I remember the first time I heard myself on camera. I was in high school and I was just coming out the other side of a pubescent voice change. The pitch of my voice was nasally, much different than what I heard in my head. Like a dented flugelhorn covered in wax paper. Is this what everybody else heard? God. It was terrible.
Most of the time we don’t really hear the sound of our own voice. While performers like singers and actors must work with and take great care of their voices, the rest of us very much take our voices for granted. Which is strange, considering our voices and words are how we communicate with the world around us.
It is not unlike metacognition, the process of creating and perceiving one’s self at the same time, of evaluating one’s own process while trying to utilize that same process. I have the same feeling sometimes when I am reading while distracted. Caught up in my own thoughts I find myself wondering how I know how to read in the first place. Of course, I remember learning how to read, but the fact that I can kind of amazes me and before I know it I’ve read a page and didn’t retain a single word.
We now know we aren’t built to multi-task, but even just thinking about the task at hand can take us out of the moment of actually performing it. Thinking about the process of reading or speaking while engaging in that process feels a little bit like getting lost in a mental corn maze.
Our voices are fundamental to how we are received in this world, they are both muscles and communication devices. And yet most of us (non-performers) don’t treat our voice like a muscle. We don’t warm it up or prepare it. We don’t rest it. And we don’t experiment with different ways of using it.
That is so fascinating to me because again, not to belabor this point, it is our primary mode of communication. Where we grew up, the education of our parents, the speech patterns of the people we spend time around – they all impact the way we sound. We adapt, sometimes intentionally, often not, but effectively.
It’s hard to know you sound different than anybody, to begin with, unless you go someplace different. Across the country or around the world. The context, inflection, and rhythm of different languages shift our own perspective of how we sound. But something far easier than travel is to record how we sound and listen.
The first time I started doing a podcast, I was still in the hurried midst of my mid-20s. A time when doing anything meant doing it as fast as possible to feel accomplished at having done something. The podcast was not about crafting an interesting and engaging audio experience, it was about turning 200 blogs into audio downloads as fast as possible with few mistakes. Of course, because that was my solitary focus it resulted in many mistakes.
When I relaunched the podcast a year ago, I was more interested in slowing myself down. Knowing I wasn’t trying to instantly create a body of work freed me up to take my time with what I was reading. It made me very aware of how I was breathing, or not breathing for that matter. I became more comfortable with pauses and accelerations. Where I tend to stumble. And how gesticulating makes it a lot easier for me to accentuate words the way I want to, despite the fact those gesticulations go unnoticed.
As is often the case with life, once I became comfortable with what I was first worried about, my attention turned to other elements of the podcast. Specifically, the sound of my voice.
Slowing down is an amazing thing. I’m not going to shatter any brain stems by saying slowing down is an easy way to improve or evaluate anything. Slowing down the way I spoke made me realize the pitch at which I speak is higher than I’d like and might not be my natural pitch at all.
Slowing down made my voice drop naturally. Suddenly I sounded different, my voice became deeper, fuller and more authoritative. It was like finding a luxurious fur coat I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep. Was this mine forever? How had I lived otherwise?
And then I started to think about why my voice is higher than I would like it to be.
Most obvious to me is my desire to be liked, to form connections with others. This has deep roots in my life. My want of attention and affection meant I have tried hard to entertain and be agreeable. Thusly, my voice has come across as friendly, amiable and extremely energetic.
That energy and effort naturally raised my pitch, put me in a safe zone devoid of confrontation, authority, and possible awkward pauses.
Realizing all of this has meant trying to shift how I speak to be more reflective of who I actually am. Like the terrible advice to “be yourself” I know it is important and yet it still feels foreign and difficult. Like trying to brush my teeth using my left hand.
I am still in the very early stages of this realization. It is one that I am not sure is relatable or even useful for others to know. But this activity serves as a tremendous metaphor. We can operate in our lives for years effectively if not authentically. Striving for both can sometimes mean going back to the drawing board, slowing down, and paying closer attention not only to what we say but how we say it.
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