Like it or not, people can and do subconsciously judge you for your voice. It can be used to emphasize points and make you seem confident, but it can also work against you if you use it incorrectly.
Don’t believe me? Watch this video of Donald Trump dubbed over with a sophisticated accent:
Suddenly it almost doesn’t matter what he’s saying, because he is saying it so intelligently!
Let’s talk about a few issues that some people have with their voice.
Note: speech impediments such as lisps are not covered in this article. I am not a speech therapist and am not qualified to offer advice on that issue.
Valley girl voice
It’s likely that you’ve heard someone say “she’s such a valley girl” or “she speaks like a valley girl”. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here’s an example video. (Skip to 2:35)
This vocal pattern actually has a technical name: high rising terminal and vocal fry. High rising terminal, or “up talk” is specifically when the individual’s pitch increases at the end of the sentence, even though they’re not asking a question. Vocal fry is the lower end of the spectrum where the voice is grating.
According to Time, this vocal pattern results in less perceived credibility. If you find yourself using this vocal pattern, consider spending some time to eliminate it.
Most men wish they had a deeper voice, and as a result some men try to speak deeper than is natural for their range. This does not sound good—it usually sounds gravelly and strained.
For example, try to emulate the stereotypical deep trailer voice. When you attempt this, you will use your throat to speak and the resulting sound will likely be gravelly. It’s the same sound you make when you try to sing a note that is too deep for your vocal range.
Something else that can happen is that your voice may falter altogether, because you are trying to push it too low. Here’s a great sample from a video I found online.
The individual in this sample is attempting to improve his voiceover, but pushed his voice too low, which resulted in a voice that was hard to listen to.
The solution to this is to speak from your diaphragm, instead of relying on your throat. If you do not know how to properly use your diaphragm, here is a detailed video that will help you out.
Repetitive or monotone voice
This is likely the most common voice affliction in public speakers.
Take note—repetitive voices vary in pitch, but the variation is always the same from sentence to sentence. Monotone voices are ones in which the pitch is the same throughout.
Here is a graph of a repetitive voice:
And here is a completely monotone voice, which is worse:
If you have either a repetitive or a completely monotone voice, it is important to work on it. I suggest taking a random book and filming yourself reading it. Pay attention to the words and add voice inflection and pitch changes according to the structure of the sentence—resist the urge to use the same pitch pattern for every sentence.
More commonly found in females, high-pitched voices can be difficult to listen to and can reduce credibility.
While you do not want to go too far and venture into the territory of the gravelly voice (as a result of trying to force a low voice), you do want to speak towards the lower range of your voice.
Learning to speak from your diaphragm will naturally send your voice towards the lower end of the spectrum, while staying within your natural range.
In addition, slowing down many help. People speak at a higher pitch if they are trying to speak quickly and are out of breath.
Can I change my voice?
If your voice fits into one of the categories above, you should prioritize changing your habits to improve your voice. It will make a huge difference in your credibility and in audience engagement with your speech.
Not sure if your voice is good? Consider getting coaching from me—we’ll work on your voice and several other common public speaking issues. Even if you are an advanced public speaker, there are always things that can be improved upon.