Do you like the voice you were born with? Do you even know what it sounds like?
Actually, we do not hear our selves as other people hear us, be cause we hear our own voices from within, as well as through the ears. The best way to get some idea of how your voice sounds to others is to stand close to a corner of the room and speak into the corner so that the walls throw back the sound. It's quite a revelation.
Listening to a tape recording of your own voice can sometimes be a shattering experience, too. For one thing it is usually much higher pitched than you imagined, and all sorts of little faults ring out clearly and disconcertingly.
If you feel that your voice does not fittingly complement you as it should, the obvious course is to take steps to improve it. Bear in mind that people who can fan the breath of life into the most mundane facts through their voice are nearly always successful people. The tremendous value of effective speech has been understood by some of the world's most famous men and women. Demosthenes realized the fact centuries ago and went on not only to overcome a weak voice but to become the greatest orator in Athens. Abraham Lincoln, while still an uneducated backwoods lad, began to teach himself to speak effectively, realizing the need for such ability in public life.
Perhaps you think that few women can ever be good speakers. That is not true. Nature has given all of us the necessary parts for building a fine talking machine. You may never become a famous radio or TV personality or a world-renowned statesman, but you can brighten your chances for success immeasurably by making full use of the magic in your voice. Just fifteen minutes a day spent on simple exercises will repay tremendous dividends.
The first step is to be become acquainted with your speech apparatus (see box below). The voice is manufactured only after a trip along a human assembly line. If you could view the process by X-ray it would look like this:
You take in a breath of air—fuel for your voice. Then you exhale and the air is pushed up by your diaphragm into your voice box. Inside this box are vocal cords that vibrate as the air rushes through, producing tones. The sounds then travel up from the voice box to the mouth and nose, which act as amplifiers.
You can compare the voice box to the mouthpiece of a saxophone, and the mouth and nose to the horn it self. If you stuff a handkerchief into any part of the saxophone, the tones become muffled. The same principle applies to your voice.
The sounds are finally manufactured into words by the tongue, pal ate, teeth, lips, and jaw. You make vowels by changing the shape and size of your mouth. Consonants are produced by stopping or blocking the tones from the voice box.
You can develop a good voice
The good speaker has all the parts working at top efficiency. Here are a few simple exercises that will enable you, too, to attain that end:
Read aloud whenever possible, to make your voice match the meaning of your words. This is the secret of talking interestingly. Listen care fully to good actors and actresses when they are delivering their lines. It can teach you volumes in the art of "manipulating" your voice.
When talking to a friend who has a good speaking voice, listen attentively to the way he or she lowers and raises the voice as a singer does, using first higher and then lower notes. Variety of intonation is a prime secret of speaking beautifully.
Listen to a famous actor such as Sir Lawrence Olivier, and you will realize how many different notes a speaking voice can have. Nothing makes a voice more tedious to listen to than to let it stay continuously on one note and then drop at the end of each sentence. When alone, practice keeping your voice up at the end of a sentence. An excellent way is to write down a series of sentences requiring an answer, and read them aloud.
Since even your best friend won't always tell you if you have an unatractive voice, here is one way of finding out for yourself.
Stand in your room facing the wall and repeat with feeling some immortal lines from the Bible or from your favorite poet. You have just heard your voice at its musical best. Now give an imitation of yourself speaking angrily. You have heard your voice at its ugliest. The wall has thrown back your voice and lets you hear it somewhat as others do. From these two examples you now know which tones to avoid and which to cultivate.
Most people suffering from "nerves" have shrill, high-pitched voices. Muscular tension is usually the cause. To overcome this, practice speaking slowly up and down the scale as though you were singing. A relaxed position—whether standing or sitting—is also a great help in reducing emotional or nervous strain. Yawning, stretching, and jaw-dropping are excellent exercises for improving the voice.
Deep breathing, together with exercises for tongue, lips, and vocal cords are also necessary if you are to acquire your most attractive speaking voice. For instance, try repeating nursery tongue-twisters such as the following:
"Run, Robert, run,
To the river run.
How many R's in that?"
"Sister Susie's sewing shirts for sailors."
And when reciting these lines, try to say the vowels over very clearly.
Don't be afraid of using your mouth and lips freely. Only then can you articulate clearly and avoid mumbling.
To test yourself for nasal tones, hold your nose and recite the alpha bet. If your voice sounds nasal, then it means that the soft palate—the little jigger at the back of the mouth—has become lazy through lack of proper exercises. Its function is to close the "back door" be tween throat and nose when you speak. To cure this laziness, practice holding your nose and saying, "Jersey cows browse placidly all day."
Breathing deeply is very important. A strong clear voice depends primarily on the amount of breath available. People who breathe shallowly and quickly are the owners of those little voices we are never quite able to hear.
Clarity is also important. Try to think of your voice as a steady stream of sound that is molded by your tongue, in conjunction with your gums, lips, and teeth, into the separate sounds we know as words. If you look at your tongue and lips in a mirror as you say to yourself the vowels A, E, I, O, U, you'll get some idea of the movement it takes to form different sounds, and the effort you must make.
A large percentage of speech faults can be traced to a lazy tongue. Words are allowed to slither out without any attempt being made to assure their proper formation. The result is a succession of ugly sounds barely recognizable as the words they represent.
"Wha's the ma'er?" is an expression heard often.
How much better and clearer it would be if the tongue came forward to meet the gums of the upper teeth so that the poor, neglected t could fill in the very obvious blanks.
Some people with a lot on their mind are in such a hurry to express their thoughts that when the words come out they cannot be recognized. Really good speech is always slow.
Another good tip is to relax your throat and jaw muscles by rolling your head in a circular motion. Opera stars often lie down before a performance and allow their bodies to go limp. Yawn and work your jaws slowly from side to side. Read in a stage whisper until your vocal cords get tired. Then notice how much deeper your voice sounds.
Practice tidying your thoughts to express them well in daily conversation. You may discover that you have hidden powers of expression. Form your own ideas. Develop your own convictions and announce them in your new speaking voice. Try to cut out entirely the ums, ahs, and ers. Otherwise you listeners will lose interest.
If ever you feel your voice is get ting limp, concentrate on one person among your listeners and talk to him or her as though your life depended upon winning him over.
A few slight gestures may be used to give emphasis to your most important points as you are talking, but avoid flamboyant movements. Few people can get away with them. Ask a close friend beforehand if you have little habitual mannerisms that might irritate your listeners, and, if so, make an effort to avoid them.
Every sentence should be clear-cut, simple, and easily understand able. To parody a famous saying of the apostle Paul: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity, it prof its nothing."
No matter how you earn promotion, admiration, and friends, you earn them not only because of your hard work, looks, personality, and kindness, but with the direct assistance and cooperation of your speaking voice. It can add a great deal to your success and charm.
This article is being published simul taneously in MINISTRY and in the July issue of Life & Health by special arrangement.