Our tone of voice is something we tend to take for granted. We often ignore it completely. And we have a tendency to deny its impact – how it can welcome and motivate others, or shut down and silence them. In fact, every time we speak to someone, our tone of voice has an impact on the quality of the conversation.
Acknowledging that your voice is a tool, and working with it, is essential to becoming an excellent storyfinder. How you sound has a direct impact on whether the other person will hear you; whether they will understand you. Of course, the words you choose are vitally important. But how you say those words can kindle interesting and valuable conversations, or ignite misunderstandings and even challenging emotions.
Your tone of voice is what welcomes someone into a conversation with you and both encourages and inspires them to share their story with you.
What are the elements of an “ideal” tone of voice? And how can you support and strengthen your tone?
You do have a tone of voice that encourages others to listen and understand you, to share information and participate in conversation. To work with this tone, you must acknowledge it. While this sounds simple, the majority of people shy away from listening to their own voice.
Dr. Neel K. Bhatt, who works to develop novel regenerative therapies to improve patients’ quality of life with voice, swallowing, and breathing disorders, provides the perfect explanation in a recent article in The Conversation:
The discomfort we have over hearing our voices in audio recordings is probably due to a mix of physiology and psychology.
For one, the sound from an audio recording is transmitted differently to your brain than the sound generated when you speak.
When listening to a recording of your voice, the sound travels through the air and into your ears – what’s referred to as “air conduction.” The sound energy vibrates the eardrum and small ear bones. These bones then transmit the sound vibrations to the cochlea, which stimulates nerve axons that send the auditory signal to the brain.
However, when you speak, the sound from your voice reaches the inner ear in a different way. While some of the sound is transmitted through air conduction, much of the sound is internally conducted directly through your skull bones. When you hear your own voice when you speak, it’s due to a blend of both external and internal conduction, and internal bone conduction appears to boost the lower frequencies.
For this reason, people generally perceive their voice as deeper and richer when they speak. The recorded voice, in comparison, can sound thinner and higher pitched, which many find cringeworthy.
There’s a second reason hearing a recording of your voice can be so disconcerting. It really is a new voice – one that exposes a difference between your self-perception and reality. Because your voice is unique and an important component of self-identity, this mismatch can be jarring. Suddenly you realize other people have been hearing something else all along.
In order to access and use the unique power of your tone of voice, you have to work with it. You have to acknowledge that it is a tool, an essential element of storyfinding. And a vital part of your work in both sales and customer service. You want to take full responsibility for discovering, understanding and owning your most powerful and effective tone of voice. This is a skill, and an art, that will allow you to excel at inspiring conversation and communicating clearly at the highest level.
The ideal tone of voice:
- Is warm, welcoming, calm and patient
- Fully represents your brand, your desire to serve, your interest in your clients and prospects
- Inspires trust and confidence
- Encourages your prospect/client to share their story
- Increases your ability to be heard and understood
Finding and consistently using this tone of voice takes practice, commitment and focus.
- Listen to recordings of your voice. In order to work with your voice, you must get to know it.
- Stay well hydrated. Our vocal cords do “dry out” and this can create a vastly different tone of voice.
- Voices need to be warmed up. One option is to sing at the beginning of your time on the phone. This will give your voice additional energy and power. (It doesn’t matter what you sing!)
- Smile! The muscles you use when you smile impact your tone of voice. A smile can definitely change and enhance your tone of voice.
In January 2020, I had a fabulous conversation in a 30-minute webinar with voiceover actor, Natasha Marchewka. You can hear about her experiences and learn her best tips by watching the video.
And here are three ideas for learning more about the power of tone of voice. Once you acknowledge what tone brings to conversation and how it impacts you and others, you will … own another superpower!
- Call one of your service providers (i.e. cell phone company, cable company, bank, airline, etc.). How do you react when the person who answers sounds rushed, impatient, cranky, tired? What is the impact on your ability to participate in an effective conversation?
- Pay attention during conversations with family, friends and colleagues. When does tone of voice impact these conversations? What happens to the conversation?
- What tones of voice annoy you? What tones of voice build your trust? What tones of voice help you to listen?
What’s your experience with tone of voice? Share your stories and ideas below.