Why communicators should pay more attention to their voice
We use it constantly, every day and sometimes even while we are asleep. We start using it shortly after birth as a reflex. If we didn’t have it, we would be deprived of one of our most important means of expression: our voice. Unlike other creatures, we can not only produce sounds with our voice, but also use it as part of a complex language system. This is possible because of around 120 different muscles working together..
Corporate communicators or communications consultants also use their voice in a professional context everyday: to talk to customers on the phone, to articulate themselves in a meeting or in order to explain a topic to journalists. But in my experience, very few communicators consciously focus on their voice. Hardly anyone has undergone intensive speech training or even professional voice training.
Above all, the voice functions subconsciously
Our voice is a complex and powerful tool. Therefore, it is all the more sad that it is often underestimated. Not only as unique as a fingerprint and thus an essential characteristic personality trait, it also functions as a mirror of our mood. At the same time, it determines whether someone thinks of us as a likeable person or not. This is due to the so-called psycho-respiratory effect: People subconsciously imitate others when they listen to them. Also, voices have an emotional effect on us. For example, sonorous voices soothe us, while shrill ones annoy us. Also, we can even fall in love with a voice, as the movie HER shows us. In addition, we only consider someone being credible and convincing if the message matches the way of expression. In the PR one of the main tasks is to convey messages to a certain target group, and therefore it’s all the more essential to be aware of this subconscious effect.
Mobile working increases the importance of the voice
Due to the enforced contact restrictions and the increased use of home office solutions in the Corona pandemic, sound is even more important. According to a Bitkomstudy from December 2020, around 10.5 million professionals have been working at home permanently since the beginning of the Corona pandemic. Therefore, they are having less personal contact with others. In order to still be able to communicate with colleagues and customers regularly, they resort to media that is strongly influenced by auditory effects.
One example is the conference tool Zoom: The number of users skyrocketed after the start of the Corona pandemic. In March 2020, there was a 110% increase in users um 110% compared to the previous month. Of course, Zoom Zoom is a VIDEO conferencing tool. But the field of view is severely limited and body language can only be perceived to a certain extent. "Can you hear me?", "You're still on mute!" or "Can you speak a little louder?" - these are phrases that probably everyone has heard during video conferences. They speak to the fact, that despite the video function, sound has an essential level of significance to us. It is therefore even more important than in analog meetings, when it comes to conveying the message to our counterpart appropriately. For this purpose, an examination of one's own voice can be very helpful.
Protection against the loss of voice
In order to protect the health of one's voice, one has to deal with the larynx and vocal cords. Since the coordination of the various muscles during the speech process is so very complex, problems might occur, if not properly taken care of the vocal organ. However, we are not talking about short-term hoarseness from a cold, but about functional voice disorders. In that case, there are usually no recognizable organic changes, but the performance of the voice is none the less limited, and its sound is altered. In addition, functional voice disorders can develop into permanent organic changes. According to the German Federal Association for Speech Therapy , about 6% of all people suffer from such voice disorders. For professional speakers such as teachers, actors or even communicators, exist increased risk factors.
How can we engage with our voice?
How can we protect ourselves from voice disorders on the one hand, and increase the variance in the voice as well as the awareness of our own vocal impact on the other hand? If one is often hoarse or suspects a vocal disorder, a visit to an ENT physician, speech therapist or voice therapist is advisable. To be more aware of the voice, it can also be helpful to record your own voice on tape and listen to it at first. This might be unpleasant, but very informative in the beginning. If you want to improve your vocal performance professionally and prevent voice disorders in the long term, you can take lessons with trained voice coaches, actors or singing teachers. The situation is similar to competitive sports: A short-term session can be beneficial, but a profound improvement can only be achieved with long-term training.
Establishing voice trainings as an integral part of PR training
Of course, such a training is not cheap and is therefore not affordable for everyone. In various voice related professions voice training is an essential part of the professional training: Teachers receive speech lessons at university, and for singers the main focus of training is on voice development, as well as for actors. So why not also promote voice coaching in the PR industry during the training on the job? In PR degree programs, for example, voice training establishes itself in the form of a recurring long-term elective module. It would also make sense to make voice training a fixed component of PR traineeships or during trainee programs. Journalistic traineeships in the broadcasting industry have already installed this as a fixed component. Why not in the PR as well? This would automatically lead to the PR industry becoming more aware of the role of the voice as a part of communication and being overall more professional. After all, the voice is a potential that we should use – not only in our professional lives, but also in our everyday lives.
Not all of us have to be perfect speakers but...
We don't want to give the impression that all PR professionals should be perfect speakers with optimally trained voices. Above all, our tone of voice should always be in line with the subject matter. Yet, well-articulated nonsense still remains nonsense. It is nevertheless advisable to master a well-trained voice. This means: On the one hand, we should be able to use our voice in variable ways in terms of tone of voice, melody of speech and mode of expression – so that it matches the message. At the same time, the corresponding technique should be stable so that we can apply it in stressful situations. Thus, a well-trained voice increases our assertiveness, because it helps to convey our arguments even better and more convincingly. In this way, PR professionals can create even more trust and credibility in front of journalists and customers: the people we aim to convince in our daily work. On the other hand, we should protect our voice from disorders through a healthy speaking technique. As a matter of fact, without our voice, many things would simply say nothing to us.
About the author
Felix Hübner has taken professional voice lessons for over 15 years and now works in communications consulting at ORCA van Loon Communications.