Think Your Voice Sounds Weird? Here’s Why.

If you’re like most people, when you hear yourself on a recording, your first thought is, “Oh my gosh, that’s not really what I sound like, is it?” The short answer is: yup, that’s you. Here’s a bit of insight as to why, and a few tips to make sure you sound your best, no matter what kind of voice you have.

Whether or not you generally like the sound of your voice as you’re speaking, it’s true that what you hear in that moment is different from what everyone else hears. That’s because you’re listening through two different mechanisms.

When you are listening to someone else, the “input” goes in your ear, hits the ear drum, and sends vibrations through the inner ear canal, which the auditory nerve takes up to the brain for interpretation. This is also how it works when you’re listening to yourself on a recording, which is like listening to another person.

On the flip side, when you speak, of course your own words come out your mouth and the sound goes into your ear for the same process we just discussed, but that’s only half of the input.

The other half is that when you speak, air comes up from your lungs through your throat and vibrates through your vocal cords, the “source” of your voice. But then those vibrations also ricochet off the muscles in your throat and mouth, in your nasal cavity, and create residual vibrations that hit the bones in your neck and head as well, sending their own pulses to the brain.

In essence, when you listen to someone else or a recording of yourself, you’re listening in “mono-sound,” or single track. But when you listen to yourself while you’re speaking, you’re listening in “stereo” or “surround-sound,” with a much fuller, richer sound.

It’s that “stereo” input through multiple channels that makes your real-time voice sound fuller, richer, more resonant. In other words, listening to yourself on a recording takes away half of your stereo input that you think your voice sounds rather tinny, thin, maybe even higher pitched. That why you probably feel like your voice not only sounds different on a recording, but that on the recording it sounds worse than you expected

So how can you ensure that everyone hears your best, most melodic voice? Here’s three quick tips that will help them hear your ideal sound.

First, hydrate. Make sure you drink enough water, because a dry throat, dry mouth and tired throat muscles don’t allow sound to flow easily. The “fine print” to this is that it also means you should limit caffeine (*gasp!*) prior to an important speaking opportunity, because caffeine is a diuretic that makes the problem worse. Caffeine dehydrates the throat and vocal cords, making you voice dry and scratchy, and making you cough or clear your throat over and over. Trust me, you don’t need the caffeine; if the meeting or presentation is that important, your adrenaline will carry you through with energy to spare.

Second, limit dairy. You’ve probably heard similar advice when you have a cold or allergies, and the rationale is the same: dairy produces mucous, which is what you’re trying to eliminate when you’re sick, and also when you need a nice, clear voice. Mucous gives you that sensation of perpetually needing to clear your throat as well, which is an annoying habit to hear time and again in any speech, presentation or conversation.

Lastly, breathe! The way you breathe will directly affect the quality of your voice. Start with your posture. If you’re slouched in your chair, you limit the amount of air you can take in, which is the fuel for your voice. And as you run out of air, it “fries out,” with a frog-like, croaky sound. Some people also ramble on and on without taking a breath for fear that if they do, someone will jump in during that split second and cut them off. Once the air is mostly gone, if you keep on talking, that same vocal “fry” will creep in again.

If you can’t imagine what that sounds like, try this: recite the alphabet, but do it all in one breath; if you get to Z just start over again at A until you absolutely can’t squeeze out another letter. What does your voice sound like in those last few letters? That’s vocal fry.

Why does this matter? Because not only is it unpleasant and even annoying to listen to, but it sounds insecure, timid, and hesitant, which is a combo that connotes anything but leadership.

The lesson is that you need to remember to take a deep breath at the end – and often in the middle – of a sentence to re-fuel, so that your voice sounds as clear and strong at the end as it did in the beginning of a sentence.

So remember: Drink water, limit caffeine and dairy before speaking, and remember to take enough breaths while you’re speaking. This allows you to maximize the fullness of your tone, so the voice you hear in your head more accurately reflects the voice that everyone else hears when they listen to you… and that’s a voice the projects confidence, control, poise and power.

Who doesn’t like the sound of that?

********

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

Storytelling Lessons From Pixar

When I’m working with clients on their public speaking and presentation skills, one of the more common questions I get is, “I keep hearing that I’m supposed to tell stories, but where do you get your stories? I’m not a storyteller. How do you find them, and how do you know when to use them?”

There are lots of places where a well-timed, well-honed anecdote will be far more compelling than a dry, technical explanation.

You could use a story to describe your experience with other satisfied clients, sharing their problem, your methods, solutions, and their return on investments.

You could use a story to create a hypothetical picture of what might happen down the line if someone does or does not use a particular product or service.

You could use a story to draw an analogy, ideally something that happened to you, that can be used as an icebreaker or as a parallel or segue for the rest of what you want to talk about.

But what story should you use? That’s often the sticking question for many people. If only it was as easy as taking ideas from movies, but we can’t do that… or can we?

There’s little question in anyone’s mind that if you’re looking for entertainment, a little escapism, and a combination of laughter and tugging on your heartstrings, Pixar is an easy go-to. Their movies are made for children but in a way that adults get just as much enjoyment. And that’s particularly important if you have a kid at home who insists on watching Toy Story over and over (and over) again.

But now Pixar has become a resource on a whole new level: they’re actually offering virtual classes on the art of storytelling.

Pixar has teamed up with Kahn Academy to create a program called “Pixar in a Box,” offering a range of different creative training programs, and the newest series is “The Art of Storytelling.” While their short, interactive videos, transcripts, lesson plan and activity sequences are typically aiming for those in more entertainment-oriented industries, the exercises are great mind-openers to concepts and strategies that are very applicable in the corporate world.

