It’s heartbreaking to me when I have a client – usually with a product or service pointed towards a younger clientele – who asks me for a Kardashian. Or a Valley Girl. Or even requests Vocal Fry – once the sign of actual (and serious) vocal pathology. Now it’s an artistic choice.
I’m endlessly fascinated with human speech – and not what necessarily *what* we say, but *how* we say it. I am particularly interested in the way women speak – it occurs to me that we are far more malleable in our speech patterns; we seem to be more prone to altering our speech to adjust to situation and circumstance. I’ve overheard receptionists who speak in a super-sweet, capable automaton voice while answering the phone at main reception – and then instantly swap to a normal (and lower) conversational tone when handing a document to a co-worker. Friends have talked to me in their natural register – then put on an almost child-like timbre for their husband. And yoga teachers! I’m a long-time yoga practitioner, and I have launched a vocal coaching business aimed at improving and enhancing the vocal approach of yoga teachers, many of whom I’ve heard make the conscious choice to come into to studio putting on their “mystical” voice; many have adopted a full-on Valley Girl cadence, or “embellish” their voice with vocal fry, which they perceive gives them an air of raspy-ness? Reality-Show star ennui? Kardashian wealth? And up-speak. How many times have I endured instruction in yoga class which sounds like this: “Make sure your hips are facing front? Because if you don’t? You’ll experience torsion in your spine? Which, over time, can create real problems for you?” (Can it? Will it? Are asking me, or are you telling me?) Nothing projects a lack of confidence or an absence of belief in what you’re saying like up-speak does.
We’re inundated with the message of authenticity. Finding – and projecting – the “real” you is always favored over adopting a character, or trying to emulate someone else. Acting or expressing yourself under the cloak of a “character” or “persona” works counter to all we know about human happiness – and yet, daily I hear people (and yes – primarily women) who willingly alter their voice and cadence to emulate their favorite celebrity – or to fit in. So as to not threaten. To get that promotion. To gain sympathy. To project cool. To appear smaller and more dear.
Tapping into your natural range; the tone, or “key” in which your voice falls in an unobserved or unguarded moment; is integral to not only staying true to yourself – you will be speaking in outward tones which are not derivative. Instead, your speech patterns will not be chasing trends or contributing to a cliché. On a more practical side, your voice will safely withstand many hours of talk when not forced to work outside of its normal parameters. When one of my clients worked on lowering her register, she not only found herself being able to teach back-to-back yoga classes, but to also teach a couple barre fitness classes in the same day – and not experience the vocal strain she was accustomed to feeling. Another client – whose focus was to eliminate up-speak from her cadence – immediately found that her yoga students experienced less confusion about how to get into a pose when she stopped speaking in questions – and instead, made clear, definitive statements which her students see as gentle but clear instructions. And yet another client of mine – who works in a corporate environment during the day when she’s not teaching yoga, decided to put our lessons of slowing her speech and talking in amore deliberate, metered way to work in her day job. During her company’s Monday morning meeting – which was akin to trying to get a word in edgewise at a large family dinner – she deliberately spoke slower, in a lower register, and embraced the “negative space” of silence in between her thoughts. To her surprise, they hung on her every word – she held the floor, which is something she could never do when she was raising her voice both in pitch and volume.
Your voice tells a lot about you. Women should be especially aware of the visceral effect their voice has on others, and take an honest look at the effect their voice has on listeners, and the story it tells about them.