Changing your tone

2013

Have you ever listened to a recording of your own voice? If you have, I bet the first time you heard it you thought that the recording had made it sound thinner and more 'scratchy' than it really is.

Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a recording doesn't lie. Because we always hear our own voices from inside the resonant cavity of our own skulls, it inevitably sounds richer and warmer to us than it does to anyone or anything listening, including a microphone.

So for other people to hear you the way you hear yourself, you need to make your recorded words sound like the ones you hear in your head and not the other way round.

That might sound impossible, but it's not. If you want your voice to sound good, you need to put a good face on it. You have to change the places behind your face in which you normally form your words. This will change the tone of your voice. So if you are prepared to dedicate at least an hour of your time to undergo some serious and concentrated speaking, listening and note taking, simply follow the plan below. And by the way, this is also how actors change or create accents, so it offers you a double benefit!

1. Choose a piece of text that takes no more than a minute to read – that's normally 12 lines of standard print – and is about a subject that really interests you (because you're going to say and hear it a lot!). Read it through to be sure you feel happy with it and then record it.

2. Listen to the playback, write down everything you like about the voice you hear speaking and everything you don't and then erase or delete what you just heard! This is a vital part of the learning process as it concentrates the mind on progress instead of regressive self-denigration.

3. Record the same passage again, but this time SMILE all the while you are speaking - the kind of smile that widens your face, lights up your eyes and makes you feel really happy.

As you listen to this playback, note down how and where the facial expression added to or detracted from the quality of the voice you first heard and also, how close - if at all - it brought the sound of your speaking to what you normally hear in your head. Then erase what you just heard.

4. Continue this pattern of recording, making notes and erasing five or six times more, but use a different facial expression each time you do so. Choose to frown or sneer, be shocked, furious, miserable, bored or angry. You name it. You do it!

When you've done this, you'll have six or seven evaluations on paper plus an aching face and jaw from the weird expressions you've been pulling.

5. Take a break.

6. Sometime later, but within the same 24 hours, go back over your evaluations and note which expression(s) on which words offered you the nearest sounds to the ones you had always assumed listeners were hearing as you spoke.

7. Recapture what you were doing facially and physically to make that happen. Reiterate actively and playfully, until you feel fairly sure you can recreate those sound patterns at will, and then record the original minute's worth of material again PLUS another paragraph from the same piece.

8. When you play this back, a voice that sounds much more like the one you always assumed other people were hearing should be what you now hear.

"But wait!" I hear you say, "all is not right! The voice in my head now sounds thin and tinny."

"And that," I reply, "is exactly as it should be. …Get used to it. After all it's the voice that until now you've always palmed off on others as your own!" Because the effect you're now hearing is the remnant of words caught in the backwash of sound waves that have already surged forward to deliver the full impact of your full voice to listeners in the outside world. Lively facial expressions drew sounding breath from the voice box away from your own ears and up into your mouth. There the tongue tip, blade and edges found lots of resonant spaces in which to knead those pulses of sound into effective speech.

Or, to use a sporting analogy: rather than struggling to kick balls of sounding breath out from way back down where your ears connect to your throat, they were placed ready and close to the front of your mouth: the only position from which to be sure to score with anyone whose ears are open to hear.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.