As the fifth series of “The Voice” began on the BBC last week, we thought a focus on the impact of the voice might be an interesting subject to consider for our blog this week. We consulted with our very own voice expert, Jessica Claire to gather her views on this subject and here’s what she has to say:
I spent the whole of my twenties with a guy who sounded like he had a Murray Mint stuck in his throat. He played professional rugby and had the body of Adonis and a face to match. So I cast aside the off-putting nature of his John Major-esuqe voice for a stonkingly long time. But it always niggled me. That voice. It sounded strained and uncertain. And didn’t match his confident, masculine exterior.
After retiring from rugby he entered the world of advertising whereupon he soon learned his vocal limitations in the workplace. His voice undermined the status he’d always taken for granted, as he found himself unable to present to large numbers of people and ultimately failed to win the ever-sought promotion.
We all of us hold tension in one part of our bodies, be it the shoulders, neck or back. But for a great many, tension is held in the voice. We aspire to owning a well-rounded, relaxed, rich and deep voice, which commands attention while at the same time suggesting a gentle authority. People judge you from the moment you open your mouth. A smart, well-cut outfit, a clean and kempt appearance, (on which vast fortunes are annually spent), are all very well and contribute towards a favourable first impression. A squeaky vocal tone, however, or one which is far too quiet, or gabbled speech which renders words unintelligible, ensure that any positive first impression rapidly dwindles and fades. In order to communicate effectively and positively influence your listeners, you must pay special attention – not just to a slick and a la mode wardrobe – but to your speaking voice. For it is the greatest garment you own.
After Murray Mint Suckers come the Clothes Peg on the Nose types. Ken Livingstone is the perfect case in point. A nasally, whining, snarling tone that reminds me of a weasel, were a weasel to speak, and puts me off the minute he opens his mouth, making me question all that comes out. Victoria Plums come in the form of Maggie Thatcher, who ruled the country in spite of that piece of fruit wedged firmly in her oesophagus. So breathy and uptight. Giving her a rasping, cloying, desperate tone. Then there’s Ed Miliband’s nasal twang, different from Ken’s Clothes Peg quality, more that of the Never-ending Cold, which sounds as if he’s permanently bunged up.
What we hear in a voice is much more than technical properties: our voices betray what we feel about the world and our place in it. What I hear in Ed Miliband’s voice is the schoolboy too eager to please, the younger brother trying too hard to be heard over an older sibling. Self-conscious and performative.
The trouble with politicians today is that their voices have become so spun and doctored that voters view them with cynicism. Our voices, on the other hand, must sound pleasant, conveying a sense of warmth; they need to be natural and connected, reflecting our true personality and sincerity; dynamic, giving the impression of force and strength, even when not especially loud; expressive, portraying various shades of meaning and never sounding monotonous or without emotion. We must be easily heard, thanks to proper volume and clear articulation.
Our greatest tool is our voice. Every time we address a person our mind, body and voice act as partners in our effort to communicate with our listener. When we speak, our voice is the primary link between us and them. It is the medium of our message. Many of us don’t use our best voice, burying our optimum speaking voice under layers of bad speech habits. The good news is it can be found and put to work with a little care and attention. It is essential that we invest time in this to ensure we communicate with impact. We need to add dimension, strength, vitality and authority to our voices.
An effective voice isn’t necessary just for public speaking. A well-formed, controlled voice is an asset in every contact with others. Voice mirrors personality with a language all of its own. A natural voice which projects cordiality, cultivation and authority is a significant tool for personal success. It can help in gaining promotions, making sales, winning the respect of others, improving our social opportunities, as well as in speaking effectively to audiences, our children, our partner and our dog!
When we speak, our voice reflects our psychological and emotional state of mind. We cannot hope to persuade or influence others – or even get them to listen in a positive way – if our tones are harsh and unfriendly. Such a voice can repel even when the speaker wishes to attract. A friendly quality is a requirement for a good speaking voice. And the good news is, it is largely a matter of habit. Friendliness that is. So cultivating a good voice can even contribute towards becoming a nicer person.
If you have a tendency to scold, snarl and speak in an unpleasant tone and yet seek to produce the genial, cheerful and gracious tones that characterise a good speaking voice, the chances are you may need to do more than simply develop your voice. You may have to reassess how you look at yourself, other people and events in general.
But most likely you can develop the sort of voice that reflects the qualities you wish to project: one that is assertive and has impact. Simply by following a few daily vocal exercises, it is possible to strip away any bad speech habits and replace them with positive ones that will enhance your speaking voice. You go to the gym to work out your biceps, well your mouth – lips, tongue and jaw – are all muscles too, and demand regular attention, just as your buttocks and thighs do, in order to be kept toned, dextrous and in shape.
Your voice and your face are your public relations agents. More than any other factors, they serve to establish an image of you in the minds of others. A smile – whether it starts in your face, your disposition, or your voice – rarely fails to induce a positive, constructive chain of reactions which makes your attitude and appearance a winning one. Your best voice can help bring out your best self. Nature has given you a priceless gift. It is the means by which you can converse with the world, the instrument for your words. When used well, it makes for the most brilliant, most powerful you. Your voice reveals your inner self, your truest self. Your voice is the interpreter of your mind. It reveals your character – the real you – as nothing else can. A stressed-out, awkward, disconnected tone reveals a stressed-out, awkward, disconnected you.
At the back of my mind I always knew Mr Murray Mint was not the one for me.
So, when considering what to wear to work each morning, don’t forget about your most important piece of clothing – your voice! We certainly won’t be.
And do make sure you keep an eye out for Jessica’s next blog coming out in a month or so where she will be sharing some hints and tips on how to improve the impact we create with our voice.