The answer is yes absolutely. Some people can change their voices by simply becoming aware of their sound and then create a different sound.
If you are told you’re too soft (quiet) you might simply speak louder. If you’re told you speak to quickly you might try to go slower. For some people changing is quite easy, but for others these are long held habits so change isn’t easy.
It helps if you have a good ear or if you are good at imitating. But it all starts with being able to hear yourself. Then you have to set out to make a new voice. Just listen to Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher before and after her voice training.
In this sample you can hear Meryl Streep demonstrating a voice that is quite unpleasant. It is unstable, wavering in pitch, it has a shrill tone with poor breath support and sounding like she was somewhat out of control.
Streeps ‘after voice’ demonstrates a slower speed and lower pitch that is well supported with breath. She slows her speed and increases her pause which create a sense of control and confidence. She also uses word emphasis to convey the importance of her words and ideas. She was also able to speak on one breath for quite a time which prevents others from interjecting or stopping her from completing her ideas and maintaining her control.
Not everyone is quite as talented as Meryl who can simply listen and then imitate. Most of us would have to get some training. In the real case of Margaret Thatcher she had voice lessons and changed her voice through exercises and coaching. Listen to Margaret Thatcher before and after voice lessons.
In the first sample you will hear a light unsupported voice with a breathy quality. There is little difference in the expression of the ideas she is expressing. In the second sample you will hear a lower pitch, a slower pace, longer pauses and more emphatic use of expression to convey strength, confidence and control.
For those who do not find ‘imitation’ or simply changing a habit easy there are other ways one can improve their speaking style.
Speaking quickly (or fast talking) is a common complaint. Many people say “I’ve been told that I speak quickly my whole life”. Even though these people are very aware of this behavior they often say it isn’t easy to change. That is because it is an unconscious habit. It isn’t unusual to find that people who speak quickly are often fast at many things such as walking or completing a task. It is their nature to be fast.
So where to begin? Again, it all starts with awareness. With today’s smart phones it is very easy to make a recording of yourself when you’re talking. Listen to yourself in different contexts such as making a presentation, answering a question, talking on the telephone. Get a sense of your normal ‘speed’.
In the case of changing rate of speech you don’t actually have to do any exercises. You must however recalibrate what is normal.
The next step is picking a place to apply a new behavior. Try speaking at a slower rate when you are recording you voice mail message or when you are leaving a message. It is a short contained event, which is an easy place to practice. You also have the opportunity to listen back and to start to recognize a ‘new normal’. After you’ve been successful in this situation try to expand your opportunities. Try to control your speaking rate as you begin a communication. You might have a weekly team meeting so this would be an excellent opportunity to plan what you are going to say in your opening, practice saying it at the ‘new normal’ rate and then do it in front of the team.
The trick is to find places where you can easily think about ‘how you’re saying something’ rather than ‘what you are saying’. You want to practice the new skill in easy and controllable situations. If you read to your children try reading the books at your new rate. Become accustomed to talking out loud to yourself. You could be driving to work and reminding yourself of your top priorities for the day. In this modern age people will think you’re talking on your hands free phone.
Another strategy is to have someone you trust and feel comfortable with to give you a signal that you’ve sped up.
The other approaches to controlling rate have to do with breathing, pausing and articulation. The recommended exercises for speed control are outlined on page 136.
In the meantime a great on the spot test is to try to listen to yourself as you speak. You want to try and ‘hear’ every sound. If you were to say the phrase “can’t you, won’t you, don’t you” you will want to make sure that you hear yourself pronounce each of the ‘t’ sounds. A fast speaker will often drop the final consonants.
Another quick fix is to try to increase the amount of silence you create. Even if you can’t control your overall speed you can create silence, which will allow the listeners to catch up.