack and rasp and to deepen the voice. We can achieve both of these goals with a single exercise. The goal of exercises is to move your voice down a bit in its routine pitch. Sure, you’ll vary your pitch during your talks. Sometimes you speak higher and sometimes lower, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. But we want to move the “average” pitch down as much as we reasonably can. At the same time, the same exercise helps us push more air across the vocal cords and eliminates the crack and rasp.

This exercise requires that you be somewhat familiar with the voice of James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars Trilogy from the 1970s and early 1980s. I do this exercise myself, and I conduct it en masse in my classes when I detect that students are expressing themselves less than enthusiastically. You, however, will do this exercise alone.

Find a place where no one can hear you or see you. This is to get you into a stress-free mind-set. Of course, you shouldn’t worry what other people think of you, but just in case . . . move to a private area where you can express yourself freely. And loudly.

Now, envision yourself as Darth Vader. And say this, in your best Darth Vader voice:

“I feel especially powerful today!”

It’s okay. Go ahead and say it.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

Say it loudly, but not with your voice box. You do not want to strain your vocal chords. Stay under control and focus on using your chest as a resonating chamber. Push air from your abdomen. Say it in various ways. Say it with your voice emanating from your chest. Boom it out. Deepen your voice as much as possible and picture it coming from deep inside your chest, from the deepest recesses of your very heart. Unleash the beast within you, clearly and forcefully. Project your voice.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

These are power words. The words are no mistake, nor are they random. And it is not a joke. If you think it’s a joke and “not worth my time,” then move along. Others will learn, and they will be pleased that you abandon the task and drop by the wayside. The competition thins.

Power words.  Power words spoken honestly and with gusto help you to slough off the muck of your daily life. Power words scrape the barnacles from your internal compass. Like a Brillo pad, they scrub away the affectations and the hesitations that infest your inner core.

Power words, powerfully spoken. Power words shatter this crust.

Athletes use power words often, to invest themselves with confidence at crucial times in a contest. With these power words, you invest yourself with energy and confidence. With power words, you tap your inner chi, the strength that is generated within you. Too many external events in our lives can sap our strength and energy . . . our very life force. You can rejuvenate that strength. You can draw energy from others.

Several weeks of this simple exercise and you will feel your voice changing, gaining smoothness and depth.

Is this the only thing you can do to improve your voice? No, of course not. You can work with a voice coach to improve your voice’s quality in a number of ways. But most of us will never meet a voice coach, let alone work with one. In the absence of a coach we can make these minor adjustments that pay incredibly large dividends to us as presenters.  And to ask you again a crucial question, doesn’t it make sense to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to become the clearest, most elegant, especially powerful presenter you can, when so much of your success hinges upon it?

Wrestle Your Voice into Submission

Do you have a case of Bad Voice?

Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Voice.”

Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.

It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.

Your voice.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving. We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

Voices Often Develop on their Own . . . Chaotically

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.  Thus, 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.

So what’s a “bad voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?  Is it pinched?  Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?  High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant. Pinched. Nasal. Raspy.

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 air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.  A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.

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 Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.  This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

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.  Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

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 and coordination.

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.  It’s not.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You are holding 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 effective 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?

For more on developing an especially powerful voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

Powerful posing
Power posing leads to especially powerful business presentations

I truly don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering students, but one exercise that probably elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”

It consists of everyone rising to a standing position and striking a confident stance with feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.

Picture this.

This is a critical and powerful pose.

Then visalize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”

Several times.

Feeling Powerful?

“I feel especially powerful today!”

I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, indicating a robust and vibrant embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Which is . . . what?

Why do I engage in what, to some, might appear gimmicky or cute?

First, I don’t do cute.  Second, the exercise accomplishes several superb physiological goals that improve a range of characteristics associated with business presenting. Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.

In short, much of what we call body language.

Body Language

We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message.  Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.

For good or ill, powerful posing has played a large role in history

For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.  Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.But it is essential for another equally important reason.

It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power.  Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.

William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.

Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:

“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”

So what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?

Everything.

We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.  Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.

But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect?  What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?  Impossible, eh?

But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.

Turn Negative Energy into Positive

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.

You can control to a large extent how you feel by affecting a powerful pose

This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.  Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?” No, there’s no catch.

And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.  Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.

A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.  The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.

Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.

