The Importance of Voice Quality in Conveying Meaning

voice quality in speaking

The Power of Voice

You might think if you’re not delivering a talk to a few hundred or few thousand people that you don’t need to think much about the vocal quality of your delivery. Just talking across the conference room table, it’s fine to just talk “regular,” right? I encourage you to think again. Even in a conference room, the tone, pitch, volume, and quaver or lack there of and other vocal qualities either align with what you’re saying or not.

Vocal quality conveys so much more than content.

Think back to when you were a kid, outside playing on a warm summer evening, running around with your friends. Forgetting all track of time. And then you hear it: your mother’s voice. And you can tell without even seeing her what kind of mood she’s in. Is she angry? Scared and worried? Or happy? As you read this, you can replay her voice in your mind and change it to all of these different moods, can’t you? The words don’t change, but the MEANING sure does.

In NLP one of the basic tenets is “The meaning of your communication is the response that you receive.” Your vocal quality can definitely affect that response, regardless of the words.

Become aware of your vocal quality and take steps to improve it so that your voice underscores your words.

What meaning does your voice convey? Is it in alignment with your words? Or does it betray a lack of conviction about what you’re saying? Worse yet, are you unintentionally communicating feelings or attitudes that you don’t really have?

Here are some things to consider about vocal quality that apply in ANY situation, whether you’re giving a formal presentation or in an impromptu meeting.

  1. Breath control. If you’re breathing too shallow, you can find yourself running out of breath. This can even increase feelings of anxiety and self consciousness. The fix: Practice breathing from your diaphragm. While it may feel awkward at first, breathing exercises will train your body to breathe properly, giving you better vocal control, eliminating breathiness and breathlessness, and preventing unnecessary anxiety.
  2. Pitch. Listen to powerful speakers, both men and women — go watch some TED talks. You will hear people talking in the lower part of their natural ranges (the “modal” range). Lower voices convey authority and power and confidence. They sound unshakable. We associate higher pitched voices with children and people in unpowerful positions. The fix: Get out your phone and record yourself. Then lower your voice half an octave, find the lower part of your natural range. Not so low you sound like you’re trying to mimic Lurch from the Addams Family. Just in the lower part of your natural range. Set a timer on your phone and check in with yourself a few times a day and drop that register, until it becomes your natural speaking voice.
  3. Avoid annoying “fad” vocalizations. One that’s popular right now (hopefully it’s on its way out) is called “vocal fry.” It’s where you lower your register all the way down and change how you create sound so that it vibrates and elongates. Check it out in this brief but informative video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_LmC-ynqGM
  4. Inflections. How do you end your sentences? End every sentence as though it’s a question and you’ll lose credibility? You wouldn’t want to always sound like you’re questioning yourself? Or asking for permission to have your opinion? Drop your voice at the end of declarative sentences to anchor your point and retain your authority.

Harness your voice for greater speaking effectiveness.

One of the key factors that affects how an audience will be seeing us during a speech is our voice. This is why we have to take the time to listen to our own voice. We need to be looking for areas that could be turning our audience off and finding ways to fix them.

The great thing about our voices is that we are in control of them! We can change and modify our voices as we see fit. We need to take the time to understand how our audience hears us and then we need to take steps to make ourselves sound even better to them. The better we sound, the more they will be impressed by our words.

Remember, the meaning of your communication is the response you receive — so use your voice wisely to convey the meaning you want to convey.

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