We've all had the experience: you hear your voice recorded on a voicemail message or after a presentation and you recall in horror. Do I really sound that awful, you think, or is my brain just playing tricks on me?

Well, science has both good and bad news for you. I'll start with the bad bits.

The truth is the reality of your voice is more like that terrible recording than what you hear in your head. That's because to get to your ears, your own voice partially travels through your skull via vibrations. When anyone else hears it, it's going straight through the air. Traveling via dense bone makes your voice sound -- to you -- more resonant than it sounds to everyone else.

But don't get depressed. The good news is that your voice might need some work, but improving it is easier than you think, according to the blog of speech coach Ita Olsen. In fact, a recent post contends that a simple, three-step exercise "will lead you to using a powerful, gorgeous voice in all environments of your life." In no time at all, Olsen claims, your real voice can start to sound a lot more like your voice in your head.

The post offers lots of details (plus a bunch of funny tweets with the hashtag #Ihatemyvoice), but here's the basic training program in Olsen's own words:

1. First attempt to isolate the muscles of the abdomen. Just push your stomach muscles out and then in, as if you have just eaten a big meal or are a belly dancer. Go ahead men, too! Be sure that your upper body is not moving. You may sit in front of a mirror or you may put your hand on your chest so that you can monitor and prevent movement. Please move the muscles of the abdomen for a few minutes. Become very comfortable with isolating only those muscles.

2. Now try and pair this movement with breathing. Only your stomach muscles go out when you breathe in and they go in when you breathe out. Imagine that your stomach is a balloon or a barrel (pleasant thought!) and that you are filling it up with air. You only want to see your abdomen move; not your shoulders or your rib cage.

3. Use abdominal breathing for increasing increments of time each day.

OK, say you've got abdominal breathing down pat, now how does that translate to a better, more resonant speaking voice? Again, according to Olsen, it's dead simple. Just try this:

  1. Stick your stomach out about an eighth of an inch.
  2. Fill it up with a breath in.
  3. Letting your voice take a ride on the exhaled air say, "hi."
  4. Now try it with other things you say.

Maybe this sounds a little too simple to you. If so, I share your skepticism. Mastering this way of speaking, especially in high pressure situations or for longer periods of time, can't possibly be so easy, but still it's good to know that the basic principles of improving your voice are completely straightforward.

And hey, a little basic practice along these lines might just be enough to improve your speaking voice ahead of a job interview or presentation.

Do you hate your voice when you hear it recorded?

Published on: Nov 3, 2016
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