Most people are born with a powerful instrument that is completely unique to them – their voice.
When our vocal cords vibrate they produce a tone which resonates and can trigger a physical reaction with other bodies. Opera singers, for instance, can train their voices to match the resonant frequency of glass, causing it to shatter. Physiologists are fascinated by the human voice, and study sopranos who can execute whistle tones, which lie at the very top of the human register. The Tuvan people of Mongolia and Siberia continue to fascinate ethnomusicologists with ‘throat singing’. Through bioacoustics the Tuvans seem to defy the laws of vocal physics by producing multiple pitches at once.
Outside of these feats, the vocal cords perform a life-saving function every day – they protect our airways by preventing food and drink from entering our windpipe and choking us to death.
In public speaking, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. Activate your organs of speech, your lungs and your articulators. Speak from your chest and not your nose or throat in order to give weight to your message. In his TED Talk, “How to speak so that people want to listen”, Julian Treasure highlights how we associate depth with power, which is why we tend to vote for politicians with lower voices.
Before she was Prime Minister, the Conservative Party would not allow Margaret Thatcher to take part in broadcasts simply because her voice was considered too soft to be taken seriously. Thatcher then took lessons at the Royal National Theatre to develop a lower, more commanding pitch, which later became her trademark.
In advance of a presentation, it’s wise to warm up your instrument. Tongue twisters and breathing exercises can help prepare your voice.
Your voice has the power to amplify your message, ensuring that it can both physically and emotionally register with your listeners. Just think of how your body reacts physically when it hears a beautiful note, or a frightening story. The hairs on your body stand up and a chill runs down your spine. Your message has the potential to resonate with your audience. The tone of your voice can convey to your audience your confidence and passion, and can be key to getting your message communicated successfully.