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Melody T. McCloud M.D.
Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Putting Your Best Voice Forward

What does your voice say about you, your personality and your possibilities?

Body language. Personal style. Vocal tone and quality. All of these things influence how people perceive each other. Sometimes the tone of a voice may feel comforting, commmanding or confusing. It may even be annoying to the point where no one even hears what you say. I invited Mindy Cohen, founding director of Speech Pathology Services Atlanta to share her wisdom about speech patterns and causes, and what you can do to use your voice wisely and well. Per Ms. Cohen:

Your voice is one of the first impressions you make when you meet someone and it can be the one impression that lasts. It identifies you from afar, distinguishes you from others, and often reveals how you feel in a given situation. A full sounding, resonant voice can communicate human and sensitive qualities, bring storytelling alive, express one’s passion and conviction, and be a calming influence in the most dire of circumstances.

Most of us don’t think about how we sound but are more focused on what we are going to say. Casual conversation usually is easier, less work, and flows more freely when speaking with a close friend. Business interaction, on the other hand, is a totally different matter. We choose words carefully, monitor the listener’s body language to determine if we are “on target” with our message, decide when and what to say next, and adjust accordingly.

While we are so busy monitoring and adjusting what we say, we don’t think as much about how we sound. We are unaware of the power of our voice and that listeners may attribute specific personality characteristics based on how we sound. For example, one who speaks with a breathy voice may sound immature or childish and one whose voice sounds tense may seem angry, rude, or frustrated. A voice that sounds too nasal may convey boredom, complaint, or self-deprecation, or just sound “whiney.” An individual who sounds “throaty” or hoarse may be perceived as unemotional, authoritative, indecisive, or cautious.

On the other hand, some of the most memorable voices (Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones, Julia Roberts, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Diane Sawyer, et al.) are pleasing to hear and easily recognizable. Accordingly to a 2012 poll conducted at Wake Forest University, Americans prefer relatively low pitched voices with minimal high frequency noise. In other words, voices that are melodious, soothing, and fully resonant.

Why do some voices sound less pleasing than others? A voice or resonance disorder or poor speaking habits may be the culprit. A voice disorder is a disturbance of pitch, loudness, or quality in relation to a person’s age, gender and cultural background. Voice disorders can occur for a variety of reasons and it is critical that one consults with an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist (ENT/Otolaryngologist) to determine whether there is a medical cause (e.g., vocal cord paralysis, acid reflux that harms the vocal cords, Parkinson’s Disease).

Often, an individual’s voice difficulty is caused by vocal misuse or abuse (screaming, throat clearing, smoking, excessive talking without a break) or colds, allergies, or exposure to irritants such as ammonia. Many professionals (teachers, lawyers, actors, singers, public speakers) who depend on their voice for their livelihood are more susceptible to vocal misuse or abuse.

The good news is that these functional problems can be treated by working with a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in voice disorders. This professional can assess how your voice is working, identify any misuse, abuse, and/or environmental factors that are contributing to your difficulty, and systematically help you improve the way you sound.

You can keep your voice healthy by hydrating as much as possible (especially in high altitudes), speaking with good breath support, using a microphone when speaking publicly, installing a vaporizer to keep the air in your home moist during the winter, giving yourself “voice breaks,” and avoiding chocolate and caffeine.

Now what about the person who sounds too nasal or as if he always has a cold? This may be due to an imbalance in the sound vibration in the oral, nasal, and throat cavities heard during speech.

When speaking, the goal is to have good airflow through the mouth for all speech sounds except “m,” “n,” and “ng.” Abnormal resonance can occur when there is an obstruction in the oral, nasal, or throat regions or if there is a problem with the hard and/or soft palate (roof of the mouth). Again, a trip to the ENT doctor is warranted so that the structures involved in speaking can be examined, the problem diagnosed, and recommendations for appropriate treatment can be made.

For those who sound too nasal without a physical cause, the person to see is Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in voice problems. Whether the problem is due to regional dialect, poor speech patterns, reduced mouth opening, or adapting a “trendy” sounding resonance, there is help! Once the reason for the nasal sounding voice is identified, exercises can be assigned to achieve a proper balance of oral and nasal resonance. Some exercises include reducing the loudness of your voice, practice saying words that do not contain nasal sounds (e.g., shock, ark, take), and opening up your mouth a bit when speaking.

So.... if you are unhappy with the way your voice sounds or your voice appears to detract from your communication, then see a professional and get on your way to putting your best voice forward.

Copyright © 2013 Mindy Cohen, M.Ed, CCC-SLP. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page:

Mindy Cohen, M.Ed., CCC-SLP is the Founding Director of Speech Pathology Services Atlanta (SPS). She is a Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, The New York Academy of Sciences, and The Alliance for the Advancement of Science.

I'd like to thank Mindy Cohen for contributing her great wisdom with me as a guest blogger for the Psychology Today family.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly: T/F. @DrMelodyMcCloud

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About the Author
Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Melody T. McCloud, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist and the author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers.

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