Poor voice types and how to fix them – part 1

In this post we will look at some of the common types of poor voice and how to remedy them. It is important to note that even if you identify with having many of these maladies, they can all be unlearned. Your voice is a muscle. It can be trained, strengthened and your subconscious can have bad habits replaced with excellent technique through practice.

One of the first steps to identifying if you have one of these hindrances is to either record yourself or better yet, take the Socratic method and ask yourself as to why you sound as you do. Was it an injury, a scolding in childhood or simply a lack of practice which has detracted your voice from it’s potential? Identification of any ailments are the first step to improvement. It is especially common to struggle with the voice. Perhaps then this suggests a poor voice is a ‘natural’ affliction brought about by a lack of societal criticism or education. Yet there is nothing natural about the afflictions some speakers place upon their own voices which end the day croaking, red raw and in pain. Many thousands of public speakers, actors and day-to-day people must suffer due to poor habits of the voice which could be easily remedied if identified.

If you are lucky enough to not identify with any of these problems, please read them anyway. It is important to educate yourself on these matters to prevent the formation of bad habits in the future. You may even be able to help others simply from what you learn!

Monotone voices which go on and on and…

Nothing is staler to a listener than a voice completely devoid of life and musical character. Every statement the monotonous speaker makes is seemingly an utterance of disinterest and indifference. A monotone nature is often found by those who are unable to impart emotion towards what they are reading rather than a neurological affliction. Whereas the truly monotonous speaker could confess the words ‘I love you’ and spitefully state ‘I despise you’ with an equally unenthusiastic nature.

Solution

Sing when you speak! Imagine your words are on an impossible staircase, with each word dropping down and then stepping back up to differing pitches. Consider how the tonality of your voice could be interpreted by your listeners. Consider ending each phrase on an upward or downwards inflection, depending on whether you are making a statement or asking a question. Perhaps create a change in speed and pitch. Try rushing and adding a higher pitch for moment of excitement or slowing down and dropping your voice to a lower tone for when you truly wish to capture your audience’s attention. Once you are comfortable with this exercise, be careful not to overemphasise your tonality. There is a difference between emphasising radical pitch changes when practicing in comparison to normal pitch changes when speaking. Ensure you stay ‘conversational’.

The dejected Eeyore

I am sure that at least one point in life you have come across a long-suffering individual whose voice is so mired by disappointment they have an almost uncanny ability to bring everyone around them down to their miserable level. These are the people for who enthusiasm seems to have been replaced by a complete and utter shell of self-pity and misery. Perhaps this is the result of misfortune, or more seriously poor mental health. The Eeyore’s voice often sinks to the lower tones and slurs lethargically from one word to another, only to raise ever so slightly upon a moment of surprise, immediately to be shot down. 

Solution

Seeking professional help may be the first course of action as mental health issues may be the cause that no amount of positive thinking or mindfulness may solve. For others, this voice is purely reflective of their philosophical mindset and cannot be changed through simple vocal tutoring.

If this is not the case yet you still struggle, you should start with attempts to mimic the rapid-fire delivery of professional motivational speakers such as Les Brown, Zig Ziglar and Bob Proctor. Furthermore, experiment with raising the tone of your voice and deliver your words in a staccato nature or consult the later section on slurring in this chapter.

Yes, I can hear you!

A study was conducted by the US army in the 1950’s to discover the ideal volume to issue orders to cadets. The results found soldiers were often incapable of replying to an order at a different volume than they were spoken to. If shouted at, the soldiers shouted back and if whispered at, they whispered in response. Unfortunately, we all know someone who lacks an ‘indoor voice’, the Sergeant Major with a gruff, overbearing voice which would be more suited to barking gravelly orders to soldiers rather than delivering a quiet eulogy. Regrettably, these people don’t realise their speaking volume is set at high levels. If you notice you tend to have a personal space almost twice as wide as those around you, your listeners may have retreated to protect their eardrums.

Solution

As said, overbearing speakers often do not realize the volume they are producing is painful to their listeners. The constant high volume can also be interpreted as anger or an unapproachable nature. Many feel as if they are being spoken ‘at’ rather than spoken ‘to’. If you have found you are often being informed your voice is too loud, practice whispering and reducing the volume at which you speak. Do not be worried you are speaking too quietly in public, for if this is the case people are far more likely to ask you to speak up than to be quiet.

There are many more of these lessons, along with a comprehensive diction improvement guide available in: Speak and Be Heard – 101 Vocal Exercises for Voice Actors, Public Speakers and Professionals. Richard Di Britannia also offers private online voice coaching and free consultations on building vocal strength and confidence via his contact form 🙂

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