Welcome to Kate’s SpeakEasy. . .
because there is a cost to not using your voice fully.
Interested in the relationship between dialect coaching and accent modification? Click to check out this article I wrote for the current Voice Foundation newsletter. Scroll down to page 12 for my piece, and enjoy the other articles as well!
First of all, I’m sorry to hear that, Second, I bet it sounds better than you think.
You don’t hear your voice the way others do. We hear most things from the outside-in (air conduction). Sound waves cause vibrations in the air, which vibrates the eardrum and sends information to the brain. We hear our own voices largely from the inside-out (bone conduction). The vibrations in your head send information to your brain through your bones. Naturally, these different ways of hearing result in different perceptions of your voice.
So yeah, when you hear a recording of your voice, that’s pretty close to how your voice sounds to other people. It’s not exact, as voice recordings do alter the voice and eliminate certain elements of it. But it’s closer than what you hear inside your own head. Once you get used to that idea, you can start to hear your voice for what it is: a beautiful (yes it is) vehicle for you to express yourself and communicate with the world around you.
The idea that “my voice” is a single, unchangeable thing is inaccurate. The human voice is hugely versatile, and we use it in specific ways as a result of a myriad of factors (see my earlier post, “Yes, you CAN change your voice!” for more about that). Your voice is such a personal, integral, beautiful (I’m doubling down on your voice being beautiful!) part of who you are and how you express yourself. Make friends with it. Come to appreciate it. Love it.
As always, a good voice coach can help you find a version of your voice that you love. Email me to learn more.
Have you heard about the style of speaking called “vocal fry”? It’s a gravelly, low sound that is most commonly heard at the ends of sentences. The mysterious fame of Kim Kardashian brought this style of talking into the public eye, or rather, ear.
Fry was named because the pops and creaks made someone think it sounded like bacon frying (I’m not making that up). Everyone has a little fry some of the time (especially if we are sick or vocally tired), but some people have made it a permanent way of talking. So what is it, exactly?
Fry requires two things: a fairly low pitch, and minimal exhalation while talking (check out previous entries to learn more about how breath affects the sound of your voice). To many people it sounds disinterested or bored, and it lacks vibrancy, pitch variety, and expressiveness. In other words, too cool for school. It also can’t be projected, so it lacks power.
Another school of thought sees it as a feminist issue, since fry (and the criticism of it) is most commonly associated with younger women. The admonition to “sound more professional” can be taken as disrespect for who someone is and how they express themselves. See my previous post on “Talking While Female” for more on this topic.
A good voice coach can help you maintain your identity while meeting any vocal demands of the workplace. If fry is part of your repertoire, and if there are times when it does not create the vocal image you want, there are ways to find balance. Schedule a session now to learn more.
Do you ever feel tired, sore, or strained from talking? Does it ever become a chore to talk at the end of the day? Chances are, it’s related to the way you use your voice muscles.
The two major behaviors that lead to vocal strain are: 1) Not exhaling with enough air when you talk, and 2) Inadvertently tensing some of the muscles in your neck, throat, and mouth.
The human voice is a wind instrument – a solid exhale is required to make sound. If you don’t use enough breath, the muscles in your throat tense up tp try and “help” push out the sound. That leads to strain, fatigue, and pressure. There are a ton of reasons why you might not use enough air when you talk, including holding your abs so tight you can’t take deep enough breaths. See my previous post “Breathing From the Diaphragm is BS” for more info.
It takes about 100 muscles to speak a word. Isn’t that crazy? There are a lot of opportunities to accidentally hold tension, especially since so many of the muscles are tiny and we aren’t even aware of them. They are the “Who Knew? muscles” – who knew they were even there, much less tense? A lot of voice coaching is about learning where you are inadvertently holding tension, and learning how to replace it with freedom.
So if you want to check out your technique and get some tips for talking with more ease, click here to make an appointment!
Of course it is also possible that there is something physical irritating your vocal cords (like silent acid reflux, allergies, or mild dehydration), which makes it harder to talk without strain. If you feel you might have some physical issues, visit your friendly neighborhood Voice Center for a medical assessment and nip it in the bud.
It can be deeply frustrating to repeatedly start a sentence and then have someone else in the room steamroll right over you with a louder voice. It’s even more problematic when you lose the opportunity to show your knowledge and skills because your voice is less assertive than others’.
You can change that!
People often think they have the voice they were born with, and there is nothing they can do to change it. Not true. You can uncover, maximize, and train your voice. It takes over 100 muscles to utter a phrase of speech. Speech is a physical act. Like any other physical act, we can make changes to it with targeted exercises.
Here’s a pro tip: Loudness is determined by how forcefully you exhale as you speak. There are other more complicated factors as well, but for some people simply taking a bigger breath before speaking – and spending it with gusto – can increase vocal power. Practice in the shower or the car so you feel comfortable with your new sound.
