Three-time Academy Award winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis once referred to the voice as “the fingerprint of the soul”.

An underlying commonality with the components of the voice covered in this article is whether they reflect your true nature or not.

No, this isn’t some dramatic lie detector test scene in a movie. The whole point of communication is to convey a message in alignment with your authentic expression.

In continuation of this, communication work is about removing the blockages on your natural expression that betray who you are and enhancing the natural elements that exist. As a fundamental mode of expression in day-to-day life, the voice should be regarded with the same value as any other aspect of personal development, if not more.

This article will help you remove the blockages on your voice and enhance it. This will improve your vocal communication with anyone across the globe.

Speaking speed

A whole host of factors contribute to the way you speak, one of which is your cultural background and environment.

Growing up in fast-paced London, walking and talking fast were the norm. It wasn’t until I heard recordings of myself speaking as an adult that it dawned on me that I was a pretty fast speaker.

Like all the vocal traits covered here, speaking speed can be an endearing characteristic. We all know people whose motor mouths are aligned with their personalities.

But when it comes to clear communication, the charm of a speedy speaker is offset by the hindrance in understanding.

The first reason is obvious. The faster you speak, the more words the listener has to process in their brain in the same amount of time.

Our ability to process words we hear is second nature in our native tongue. But to people who don’t speak your language as their first, it makes comprehension extra difficult.

Even to native listeners, a very fast speaking speed can pose issues in understanding. I might be a native English speaker from the UK but I’ll still struggle with certain rapid regional accents if the person speaks too fast.

Moreover, a fast speaking speed can belie your true nature. Fast speakers are often perceived as lacking control, either because they’re too nervous and quicken how they speak as a result, or because they’re trying to bamboozle their listener via ‘fast talk’ demonstrated by many a salesperson.

Like with the other vocal traits in this post, it’s unlikely that anyone understands how their speaking speed affects others in communication.

Most of the time, the effect our vocal expression has on our listeners is subconscious. Unless you have distinct vocal tics accompanying the way you speak such a stammer, most people won’t think you’re anxious or untrustworthy outright just because you speak fast. But on an unconscious level, the average listener is jarred by it in some way.

So to resolve a habit of speaking too fast, it’s simply a matter of slowing down right?

If only it were that easy. Chances are if anybody could slow their natural speaking speed down at will, everyone would have done so already and the world would contain very few fast talkers.

Here’s a technique that will help you engrain the habit of speaking at a smoother pace:

The Typing Technique

-> When you speak, imagine you’re typing out the words on a keyboard and say them at the same speed as it would take for you to type them out. You’ll find that whatever your typing speed, you’ll speak at a slower cadence demonstrating more control. When practicing on their own, some people even imitate pressing the keys with their fingers. In person, just imagine you’re doing this in your head.

-> When you start out, you’ll find yourself slowing down much more than your usual speed. After a while of getting used to this technique, imagine you can type at a faster speed (whether you actually can or not) and allow yourself to speed up a little. This will help you find the balance between being too slow or too fast.

Vocal Communication Speaking Speed


Another component of the voice is volume. Projection refers to how loud or soft your voice is perceived.

Note the key word here is perceived. Speaking loudly doesn’t mean shouting. People who speak with booming voices project their voices differently without resorting to yelling.

You don’t need to have a resounding voice to gain the benefits of better projection. Having sufficient projection is about speaking loud enough so that you’re not underselling your authentic expression which might happen if you speak too softly.

I learned this the hard way. For most of my life up to my late teens, I frequently felt the drawbacks of being a soft speaker. Every so often, friends and family would tell me that I was too quiet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to repeat what I was saying to convey my message back then.

Whatever your personality type, repeating yourself is nobody’s natural mode of expression.

Then there’s the main shortcoming of speaking too softly: being perceived as someone who lacks confidence.

The thing is, we rarely receive feedback on how our voice affects others. Gone are the days where our parents might tell us to speak quieter or louder depending on which type of child you were. Instead, we live in the adult world that assumes you’re a static being unable to change, unwilling to give feedback due to a lack of knowhow, political correctness or both.

Yet if we wish to better our communication skills, we have to be open to feedback on what we could improve upon and not assume our learning stops once we leave school. Since much of communicative expression is beyond the words we speak, a lot of the way we express ourselves is processed subconsciously by others. This means we don’t always receive good feedback unless we know what to look for.

For better or worse, quieter speakers come across as lacking conviction in their message compared to those who are louder. Again, as this perception takes place subconsciously, it isn’t necessarily reflective of the truth. Quieter speakers can have as much conviction in what they’re saying as louder speakers. But the cultural norms influencing our subconscious interpretations are long embedded.

As a former soft speaker myself, it was unsettling to hear this but I realised it was better to adapt and face reality rather than expect cultural norms to change in my lifetime.

Just as smoothing out speaking speed requires more than telling yourself to slow down, speaking with sufficient volume requires more than just telling yourself to speak louder.

The secret to good vocal projection isn’t forcing loudness but speaking with more resonance.

Pavarotti’s legendary voice wasn’t due to forcing volume (good singers don’t shout), it was because his voice ‘pinged’ so well.

Instruments produce their unique sounds and volume via how the sound waves resonate against the body of the instrument. As a wind instrument of the flesh and blood, our voices operate the same way. Good resonance is the key to good projection.

Here’s an exercise you can do to improve your resonance and thus projection:

Resonance Exercise

-> Pick a note and hum so that you feel a ‘buzzing’ sensation in your lips. This means you are placing the resonance of your voice towards the front of your head.

-> While still humming the note, transition to opening your mouth and making a ‘Ma’ sound. Make sure you move from humming to emitting the sound smoothly with no pause in between.