Powerful posing is the norm among the powerful figures of history

In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.  Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.

Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.

The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence.  Square your shoulders.  Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly. Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.

Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

And remember . . .

“I feel especially powerful today!”

To feel even more powerful, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Presentation Pause that Refreshes

Presentation Pause
A carefully placed presentation pause can imbue your business presentation with power

Coca-Cola’s 1929 slogan was “The Pause that Refreshes,” and we can incorporate the presentation pause to powerful effect in our business presentations.

Pauses can, indeed, be refreshing, and a judicious pause can refresh your presentation.

In fact, the prudent presentation pause for reflection, for the audience to digest your message, for dramatic effect to emphasize what comes next . . . all add depth and richness to your show and communicate to audience members that they have gathered to hear something special.

So, make friends with silence so that you feel comfortable in its presence.

Power of the Presentation Pause

The correct pauses imbue your talk with incredible power.  With proper timing and coupled with other techniques, the pause can evoke strong emotions in your audience.

A pause can project and communicate as much or more than mere words.  The pause is part of your nonverbal repertoire and a superbly useful tool.

The comfortable pause communicates your competence and confidence.  It telegraphs deep and serious thought.  Pause Power is underutilized today, but has served as arrow-in-quiver of the finest presenters over centuries.

Presentation Master Grenville Kleiser put it this way in 1912:  “Paradoxical tho it may seem, there is an eloquence and a power in silence which every speaker should seek to cultivate.”

When you use the presentation pause judiciously, you emphasize the point that comes immediately after the pause.  You give the audience time to digest what you just said.  And you generate anticipation for what you are about to say.

So save the pause for the moments just prior to each of your main points.

How do you pause? When do you pause?

Silence is Your Friend

A truly effective pause can be coupled with a motionless stance, particularly if you have been pacing or moving about or gesturing vigorously.  Couple the pause with a sudden stop, going motionless.  Look at your audience intently.  Seize their complete attention.

Pause.

You can see that you should not waste your pause on a minor point of your talk.  In point of fact, you should time your pauses to emphasize the single MIP and its handful of supporting points.

Voice coach Patsy Rodenburg says:  “A pause is effective and very powerful if it is active and in the moment with your intentions and head and heart. . . . a pause filled with breath and attention to what you are saying to your audience will give you and your audience a bridge of transitional energy from one idea to another.”

Finally, and surely not least, the pause can rescue you when you begin to spiral out of control or lose your train of thought.  Remember that silence is your friend.

Need a life-preserver?  Need time to regain your composure?  Try this . . .

Pause. Look slightly down.  Scratch your chin.  Furrow your brow.  Take four steps to the right or left.

Voila!

You just bought 7-8 precious seconds to collect your thoughts.

More on Presentation Pause Power in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret # 2 – Your Voice

Your voice is obviously a key to a fabulous business presentation . . . or a disastrous one.

Voice is one of the seven dimensions along which we measure the Power Presenter, and a strong, clear, confident voice is one of the seven secrets of powerful presenting. Paradoxically, we take our voices for granted. And because we do, this nonchalant attitude can undermine us and destroy all of our hard work.

But you can become quite a good speaker, a presenter whose voice exudes confidence and is welcomed by the ear.

“If nature has not endowed you with a good speaking voice, you can do much toward acquiring one. The organs of speech can be trained, like any other part of the body, by assiduous attention and practice.”[1]

You can do many things to improve your voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone. If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations and are drawn to improve your voice’s quality through study and practice, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940 – and the advice contained therein are about as universal and timeless as it gets. The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.

Ready for Change

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being. It is an instrument with which you communicate. You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice. Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it with the exercise described in this chapter will improve its quality dramatically.

Let’s consider here just two things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way. We have two goals.

First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp.  That crack and rasp is a symptom of meekness – no confidence. Do you have this crack and rasp? If not, congratulations and let’s move along. But if you do . . . “In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, the speaker should make a special effort to vocalize every particle of breath passing over the vocal cords. There should be no wheezy leakage of air.”[2]  Push air across your vocal chords and complete your sentences. Don’t trail off at the end of every sentence with a crackling sound.

