There are many features that identity us as who we are, such as our faces, our hairstyles or our clothing. These are our visual identifiers that make us more unique.
Another important feature is your voice, and from your first few words people have probably decided how intelligent, trustworthy, or rich you are! It’s an extremely important characteristic of your identify. Among singers, Frank Sinatra was known as “The Voice.”
But it’s not only singers who can have distinctive voices. Many famous people have been known for their unique voices. Some classics come to mind: James Cagney, George Clooney, Morgan Freeman, Marilyn Monroe, etc. Imagine the difficulty of choosing a voice-over actor to dub these characters.
And for you can probably think of many English speaking politicians with their unique vocal styles: Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, Barak Obama…
So, is it possible to create your own Personal Voice Brand (PVB)?
Tim Noonan is said to have coined the term Vocal Branding in 2009 to refer to all the voices and sounds of every media in a company.
Here, I’m focussing on individual PVB. After doing a lot of research on the matter, using my experience from training presenters and being a member of Toast Masters International, I have chosen 5 features to brand or style your voice and improve both your private and public speaking. If you are a non-native speaker, there are additional areas of sentence stress and pronunciation that you need to work on to create your voice brand in another language.
1.VOLUME. (Loudness and Intensity). This is a powerful feature to add variety to your talks. Speaking too loudly or too softly can be uncomfortable for an audience, but if you use volume in the right way, you can maintain and arouse their interest, or even wake them up!! Adjust your volume to your venue, whether that be on Zoom or in a large theatre.
2.RATE: how fast or slow you speak.
Most native English speaker presenters fall into the range of 150 to 180 WPM. Fast can be stressful. Too slow can be frustrating or even condescending.
Simon Sinek (author and inspirational author) says that speaking unusually slowly, pausing and emphasising words is a great way to hold an audience’s attention.
The importance of Silence
It’s not just what you say or how fast, it’s also what you … don’t say. Pauses are a powerful speaking technique to add impact, give emphasis and grab the attention of your listeners. Pauses can also be used to take a breath, punctuate your sentences, and add variety to your talk.
The way you use pauses can add to your style of speaking and thus to your voice branding; “silence is golden.”
Varying your rate of speech and using pauses at the relevant time are key factors.
3. INTONATION and Pitch (tone)
Pitch (also referred to as tone) refers to how high or low your voice is on a musical scale. Intonation is the rising and falling of pitch in sentences. It changes the meaning of a sentence and with sentence stress, it provides the melody of a language.
Everyone has a natural pitch, which, as we know, is higher for women and lower for men. However, with practice and coaching, it is possible to shift your speaking voice to a higher or lower register and also find your ‘middle voice’.
Adapt your pitch to what you are communicating. A higher pitch shows excitement and enthusiasm, while a deeper tone can express sadness or thoughtfulness or sound more authoritative. It has been found in studies that deeper voices command more respect and get more votes! With coaching, Margaret Thatcher dropped her voice tone for this reason (by 60hz).
Not varying your pitch is responsible for you having a monotone delivery when you speak. So, it’s not a case of just using one pitch or another, it’s about varying it.
4.QUALITY – how you sound overall
How do you sound? How do you want to sound?
Specific unusual features create your unique vocal quality. Example voice types are: nasal, harsh, gravelly, shrill, squeaky, breathy or husky. Can you tell if someone is a heavy smoker?
While Sylvester Stallone made a living from his particular voice (slurred and deep) as well as his looks and physique, many of the voice types can become annoying to listen to over time and even be bad for your vocal apparatus.
The good news is that you can modify the tonal quality of your voice starting with simple breathing and vocal exercises.
Do you know any voices you love listening to? Why do you like them? Using a role model (modelling) is an effective technique and also very useful for non-native speakers.
5. Impression and Expression
They say that people judge you on your voice in the first few seconds of meeting you, and decide how intelligent, trustworthy, or rich you are, so it’s worth spending time on your PVB to make sure the way you sound is congruent with your message and visual image.
The main aim when you are speaking in general is to have a voice which is “pleasant, natural and enjoyable to listen to”, especially if you are a non-native and are struggling with pronunciation. A perfect native accent isn’t always necessary as Arnold Schwarzenegger has shown us.
Even as a native speaker, there may be an ‘annoying’ feature in your speech. Get feedback! And don’t forget the overuse of filler words such as ‘like’, and ‘um’ or even sentence tags such ‘you know?’ ‘OK’? or ‘no’?
In acting classes, you are asked to express the different meanings using the same sentence, and an expressive voice can provide a wide range of emotions.
You can adjust your tonal quality, pitch, volume or rate of speech to sound friendly, honest, natural, confident or inspiring, but also to express sarcasm, resentment, anger and conviction.
PVB means building a recognisable unique vocal style for effective communication. You can change it while still being yourself.
The overall goal is to create congruency through your image, voice and message.
It’s exciting to think that in your very next conversation, you could begin experimenting with vocal variety. Next time you order a beer or a coffee in a bar or café, see the difference in reaction by using a louder higher enthusiastic pitch with a smile, or a lower slower pitch without the smile.
Your voice is a communication tool you always carry with you. Learning to use it well, can make significant changes in your life. Start today!
I’d love to hear what you think.