I have a bit of a head cold at the moment and while I feel fine otherwise, my voice has changed! I sound a little like Bozo the Clown; with a mouth full of cotton wool – in short my resonators have packed it up and gone on holiday!

Trouble is, I am supposed to be conducting public speaking training tomorrow, and I am not a good advert for our abilities at the moment. Trish will have to take centre stage, while I nod wisely from the wings!

Vocal personality – that special quality that makes us immediately recognisable, is an overlaid function of an awful lot of muscles, bones and organs. And it is something that we rarely think about – until we get a cold and we start realising that we sound different.

And of course, we never sound to others the same as we sound to us, inside our heads. I am English but I have lived in Australia for many, many years. I spent twenty of those communicating with Australian soldiers, and I believe that I now sound Australian. In fact my English family commented on the fact when I last visited.

So you can imagine my amazement when I rang home to talk to the husband, only to be passed onto this woman on voice mail whose English accent could break glass at two paces. That was me!!

So the voice we hear, and the voice our listeners hear are two entirely different things. As public speakers and trainers, our voice is the ‘medium of our message’ – and the same applies to the Dad who gets up to give a wedding speech; to John who wants to sell you a car – or anyone who needs to get your attention and win your approval.

In fact, as Nietzsche wrote “we often refuse to accept an idea merely because the voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.”

And for something that we use everyday, and something that we depend on so much, we usually know very little on how it is produced. Knowledge of how something works is a necessary start to begin to adapt, change or improve it. So onto the mini biology lesson:

Try this exercise, take a deep breath and hold it. Breathing in expands the abdominal

walls and flattens the diaphragm. – and you should be able to feel the physical tension. Now, breathe out. This relaxes the diaphragm and contracts the abdominal wall – and you should now be able to feel that difference.

The air we breathe out provides for the controlled production of sound. This air rises and pushes against the vocal chords causing them to separate for a moment allowing the air to pass between them. It is the rush of the air past them as well as the elasticity of the chords themselves which pulls the vocal chords back together producing vibration, which is the basis of sound.

The difference in people’s voices is caused by their resonance which is affected by the throat, the nose and the mouth. This is why you voice changes when you are suffering from sinus or nasal problems and when you have a sore throat.

But there is a little more than that. The way in which we use our jaw and our tongue to form the words aids our articulation. Our knowledge of the way the words should sound is important to create correct pronunciation. The rate we speak, the pitch we use, and the volume we feel is appropriate are all important choices we can make to improve our vocal quality.

However, the one thing we cannot change (as I know from experience) appears to be our regional or national accent. And I think that is great as it adds diversity and colour to the language we hear in the streets, it creates a vibrancy around the markets that adds to sense of occasion.

And so long as it does not interfere with the clarity of what we are saying, I’m all for national accents – well I would be wouldn’t I?

But a head cold – well that’s a different thing! So pass me a tissue, and I will be cheering on Trish from the sidelines tomorrow.


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