Beyond The Voice

Beyond The Voice

Better understanding the factors that govern how you sound.

Your vocal behavior is your gateway to the world. Think about it. What comes to mind when you hear a nasal person on the other end of the phone line or a presenter who can’t project? The subtext of those vocal behaviors is anything but powerful.

Last August, I wrote about vocal behavior basics. This spring, I want you to grow that foundational knowledge and go beyond the voice. Your vocal behavior is a combination of three factors: How you sound, how you deliver your sound and how people perceive you through what they hear.

Strong vocal behavior starts with attention to vocal health—hydration and a non-clogging diet. Avoid alcohol before high-stakes presentation moments. It affects your larynx (voice box) and could have drastic effects on your vocal power. Vocal exercises help keep your larynx strong. Just as your body needs exercise and rest, so does your larynx.

How you sound is a combination of the note from which you normally speak (your pitch) and the location through which you project (hard palate or soft palate). Most people can produce 16 spoken notes from their larynxes.

The hard palate is the bony top section of your mouth. James Earl Jones and Lauren Bacall both have hard-palate deliveries. They start with a great note and then deliver that note by projecting through the hard palate.

If you take your tongue and slowly sweep it upward from the hard palate to where the tissue becomes squishy, you have met the soft palate. It’s part of your nasal zone. Sylvester Stallone and Fran Drescher have soft-palate deliveries. From a vocal behavior standpoint, their deliveries may be likable (to some) but are not exactly optimal.

Basics firmly understood, focus on intentionality. Recently, I coached a group of salespeople who came in from all parts of the United States to meet at their corporate headquarters. There was a mix of accents, projection abilities and vocal pacing skills.

The group learned that the Southern accent can be charming and approachable, but if it goes overboard, those particular salespeople could actually hurt their profit margins. Some of the Minnesota salespeople learned the Midwestern twang can sound unsophisticated.

Something several of the women in the group learned from our vocal work is the importance of projection for owning their space. Whether they were petite or taller, owning space is important for all businesswomen. (It is important for men, too.) When you speak with a strong note and project through the hard palate, the words you deliver sound best, and the subtextual messages are strong. There is subtext to everything we do, say and wear, as well as how our body language delivers. You want the subtextual messages your vocal behavior delivers to match your intent.

Say, for example, that you are promoting a strong product or how ethical your company is in delivering that product. If the subtext of your vocal behavior actually delivers sounds that communicate “shifty” or “ditzy” or non-credible, you do nothing for your brand or for your bottom line.

Once you find your strongest note and project it through the hard palate, you are on the road to more firmly owning your space. Vocal projection comes into play here, too. Make sure you adjust your volume to the audience and the space in which you are communicating. If you are naturally loud, make sure you get a sense of when you need to bring your volume down. If you are naturally soft-spoken, projection exercises will serve you well.

Even when we focus on vocal behavior, thoughts of your audience should not be neglected. This is especially important when it comes to choreographing your communication moment with the use of vocal variety. No one likes to be lectured to. When you incorporate various pacing devices when speaking to one or many, you will have powerful results. For example, mixing up your rate of speech as well as using loudness and softness are pacing devices. Bringing up a member of the audience, when appropriate, to give the crowd a different voice to hear, is an example of what I call an “interactive,” and works well for pacing. It breaks the monotony of your vocal behavior and gives you a rest, but also energizes the audience to hear more from you after you’ve shared the stage with someone else.

The only way to have stronger vocal behavior is to intentionally use your full presence over and over and over. Get a sense of your own vocal variety. Do your vocal exercises and pay attention to your vocal health.

Mastering vocal behavior will truly set you and your brand apart.

Roshini Rajkumar is a communication coach, host of News & Views on WCCO Radio, and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit

Related Stories