How Your Voice Contributes To Your Nervousness
Who are you?
Your gesturing, your style of speaking, your voice (trying to sound like Darth Vader even though you sound like Pee Wee Herman?), the content you choose to speak about (do you give a crap about your topic?), and lastly, the words you use (do you intentionally use jargon instead of simpler words that mean the same thing?). These showcase who you are as a speaker. Read through them again...
Now that's a lot of moving parts!
Today, though, we’re only going to focus on the voice. Mainly because it’s the one thing listed above that we can’t really change. Don’t get me wrong, we CAN strengthen it, but ultimately it’s going to sound distinctly unique to us. The jolly-good-news is, that’s quite alright.
Since your voice is an intimate part of who you are, you must get comfortable with it. The reason is, if you’re not happy about it, it may cause you to become self-conscious toward it and try to be someone you’re not. Perhaps another speaker that you thought sounded incredible. But if that happens, you become an act.
The lack of authenticity sucks, sure, but the amount of mental resources that you consciously expend trying to mimic somebody else, that’s the real killer in this case because the added pressure can hike up your anxiety.
And even if you aren’t trying to talk like or be somebody else, there are still potential problems. When it comes to your voice you don’t want to be playing mental ping pong with the likes of “Is my voice going to crack?,” “Do I sound silly?,” “Am I monotone?,” “Am I loud enough?,” “Did I sound angry when I told that audience member to shut the hell up or did I sound thrilled?,” etc.
Self-conscious thoughts like these not only reduce your capacity to focus on your message, they also intensity your nervousness. The more nervous you get, the less control you have over your thoughts. Bad news.
To combat this, here are 3 steps you can take to get comfortable with your humanoid communication instrument:
1. Record how you sound
Get a voice recorder like news reporters used back in the day. Click the record button and start talking. I must warn you. Your voice doesn’t sound the same as you think it does. What you think you sound like and what others hear when you talk are two totally different things.
It’s probably not going to be a fun exercise (at first)---if you’re like most people. I hated how I sounded; it was extremely uncomfortable to the point of cringing inside as I threw the recorder across the room. However, if you want to perfect your voice or tweak it to your liking, you must first hear it. A lot. Get used to how you sound so you can bury any negative thoughts you may have about it. This is where your faithful digital voice recorder comes in handy.
Don’t be shy.
2. Learn how to breathe
Sounds obvious, right? You’d be surprised.
It’s like we forget how to breathe when we consciously try to do it. Your breathing is the foundation for your voice and proper breathing techniques will give you the power to project your words. If you master this, the thought of “what if my voice cracks?” will no longer keep you awake at night.
Understand this crucial point. There’s a difference between shallow chest breathing and “belly” breathing. “Belly” breathing is actually called “diaphragmatic” breathing. Let’s just use “belly,” shall we?
What you want is “belly” breathing, where your stomach expands as you inhale. Chest breathing, on the other hand, is where you puff out your chest and shoulders like a couple of high school kids who are about to throw down. This may seem like you are packed full of oxygen, but you're actually not.
This is important because you can only speak as long as you have enough air to propel your words. If you run out, your words will deflate...or "crack."
To go deeper into the technical side of this, check out this free resource from Toastmasters International titled Your Speaking Voice. And to find out what vocal exercises you can use to strengthen your voice (and warm-up exercises to use before you speak), check out this book. [You may know the author 🙂 ]
Here’s a quick exercise to show you how breathing is related to your voice:
First, inhale. Then, say the word “you,” but when you do this, elongate the word like “youuuuu.” Not too long though. As you say the word, flex your stomach as if you were trying to show off your amazing six-pack at the same time. That extra force from flexing pushes the air out as you say the word, thus giving the word more “strength.”
After that, say the word again in the exact same way but this time don’t inhale beforehand nor flex your abs. And don't attempt to exhale when you say the word. Can you feel the difference? The word should feel “empty” without that extra abdominal push.
From now on when you hear the word “voice,” I want the word “breathing” to instantly pop into your head.
3. Listen, listen, listen
Get used to how you sound. I promise you that over time you can be completely comfortable with your voice. It’s only weird at first because it’s new.
I like to compare the phenomena to when you hear a song for the first time.
Perhaps you didn’t like it at first, but then people played the song around you (over and over!) and then out of nowhere you started to “kinda” like it. The rest is history. You probably ended up loving the song even if outwardly you said “I hateee this song” when your friends were around.
This is fresh in my mind because my wife recently did this to me. She kept playing a Justin Bieber song. To be clear, I don’t like any of his songs...or so I thought. She kept playing the song “What Do You Mean?” by the Biebs, and it finally burrowed into my brain. I admit it. I like the song now. But you better believe that “I hateee the song” when asked. Let’s keep this between us, okay?
The point remains. Treat your recorded voice like that. Listen to it often and start to fall in love with it. Even if it means putting it on repeat and listening to it every night while you sleep. If it takes an entire year, so be it. I bet Gilbert Gottfried had to do that.
When you love your voice, it'll no longer waste precious thought power during your presentations. I give you permission to love it.
When You’re Happy With Your Voice
The voice isn’t a glamorous subject, I get that, but it’s a fierce contributor to fear when self-conscious thoughts dominate our minds. When we're happy with our voices, we no longer have to think about them. That’s one less nervous-thought to fill our heads and rob us of our focus.
And remember, your voice may be deep, it may be higher pitched, middle pitched, sales pitch, whatever pitch, just accept it. You can strengthen your voice yet ultimately you’re stuck with what you’ve got.
It is what it is. Go to work on it, explore it and then make peace with it.
Have you ever recorded and listened to your voice? Did you cry?
Share and comment below!
About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life. In less than a year since, I’ve started this website, Tactical Talks, competed and won 3 separate public speaking contests, wrote a book, and spoke at one of the top universities in southern California (SDSU).
And look, I’m not telling you this to “show off.” My purpose is to show you that it’s possible to start doing the things that YOU want to do. And that’s my goal. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.