Executive Summary: Using Your Voice -- Like You Mean It


Using Your Voice

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul.”

In fact, the voice is our way of sharing our truths, and it’s an instrument distinctive to each of us.  Learning to embrace and maximize its unique qualities – regardless of how your own voice sounds to you – is critically important; voicing efficiently and developing resonance will make us sound more confident.

Contact the Speaker: Karen Drake, MA, murrakar@ohsu.edu

Orange Back.png

Top 3 Ideas

Voices Have a Significant Impact on How We Are Perceived

Research shows that the voice has two times the impact of the content it is delivering and that men and women alike are taken more seriously, are more likely to be promoted and earn more money if their voices are lower pitched.(1)  Another study found that “normal-sounding voices” were seen as successful, sociable, smart and sexy. (2)

Our natural voice is related to the size of our larynx. A small person will likely have a higher voice, and a larger person may have a lower voice. But attempting to change the sound by voicing in an unnatural way can cause you to sound inauthentic; instead, you should  focus on using your voice efficiently. Voices find their power and richness in resonance, not just pitch. The cavities in our head are like concert halls that, when used properly, support the rich acoustics of our sound.

Breathing is the Avenue to Vocal Power

.The sounds we make are partly automatic, such as a baby’s cry, and partly learned. Efficient voicing requires a balance of breath support, vocal cord vibration and resonance. Our vocal folds (chords) sit in a space about the size of a nickel. The sound we refer to as “voice” is created by a perfect coordination of breath support, vocal fold vibration and placement to allow for resonance of the tone. 

 We learn about breathing in yoga, but rarely does someone teach us that breath is what brings power to our words. Our diaphragm is the muscle of inhalation. It contracts when we inhale, so the lungs pull down. If we’re not using this muscle efficiently, we can’t use our voice effectively. In fact, not breathing properly wears us out.  Breathing properly uses only 1% of our energy. Top breathing, or shallow breathing, requires 8% of our energy and puts us in fight-or-flight mode. This increases nerves and stress, which causes tension in our voice. In addition, breathing is connected to our thoughts. It is said that 85% of our self-talk is negative. When our self-talk is positive, our breathing flows easily.

Just as Trends Exist in Fashion, They Also Influence Our Communication

Styles of voicing can dictate how a generation may try to sound, and, these voice trends most often affect women. 

 Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy Onassis spoke in the breathy tone that became their signature. Phil Moore, who coached Marilyn for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), pinpointed Marilyn's special appeal in song: "She always sounds as if she's just waking up. You'd be surprised what kind of effect that has on male listeners. It is this breathy whisper which generations of later actresses have employed as a surefire signifier of sexual attraction and availability.”3

Today, “vocal fry” has worked its way into our tone. Although this may have helped brand Kim Kardashian, it is not helpful when trying to find a job. In a recent study, a group of interviewees were coached to speak like Kim during their interview. Another group used their more natural resonant voices. Not one of those using the Kardashian voice were offered a position. Altering your voice in this way is also hard on the vocal cords.  

Blue Back.png

What can you do?

Find a Vocal Role Model

Women can find vocal role models in those who confidently and comfortably own their power without apology or conceit, like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Rachel Maddow. Like them, women with strong, smooth voices will increase their chance of rising to top positions. Learning to use your voice efficiently is like learning better form in a sport.

1. (Qualified Impressions, Austin, TX).

 2.  Journal of Voice study