Guest post by Wendy DeLeo LeBorgne, Ph.D. CCC-SLP; Author, Internationally known Voice Pathologist, Communication Consultant, & Vocal Athlete Expert
The prime event of your professional career starts in 15 minutes. Your makeup is flawless and the facial you got yesterday takes five years off your features. The custom-made Chanel outfit is tailored to enhance all the right features, and partnered with the perfect pair of Louboutin’s, it makes you feel like the powerful executive you are as you walk into that boardroom or step to the podium.
Your objectives and goals for the presentation are researched and rehearsed with military precision. As you enter the room and take your place at the head of the table or podium, all eyes are on you. Your posture, presence, and the personal brand you convey echoes respect and command in the room. The speechwriter has crafted a compelling message and all you have to do is effectively open your mouth and deliver it.
You begin to speak. From the moment you utter, “Hello,” listeners are making judgements about your intelligence, background, trustworthiness, authenticity, socio-economic status, educational level, and unconsciously judging if your voice is congruent with your personal brand.
Building Your Voice Brand™
Powerful. Passionate. Persuasive.
Authentic. Engaging. Authoritative.
Whiney. Weak. Wistful.
Does your voice reflect your communication image? Does your voice reflect your brand?
Communication is the art of relaying an idea to another individual with purposeful intent and the receiver of that information accurately understanding and integrating the intended information. Effective communication is a feedback loop, not a one-way street of verbal idea dumping. As humans, we are the only species uniquely equipped to communicate with verbal language. Beyond the words we choose, we can use the power of voice as the primary mode to influence and connect with others through five key elements that fashion our individual Voice Brand™.
Words alone may not adequately convey the intent of speaker. We can listen to some speakers for hours and buy into whatever snake-oil they may be selling because they entice us, engage us, and entrance us with their words and vocal prowess. Then other highly intelligent, competent individuals will be tuned out by their audience in a matter of moments simply by the din of their voice.
Take for example, Dr. Martin Luther King’s, “I Have A Dream,” speech. Arguably, Dr. King was one of the most impactful communicators and orators of his generation who could captivate a crowd with the sound of his voice. There have been many since his initial delivery of that message who have imitated and attempted to replicate it. Some of these replications have been stellar, while others fall flat. The WORDS are identical, so what sets the good apart from the bad? What elements of voice impact your Voice Brand™ and influence your listeners during the communication process? How do others perceive your Voice Brand™? How can you maximize it?
The concept of building Voice Brand™ goes far beyond, “slow down your rate,” or “be sure to articulate clearly.” When you go to the gym to work out, one of the goals beyond “getting healthy” is to look good, lose weight, or rock out in that bikini at age 50. So….we spend a lot of time at the gym and a lot of money on Soul Cycle and on personal trainers to give us the right exercises to reach our goals.
There are over a quarter-million personal trainers in the USA and only one Jillian Michaels. Yet, trainers educated with backgrounds in exercise physiology and biomechanics arguably have a potentially greater understanding of how to get your body to respond to exercise, modify exercises to meet your needs, and ultimately reach your goals. This is a different level of training and concept application than someone who got their personal training certification in two hours online. And after we go to the gym and achieve that awesome body, we still can create the illusion of an even better body by utilizing other tools, like Spanx, which further lift, tuck, and enhance our image as needed, providing the brand look we desire.
Voice is no different.
Optimizing Your Voice
In order to optimize your voice, you must do two things:
Voice Branding goes so far beyond the words we choose to speak. It is about finding your authentic voice. It is about engaging the listener. And all of this is influenced by cultural bias, gender bias, and personal bias.
There are five key elements that Influence Your Voice Brand™. There is not one element alone that influences your listener, just like there is not one magic pill that gets us skinny. It is the combined five elements which result in determining your Voice Brand™. Optimizing your Voice Brand ™ provides your audience, your team, and your clients with highly effective and engaged communication.
The Five Elements that Influence Your Voice Brand™
The terms pitch and frequency are often used interchangeably. However, pitch is the perceptual correlate of frequency. Your perception of someone’s pitch being too high and subsequently annoying is based on your experience with pitch, whereas frequency is measured in hertz (Hz). As a result, we can measure frequency of voices to determine if a given frequency or frequency range is considered most desirable.