-> Repeat this for other notes. You can choose to go up or down a scale to practice resonating this way across the range of your voice.


Chest Voice vs Head Voice

You might not know this but there are actually two types of voice: chest voice and head voice.

There are also different interpretations on what constitutes these two types of voice.

For singers, the difference in chest voice and head voice is noticeable and occurs at specific points in your vocal range depending on your gender and voice classification.

But in everyday speech, chest and head voice are better viewed as different timbres of the voice i.e. they have different tonal qualities.

Chest voice is the timbre that comes from the lower end of your range. It tends to have a vocal colour that’s warmer, fuller and more rounded.

The name derives from the way you can feel the resonance of your voice in your chest at this range. Try it: place one hand on your chest and sustain a low note. You should feel some vibration in your chest as you do this.

Head voice is the timbre at the upper end of your range. As you move up in pitch, your voice starts to resonate higher up in the body too, moving from your chest to your head. Head voice timbres are usually shriller and less rounded.

The two different types of voice are like tools in a toolbox—you can switch between them depending on what you want to express.

But due to the richer sound that tends to accompany the chest voice register in speech, those who speak with chest voice are perceived as having more pleasant voices.

If you don’t speak in chest voice and want to improve the quality of your tone, speaking through chest voice is one of the quickest ways you can do this.

To find out if your natural spoken range is in chest voice or not, as mentioned earlier, place one hand on your chest but this time speak naturally. If you don’t feel any vibrations at all, you’re probably not speaking in chest voice.

Another way to discern your voice type is to record yourself and listen back to how you speak. If your voice frequently sounds high-pitched, whispy or shrill, your placement is head voice and you can consider lowering your placement to enter chest voice.

An exercise to practice chest voice register is as follows:

Chest voice exercise

-> Emit a loud ‘Hah’ sound and slide down to a lower pitch while sustaining the sound.

-> Sustain the sound until you reach a lower pitch that feels natural to you. As you slide down in pitch, feel the vibrations of your voice in your chest.

-> Repeat this several times and at different pitches.

-> (Variation) Follow the above steps but as you do them, tilt your head back. This will smoothen the resonance in your throat and chest.

Vocal Communication Chest Voice Head Voice


A vocal inflection is a change in pitch or tone of the voice. 

Vocal inflections are powerful: they’re often the predominant way we modulate our vocal expression to change the meaning of what we say by how we say it.

If you’ve ever lost focus or even fallen asleep from listening to someone monotonous, you’ll know how important vocal inflections are in communication.

While there are several types of vocal inflections, the main two that are useful to know are upward inflection and downward inflection.

Upward inflection is moving from a lower to higher pitch in speech. Downward inflection is the reverse, moving from a higher pitch to a lower one.

Whilst inflections occur across all parts of the sentences we speak, they’re more distinguishable and thus more impactful at the end of sentences.

The most obvious example is in how we ask questions. In the majority of languages and cultures worldwide, people ask questions by ending a sentence on an upward inflection. Think about how you’d say: “Do fries go with that shake?”. The upward inflection on the final syllable is almost synonymous with the question mark.

As downward inflections are direct opposites of upward inflections, it should come as no surprise that a downward inflection at the end of a sentence tends to denote the opposite of a question. In other words, a statement or order.

Imagine saying the following sentence with an upward inflection at the end: “Drop and give me twenty push-ups”. It doesn’t work at all. You need a downward inflection to convey the meaning of the instruction.

The above example demonstrates how using inflections without finesse can distort the meaning you want to get across in your speech.

The most common distortion is using upward inflections on statements when a downward inflection would be appropriate.

Most people would never use an upward inflection at the end of a direct command as above. But whether we’re aware or not, there are many other statements we utter where we raise our pitch at the end to our detriment.

Detriment since we’re using a questioning inflection on a statement. The result is your listener assuming that you lack conviction in what you’re saying or feeling confused with what you’ve said entirely.

If you feel you lack authority in the way you express yourself, you might be someone who defaults to upward inflections without realising. Start paying attention to whether you do this in conversations. If you do, begin removing this habit.

There’s no real isolated exercise for working on downward inflections. We all have the ability to do them, it’s a matter of having awareness in real conversations.

You can start in small steps. Focus on a particular scenario where you’ll force yourself to use downward inflections. For example, in work meetings or presentations. Once you’re accustomed to using downward inflections in such situations, it’ll become easier to transition to using them in all scenarios.

Vocal Communication Inflections


Our voices are a fundamental component of our communicative expression to the world and therefore, a fundamental part of who we are.

As a communication apparatus, it’s important that we remove blockages in our self-expression with the voice and enhance its natural characteristics.

One common characteristic among many is a fast speaking speed. Speaking fast is a common habit among those who have driving personalities or are anxious in certain situations. It can make you appear nervous or abrasive depending on the context. Learning to slow down more to speak with a smoother cadence will improve how you deliver your message.

Another contributing factor to our voice is vocal projection or volume. In many situations, soft speakers can come across as unauthoritative compared to louder speakers, even if they have complete conviction in what they’re saying. Resonating well so that your voice ‘pings’ will improve your vocal projection without you having to resort to shouting.

Then there’s the distinction between chest voice and head voice. When we speak with head voice, our voice pitch tends to be higher than natural creating a shriller and sometimes weaker voice tone. If instead we speak with chest voice, the colour of our voice becomes warmer and better rounded which tends to be more pleasant on the ears.

Lastly, understanding inflections is probably the most influential factor in controlling the meaning of what we say outside of the words themselves. Ensuring you utter statements with a downward inflection instead of an upward one will go a long way to aligning what you say with the conviction with which you say it.

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