What do I need to know about my voice?

by Sam on January 26, 2010

One-Minute Answer: Dallas Cowboy Tony Dorsett was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. His path to glory makes for a fascinating story.


Before he ever graduated from Hopewell High School in western Pennsylvania, NCAA college recruiters coveted him as one of the premier running backs in America. Pitt Coach Johnny Majors faced overwhelming competition from the national college football elite in his desire to convince young Tony to live out his college career close to home. Along with many other coaches he was permitted to visit the Dorsett home to present his case. But with so many high-powered contenders in the race, it didn’t look good for the Blue and Gold.


As Dorsett announced his intentions at a highly publicized news conference, many alumni booster clubs were holding their breath. When he declared that he would play for the University of Pittsburgh, the media in attendance was aghast. They couldn’t believe their ears! One reminded Tony that Pitt had won only three games the year before. Another opined that there was little evidence of a commitment to big time college football on the Oakland campus. Why would a young man with so much potential want to be so far removed from the NCAA spotlight?


One of the more incredulous reporters asked what Coach Majors had said that convinced Tony to go to Pitt. His response was this: “I don’t remember what he said, but I sure liked the way he said it.”


Do people like the way you say it? Do you successfully influence people with your voice?



Five-Minute Answer:  Last week you saw that the power of speech rests in your words (7%), your voice (38%), and your body language (55%). If you missed the focus there on body language, you’ll want to check it out soon. This week you’ll learn how to use your voice to influence as Johnny Majors did. The items below each center on one or more of the key elements of what we call “vocalics.” These elements include intonation, inflection, pitch, emphasis, dialect, pronunciation, accent, fluency, volume and velocity.


1.      Tailor your voice to your listener.  The more your vocalic pattern corresponds to that of the person you’re speaking with the more that person will feel better about what you have to say. Volume and velocity are two important variants to match. Don’t speak loudly to a whisperer and don’t outrun a plodding talker.

2.      Use vocal variety to punch out key ideas.  Your voice is at your beck and call. You have two basic choices: (1) you can speak in a lifeless, monotonic manner or (2) you can inject into your speech vocal variety that keeps people interested, entertained, and informed of your intent. Create contrast with your voice. Alternate between high and low, loud and soft, excited and reserved to highlight the points you want your audience to remember.

3.      Let vocal variety reveal your true feelings.  When someone asks you for the time, your response likely registers zero on the scale of emotion. But for nearly every other instance—at least when numbers aren’t involved—there will be by necessity an emotional element in your voice. That emotion might be anger, anxiety, aloofness, concern, support, fear, joy, engagement, conviction, confidence, uncertainty, kindness, frustration, calm, excitement, boredom, enthusiasm, dejection, admiration, or worry. Is your voice there for you when one of these emotions should color your words? Find out! Hand a list of a dozen or so emotions to someone willing to give you honest feedback. Keep a copy for yourself. Sit back to back to eliminate the intrusion of body language. Speak a sentence of five to ten words while experiencing one of the emotions on the list. Repeat the same sentence with a different emotion behind it as your feedback partner guesses the emotion each time. Keep doing it until the other person nails your intent every time, revealing to you that you have become expert at connecting your emotions with your words.

4.      Reject the sing-song pattern.  When your inflection winds up and down incessantly like a sign wave (“Da da da DA DA DA da da da. Da da da DA DA DA da da da…”), your audience will numb as quickly as they would from a droning monotone.

5.      Reject the question mark pattern.  You’re doing this when you end a declarative sentence with a rise in tone that almost sounds as though you’re asking a question. People often do this when their telephone answering system calls for them merely to insert their name into a pre-recorded message. (“The person you have called—‘Sam Deep?’—is not here…”) This pattern belies an air of confidence.

6.      Steer clear of the “Valley Girl” Pattern.  So-called “Valspeak” was popularized in the 1980’s and 90’s. It is known best for its vocabulary: “whatever,” “like,” “way,” “as if,” “totally,” and “duh.” Just as distinctive as word choice are its vocalic patterns, often spoken with a heavy accent sometimes associated with Californians. Words are enunciated with high variation in pitch often stated like questions with very nasal vowel sounds. The problem with Valspeak is the negative impression it makes in professional encounters on colleagues not from “the Valley.”

7.      Apply silence and pauses.  Mark Twain once said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” When used for effect, such as immediately after a powerful assertion, brief silence can rivet your listeners.

8.      Articulate distinctly.  I did radio in Pittsburgh for eight years. My co-host the first year was Mark Elfstrand, who now does the 5-9AM talk show for the Moody Bible Network originating in Chicago. Mark is a pro. I’ve always aspired to enunciate as clearly as he does. One afternoon as I sat next to him in the KQV studio one of his “secrets” struck me. Mark has an incredible facility for punching out the final consonant of every word he sends to the microphone. Those of us with less clarity swallow many of those same consonants and are often incomprehensible, particularly to our many listeners with partial hearing losses.

9.      Send your voice down deep.  You sound more authoritative when you speak from deep in your diaphragm. Create vibration in your vocal chords. Don’t whine through your nose.

10.  Make the best known use of voice mail.  Many messaging systems enable you to hear a message left for someone before releasing it. People who take advantage of that feature often report rerecording a message that doesn’t have the vocalic impact they desire.

Enough Said:  Make thyself a craftsman in speech, for thereby thou shalt gain the upper hand.  ~Ancient Egyptian tomb inscription


Next Week:  Do you sell? Yes, no matter what your job description! Get help next Wednesday, whether to promote products and services, advance your personal stock, or convince others (particularly bosses!) to accept your ideas. Learn: “How can I close more deals?” 

{ 1 trackback }

What are some things better not to say? | Ask Sam Deep
03.02.10 at 4:37 pm

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>