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.
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.