In our society, we put great faith in those who can communicate with feeling and intelligence. We ask our politicians to represent us, to be our voice and to embody the spirit of our country to the rest of the world. We want executives, managers and sales people, executives and managers, we want them to motivate us, to teach us and to excite us into action. And it’s an actors job to communicate the joy, the fear, the frustration and the thrill of life that many are too shy or uncomfortable to express overtly.
Learning to use your voice effectively gives you a great advantage that can span across all aspects of your life. It will help you communicate at home with your family, in relationships with your friends, at work and elsewhere in your professional life, even from your philosopher’s pulpit at your favorite pub.
So what do you need to do, exactly, to have an effective voice? This may sound odd, but one of the first things is that you need to be a really great observer and listener, both of yourself and others. The next time you are emotionally engaged on any level with anybody, even in a group, notice where your emotions are coming from, where in your body these feelings originate, and then how your voice interprets this information. Just as importantly, watch others as they respond and communicate their own state of mind to you. Observe their body language, their face muscles, the intensity or lack of eye contact, the fullness or quiet whispering of their voice. All these aural and visual messages speak volumes. They are packed with important information that you can use when it comes time to recreate those emotional moments with your voice.
You should strive to become a true student of the human condition, mirroring in passion, stance and tone, all that you see and hear. For your voice to be effective in its intent, it has to be honest in its representation of an emotion or feeling. If I hear you speaking in this way, then I perceive it as genuine and sincere, and that makes it easy for me to trust you and what you stand for. So, you need to be in sync with your emotions and your intellect; your voice needs to ring true from the moment I first hear it, even if what you’re saying is only a recreation of an emotional moment previously observed, heard, or understood. Now, while I can’t tell you how to be honest with your own emotions (that’s something between you and yourself), I can tell you, from my own observations, where these emotions originate in the body.
When someone is honestly angry you can hear it. Honest anger doesn’t come from the head or the neck or even the chest. It comes from the gut, below the chest and sternum, deep in the diaphragm. This is where the voice is resonating honest anger. It’s deep, it’s full, it has weight and passion. If someone is communicating their anger from this area of their body, they’re giving you something real to work with, and in an odd way, respecting you enough to give you that information without any strings attached. Honest anger carries no guilt or manipulation. It is an impassioned announcement of disagreement and disparity, but it is looking to make things right. Conversely, hurtful, out-of-control, manipulative anger, is rooted in the head, neck and chest. Think about it: we can tell if anger is meant to be hurtful by the number of veins that start to pop out in a person’s neck.
When someone is honestly excited we can hear that too. Excitement for many originates in the chest, hence the phrase: I was so excited I thought my heart was going to burst. Here in the chest, there is no hint of insincerity. We hear it loud and clear, pure and simple. When someone expresses this kind of truth, we want their excitement to be ours because it so immediately enjoyable.
We also know what sarcasm sounds like. Having more of an intellectual style, sarcasm comes from a combination of the head and the face, with a special emphasis on the eyes, eyebrows and lips. But sarcasm also involves an anticipation as to whether the listener will, wink wink, receive the sarcasm as it was intended. And where does anticipation come from? That’s right, the chest. So there’s a bit of the chest involved in sarcasm as well. We know by the effective way in which it is being communicated, that we are to hear this information with an ear toward the humor and the overstatement of fact.
For me, sadness originates in the face and shoulders. I could go on but I think you get the point. You need to work directly and intuitively with your body in order to find that voice that others will trust. Having the ability to inform your listener of every nuance of feeling and thought gives them real information to work with and they will thank you for it by giving you their attention.
Whether you are talking to one person or a crowd, in a recording booth or in front of a classroom, an effective voice knows how to recreate an emotion authentically and spontaneously. To master this skill, you have to find that part of your voice that resonates, not only physically in your chest, your diaphragm or wherever, but emotionally with your listener.
In Part 2, we’ll talk about some other essential elements that go into creating a powerful and effective voice, including projection, breathing, vocal control, and knowing your vocal range.
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