Second, we want to deepen your voice. Why? Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible.[3] A Stanford University study, one among many, gives the nod to deeper voices:

Our studies show that directions from a female voice are perceived as less accurate than those from a male voice, even when the voices are reading the exact same directions. Deepness helps, too. It implies size, height and authority. Deeper voices are more credible.[4]

Now, should things be this way?  Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage? It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT. It’s neither fair, nor unfair. It’s simply the reality we’re dealt. If you want to devote your life fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support. If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice a bit so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female. Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you. And when you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

Many simple and effective exercises exist to deepen and enrich your voice. And a simple awareness of your own voice-cracking should be enough to remedy that issue. A personal coach can help, or even a trusted confidante as concerned with voice as much as you. Listen to each other, coach each other, and work together to achieve an improved voice.

No, your voice is not a sacred artifact. Voice is the second secret – the second dimension along which speakers are assessed. 

It is an instrument with which you communicate. You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice. Simply thinking of your voice in this way improves its quality. Working to improve it improve its quality dramatically.


[1] Grenville Kleiser, “How to Speak Well,” in Radio Broadcasting (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1935) , 42-43.

[2] George Rowland Collins, Platform Speaking (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923), 33.

[3] Suter, J. K. (2003). Der Eindruck vom Ausdruck–Einfluss paraverbaler Kommunikation auf die Wahrnehmung von Nachrichtensprechenden [The impression of expression–the influence of paraverbal communication on the perception of newsreaders]. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Bern, Switzerland.

[4] Anne Eisenberg, “Mars and Venus, On the Net : Gender Stereotypes Prevail,” (The New York Times, 2000), http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/Cyberculture/Eisenberg.pdf

Develop Your Voice for Presentation Power

Develop your voice for advantage
Develop your voice for personal competitive advantage

The suggestion to “develop your voice” can anger some people.

Many people are fearful or resistant to adjusting their voices, for all sorts of odd reasons.

They think it’s “cheating.”  Or “unnatural.”

They revere “spontaneity” and believe that their voices are, well . . . natural.

More than likely, they have neglected the development of their voices.

Time to Develop Your Voice

For some reason, folks who neglect voice development now revere this product of their benign neglect as somehow . . . natural.

As if there is some far-off judge who weighs and measures the “naturalness” of voice.

As if there is some kind of purity benchmark or standard.

But there is no such standard for “naturalness.”

Only pleasant voices.  And unpleasant voices.  And lots of voices in-between.

Moreover, the variety of voices, from bad to good, has been with us eternally.  George Rowland Collins noted in 1923 that

“Nasality, harshness, extremes of pitch, and other unnatural vocal qualities distract the audience.  They impede communication; they clog the speaker’s transmission.  They hinder the persuasion of any audience, be it one or one thousand.”

There is nothing holy or sacrosanct or “natural” about the way you speak now.  It is not “natural” in any meaningful sense of the word, as if we are talking about breast augmentation versus the “natural” thing.

Your voice today is “natural” only in the sense that it is the product of many factors over time.  Most of these factors are unintended.  Negative factors as well as positive.  Factors you’ve probably never thought of.

So in that sense, why would you have any problem with changing your voice intentionally, the way that you want it changed?  Why not develop your voice in ways that you choose?

There is no “Natural Voice”

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad; and there are all sorts of voices in-between.  You can develop your voice to become a first-rate speaker, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Let me share with you some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.

Let’s call them “verbal tics.”  They are nothing more than bad habits born of ignorance and neglect.

They eat away at your credibility.  They are easily corrected, but first you should recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power and credibility.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Verbal Grind – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence.  The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word. Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark.  Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his verbal grinding into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  It is manifested by a crackle and grating on the last word or syllable, as if the air supply is being pinched off.

It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade.  Almost as if a dog is growling in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

Develop your Voice for Advantage
Develop your Voice for Power and Impact

When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.

Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.”  This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.  The last syllables of a word are lost in breath.  The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.

The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room.  It deflates the audience.  In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.

Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like.  Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.  It’s an affectation.  People don’t ever talk this way.  People do not talk like this, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Verbal Up-tic – This is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal” or “uptalk.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalk that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them.  The last half is to consciously develop your voice for power and impact.

Interested in more on how to develop your voice?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Fix a Bad Presentation Voice

Fix that Bad Presentation Voice
Fix that Bad Presentation Voice

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.

Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.

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.

Bad Presentation Voice
Fix that Bad Presentation Voice Now

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.

It’s not.

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.