Men who have lower frequency voices are known to father more children, hold positions of higher leadership, and make more money to the tune of $187,000 in annual salary and $440 million more in assets per a Duke University study of over 700 male CEO’s. Women’s voices with a low frequency are often perceived as aggressive if they are not modified with the other elements of Vocal Brand.
Women’s fundamental frequency lowered during and after the 1960s as they started to come to the table and compete with men for the first time in the workplace. Depending on if you live in the southern part of the country (where women’s voices are higher) or in the north (where women’s voices are lower), not to mention the accepted typical frequencies of women’s voices from across the globe, your experiences and personal biases will influence your likes and dislikes of a given speaker’s frequency.
Similar to pitch, loudness is perceived whereas intensity can be measured in decibels (dB). If you come from a loud, East-coast, Italian family (as in my case), vocal loudness is the norm. However, increasing your vocal intensity results in your listener perceiving you as aggressive and overbearing. You intend to be assertive, but your listener thinks you are yelling. Conversely, too soft of an intensity results in the perception of shyness and insecurity, painting you as a meek individual.
The rate of speech can be measured in syllables and/or words per minute. When we are confronted with a stressful situation (such as a public speaking engagement), many speakers tend to significantly speed up their rate of speech, resulting in the listener perceiving the speaker as nervous or rushed. Conversely, speaking too slowly can result in the perception of boredom and disinterest.
Consider for a moment a piece of music that maintains the same tempo throughout the entire piece. Anyone who has practiced piano with a metronome for hours can attest to the monotony of an unchanged tempo. Just as a musical piece shifts tempo, from slow to fast and fast to slow, while also varying rhythmic patterns results in excitement and interest, it is the speaker who can effectively vary the rate and rhythmic pattern of speech that results in a dynamic, engaging communicator. Great symphony conductors can sense the internal pulse of the music and the energy of the audience. Similarly, great speakers are able to sense the vitality of their audience, and vary their tempo and speech patterns to keep them engrossed.
If we continue with the musical analogy, a song that stays on a single note for the entire duration of the piece is not very interesting. It is the rise and fall of the melodic line which results in a listener’s emotional connection to the music. Consistent melodic lines can be extracted from great speakers.
Those extracted melodies, if played in isolation, will actually become earworms for the listener. Vocal inflection when used effectively by a speaker does not sound “sing-song” or monotone, but rather uses melody and timbre as an asset to further their Vocal Brand.
Each of the four elements above can be modified relatively easily with training and coaching. The element of voice quality is inherently linked to the actual status of the vocal folds and the interaction with the vocal tract above. Vocal qualities may include breathiness, pressed voice, strained voice, hoarseness, roughness, and a clear voice, to name a few. Having worked with elite famous voices for over 20 years, it is often the unique quality voice that is hired and desired over the “perfect” voice.
Unique voices are interesting to listeners, so long as they are not outliers which are then perceived as annoying. Vocal quality is often considered the emotional valve to the soul, and a voice quality that is “too perfect” may seem to be inauthentic. Authenticity is paramount for any brand, including your Voice Brand™.
Take the Next Step
Just like you can improve your physique through appropriate exercise, diet, coaching, and daily practice, you can maximize your Vocal Brand™ through physiologic exercise and training to get the communication competence you desire. Take inventory, what does your vocal brand say about you? Are you ready to maximize your Vocal Brand™?
About Dr. Wendy LeBorgne
Dr. Wendy LeBorgne is a sought after voice pathologist, speaker, author, and master-class clinician regarding vocal wellness and vocal athletes. Dr. LeBorgne actively presents nationally and internationally on the professional voice with over 100 presentations on vocal wellness and vocal athletes. Her 20 year career as a voice pathologist and singing voice specialist includes serving as the clinical director of two successful private practice voice centers (ProVoice Center, Cincinnati, OH & BBIVAR, Dayton, OH) both evaluating and treating patients with vocal injury. Dr. LeBorgne holds an adjunct professor position at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music as a Voice Consultant caring for the voices of the actors and singers at CCM as well as teaching undergraduate vocal pedagogy, a new doctoral level commercial music pedagogy course, and a new course entitled “Vocal Wellness for Vocal Athletes."
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