There are many great books on the subject (including my own). At the same time, it’s hard to really learn a physical skill without guidance. How do you know what your own habits are, and what might be getting in your way? Knowing what physical behaviors are holding your voice back, and how to replace those with behaviors that fully serve you, is the key to voice training.
Click here to schedule a session (in person or remotely), and learn how to stand your ground in a room full of voices!
Thanks Laurie Brown for this great interview! Get an overview about Accent Modification, voice improvement, and more!
Click above, or copy and paste to watch: https://www.dropbox.com/s/sj145206httn2d8/Accent%20Modification.m4v?dl=0
The short answer is, no, not really. The larger question is, are you sure you really want to? Your dialect is a rich part of who you are and what you bring to the table. It would be a great sadness to really lose it. BUT, you are probably thinking, I am not always able to communicate effectively in a business setting. THAT is something we can absolutely address.
If you have considered trying to “lose” your accent, I propose that a more effective (and kind) way to approach it is, instead, to learn a Neutral American accent that you can use when you choose. “Code switching” refers to humans’ tendency to speak differently in different settings (i. e., most of us talk differently to our best friend than we do when we present at a meeting). So you can learn a solid American accent and still retain your identity.
Most people need some targeted coaching to address the speech sounds, rhythms, and mouth movement of a neutral American dialect. Check out my iBook if you want to try some self-study, or schedule a session to get more personalized guidance.
The goal is for people to focus on what you are saying, not how you are saying it. You can be heard and understood and still not “lose” something that is a beautiful part of who you are.
“Talking From the Diaphragm” is BS
Have you ever heard that you should “talk from the diaphragm” for a powerful voice? Well, it’s bull hockey. The diaphragm is the major muscle of inhalation, true. But unless there’s a neurologic problem, every breath anyone ever takes involves the diaphragm. So you’re already using it!
But what about “supporting” your voice from the diaphragm, you ask? Great question! Indeed, we speak on an exhale, not an inhale, but guess what? The diaphragm has no role in controlling our exhale! It therefore has no active role in controlling our voice.
So what do people mean when they make this inaccurate statement? They mean you should engage your abdominal muscles when you talk. You can’t actively engage your diaphragm to push air out, but you can actively engage your abs, which is where “breath support” comes from. This means that the volume control button on the human voice instrument is located in the belly!
The short story is that when you inhale, your abdomen moves outward. This is because the diaphragm pushes down on your internal organs, which get displaced. When you exhale, the process reverses itself and the abdominal wall moves inward. When we speak, we engage these abdominal muscles to varying degrees in order to control the sound we create.
If you’re one of the many folks who breathes in the opposite way (when you inhale your chest lifts and your belly moves in), you could get a lot more mileage out of your voice by working with a coach.
So the next time someone tells you to use your diaphragm when you talk, you can take a belly breath and know you have it down.
A lot of people think our voice is our voice – we have the voice we are born with and we cannot change it. This is not true! While we are born with a particular instrument, a lot goes into forming the way we use it. Sometimes it is subconscious habit (more than our anatomy) that dictates the way we sound. A speaking voice coach (different than a singing coach) can help you change the quality of your voice to better reflect who you are. I can help you:
Match your vocal image to other elements of your image
Change the timbre or quality of your voice
Sound higher or lower (and you may be surprised to learn the ways we do this)
Decrease vocal strain
Project your voice with ease
Command a space
Engage your listeners
Have the stamina to talk for many hours a day
This is only scratching the surface of the things that a speaking voice coach can do, but hopefully it starts you thinking about the possibilities. If there is something you wish was different about your voice, no matter how unrealistic it seems, there is probably something I can help you with.
You know what I’m talking about. Women have a series of gauntlets to run in order to be taken seriously as a professional, no matter their field.
A nice little overview of the overall issue of gender disparity in the workplace can be found here: https://www.fastcompany.com/3031101/the-new-subtle-sexism-toward-women-in-the-workplace
Women’s voices frequently get described as annoying, shrill, harsh, grating. Injured female voices are also frequently described as sexy, which is pretty telling if you think about it.
So, let’s just say there is a bias against women and our voices, and that we are willing to work within that system to change it. What do you do?
People of all genders tend to think the solution to increased vocal authority and gravitas is a low pitch. That’s not the case. Talking at the lowest end of your pitch range (I call it the “basement” of your voice) can cause physical discomfort and eventually harm. And moreover, talking in the basement actually cuts out the harmonics and vocal richness you are actually looking for.
So the key is not pitch, but placement. While this usually requires some coaching to attain, you can do some exploring on your own. Can you speak at a comfortable pitch and still make your voice sound and feel more rich and resonant? It isn’t hard but most people need a bit of guidance – try a vocal coach or my book for more specifics on how to succeed while TWF.