The concept of using storytelling in presentations and the like is not new, although it certainly has become more popular in recent years. Pixar’s take on it gives it a new spin, along with a step-by-step tutorial on how to build a story that has impact. While you may not be looking to create a 90-minute animated comedy feature film like Inside Out, figuring out how to use these strategies to weave compelling and persuasive anecdotes into your presentations, discussions, and other exchanges is a true skill worth developing.

The key is about bringing information to life. It’s about painting pictures for the listener in a way that helps them personally relate to the topic at hand, where they can visualize what you describe, imagine smells and textures, and empathetically feel the emotions you want to evoke. If you’ve ever watched a Pixar film, you know they are the masters at this. (And if you have never seen a Pixar movie, that’s your first homework assignment this weekend! Try Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc.)

Sometimes you know a story would be valuable, but aren’t sure where to start. Alternatively, I hear many people describing a situation that has the potential to be a good story, but inevitably degenerates into a rambling spiral of tangents and unnecessary detail so as to be counter-productive to the speaker’s purpose. This short series, full of animated videos tutorials with exercises that you can complete in five minutes or an hour as you like, is a great way to start with a clean slate, get your bearings and productively move down a well-lit path to figuring out how to craft a story that will achieve the impact you want to have on your listeners.

Do you need to go through all of the lessons like how to do storyboarding? Maybe not, but you never know! Maybe it will give you ideas for how to direct your IT department or graphics department on what kind of visuals you want in your slide deck. Or maybe it will get your creative juices flowing to help get you unstuck by doing different kinds of pencil sketches for 30 seconds instead of trying to compose in a linear format when you don’t know where to start and the blinking cursor is just staring at you on the screen.

The nice part is that you can skip any pieces you don’t feel like exploring and jump around to the parts that peak your interest. The series is currently under construction but the first lesson is already available.

So go ahead, at your next lunch break, take a peek, watch one of their videos (each one is just a couple of minutes long) and play with an exercise or two just to see what it stimulates in your mind and on the paper. You may just find you’re a natural storyteller after all!

********

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

The New Year’s Resolution You Want To Keep

If you’re like me, you probably hate making new year’s resolutions. They are something we do out of some traditional obligation, knowing full well that we won’t stick with it for more than a day or two at best. Then, to make matters worse, there’s a predictable little twinge of guilt for falling off the wagon, since resolutions are supposed to make us better people, somehow. Enough. I want to make this year different.

Decide for yourself that this year, the resolution will be about others rather than about you. Specifically, take an honest look at your relationships and the nature of your communication patterns with those people. Is there something about your collective dynamic that compels you to be excessively blunt, passive-aggressive, or indifferent? Do you shut down to avoid confrontation? This year, let your resolution be a gift to them – and to yourself: a shift in the way that you communicate, and, as a result, the start of a new, healthier and more positive relationship.

Here are three ways you can wrap your gift:

First, beware of what your eyes say, regardless of what comes from your lips. Even if you don’t say a word, you may not realize that your face is projecting your true opinions about what the other person is saying.

For example, do you roll your eyes, look away, or cock a single dubious eyebrow if you disagree with someone? These micro-expressions are signs of disdain, and convey the message loud and clear that you are not open to hearing what they are saying. It’s a sure-fire way to put people on the defensive.

Personally, I realized several years ago that when I’m concentrating on something, my eyebrows furrow. It doesn’t mean I’m angry or disagree at all, but that’s often how people misinterpret my “thinking face”. Ironically, they should be happy when I do that, because it means I’m truly listening and contemplating what they say. So it’s my responsibility to remember to “reset” my eyebrows to a more neutral, nonthreatening position.

If nothing else, be sure to make eye contact when someone else is talking. Resist the urge to multitask; don’t look at your computer or smartphone. Give them the gift of your full attention. At the start of a meeting – formal or informal, suggest that you both leave your phones off the table until you’re done. It might feel counterintuitive, and even counter-cultural, but the respect will be felt by everyone there.

Second, watch your choice of words. Small details in word choice can have a big impact on how people interpret what you say, and how they feel about it as a result. Try to avoid using absolutes, such as everything, never, everyone, nobody, and always… Statements like “Everybody thinks it’s a bad idea,” or “There’s nothing you can say that will convince me that…” show that you are not willing to listen, and that you think you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Moreover, they are a form of exaggeration, and exaggeration is melodramatic. Nobody likes to work with the “drama queen/king.”

Instead, to promote mutual listening, try hedging those statements. Try phrases like from where I stand …, on several occasions…, or It concerns me when … You can still clearly state your case, but it acknowledges that you are sharing your perspective, not claiming it to be “gospel truth.” It shows you are open to working together. Avoiding absolutes and related melodrama promotes productive conversation, and achieving a mutually acceptable solution.

Finally, engage people. We’re all busy, so I’m not saying you have to listen to someone’s life story, but make an effort to connect with them as individuals, not just as coworkers or employees. For example, when you’re walking down the hall or waiting for the elevator, don’t just give them the perfunctory nod that acknowledges their existence. Say hello and ask a simple question that shows interest in them personally. Is the company going to be closed for a holiday? Ask if they have plans for the time off. If they have pets or children, ask how they’re doing. It’s not forced “small talk” if it’s sincere. Just remember: a little effort goes a long way.

But you know what the greatest beauty of these tips is? The effort they require is a drop in the bucket compared to what you get back, so it becomes the resolution that you can – and actually want – to keep!

**********

Do you have a comment or question about how to comfortably and easily make this resolution? Click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally.