Do you like the sound of your voice? U2 front man Bono made news recently when he shared he was “embarrassed” by his voice during early recording days. Then there’s The Guardian article from this past summer titled, “Why does everyone hate the sound of their recorded voice?”
And finally, just last Tuesday, daughter Lulu told me about a podcast-style recording she did at school. “I couldn’t believe the sound of my voice! I said, ‘Is that me?’ I don’t like how I sound.”
So, OK. Listen up. While working from home restrictions are being lifted across Ireland, it’s safe to say the recorded sounds of video meeting platforms are here to stay. The explosion of virtual meetings we’ve been attending carries with it an avalanche of artificial sounding virtual voices.
For the past nearly two years, we’ve been regularly coming through, not loud and clear, but through a patchy soundscape of muffled microphones, jarring bandwidth and distorted speakers resulting in many difficult listening experiences for others. And ourselves.
Whether virtual or in-person, there are steps you can take to help you become an easier person to listen to.
Before I jump into my sure-fire tips to help you better like the sound of you, I’m going to tell you a little secret: I like the sound of my voice. But, like Bono, I didn’t like the sound of my voice in early days. (And, ha, that is the only thing I have in common with the 22-time Grammy Award winning megastar. Oh, wait, we both live in Ireland. OK, that’s it.)
My earliest memory of using my voice and not liking the quality of it occurred when I was about eight. I’m living in Farmland, Indiana, and I was a Brownie. In addition to making crafts, singing songs and going to summer camp, a tradition in Brownies/Girl Scouts is the annual fundraising tradition of going door to door to sell Girl Scout cookies (interestingly, nothing to do with “brownies”).
As my mom stood watch at the end of each driveway, I would trundle up to a neighbour’s house dragging a red wagon behind me stacked with boxes of cookies. I don’t actually remember ringing the doorbell of any of our neighbours from this time in my life except one: Mr Halderman. Him, I remember vividly like it was yesterday. He opened the door and looked down on me, a round man with an even rounder bald head, squinting to peer at me beneath his glasses.
“Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” I inquired. At least I thought I inquired. But I apparently didn’t get my message across to Mr Halderman because what he said next dissolved my self-esteem the way a cookie dissolves in hot, bitter coffee.
“What did you say? I couldn’t understand a word you said. You mumbled. In fact, I’m going to call you ‘Mumbles’ from now on,” he declared.
And he did. For the following 10 years I lived in that neighbourhood until I graduated from high school and moved away to go to college, Mr Halderman called me by that less-than-lovely moniker.
So, dear readers, please, learn from me. Enunciate your words. If you have a thick regional dialect or you’re a second language English speaker, take an elocution lesson. Seriously. Becoming a speaker who is easily understood is an important step toward liking the sound of your voice. In addition to isolating individual words that are unintelligible and learning how to pronounce them in a more standard fashion, you will also be encouraged to slow your delivery pace and project your voice which will help your words be clearer.
I will now contrast Mr Halderman with Mrs Barnes-Gelt. She was an elected official in Colorado where your once beleaguered Girl Scout cookie seller had settled many years later after becoming CNN bureau chief in Denver. Mrs Barnes-Gelt also made a comment about my speaking voice which I have remembered to this day but for a nicer reason.
“Your voice is mellifluous,” she effused after I finished interviewing her.
Her pronouncement was the cherry on a cake I had been working on for decades. First, I learned how to neutralise my regional dialect. Next, I focused on consistently controlling projection and pace. Finally, with practice, I dedicated myself to tackling tone.
Close your eyes and imagine a river of flowing chocolate. That is what your voice can sound like when you manage to elongate your vowels ever so slightly. Read a selection of copy aloud. Record yourself. Yes, do it. Play it back and refine your delivery. Imagine that river and then look hard at the phrasing created by the copy’s punctuation. Keep your words flowing smoothly until you reach a natural break. Smile as you read if the content is upbeat. When you practise purposefully layering on tone, you will enrich your voice quality over time.
Speak with energy
If you don’t read or speak like you like the topic you are reading or speaking about, of course, you’re not going to like the sound that is coming out. Where’s the conviction?
One of the top reasons many of us don’t like the sound of our voice, is less about quality and more about the passion or energy we are bringing to our delivery.
Each of you already has a voice. Find someone to help you amplify it – properly. Do you want to hear from Mr Halderman or Mrs Barnes-Gelt?