Do you cringe when you hear an audio or see a video of you speaking? You’re not alone. People often wonder why that voice sounds so different than the voice they usually hear when they’re speaking.

Dr. Yale Cohen, director of the Hearing Sciences Center at the University of Pennsylvania, explained to Live Science that it’s all about our ossicles. Those are the little bones in the middle ear. For us to hear, the eardrum vibrates against ossicles, the vibrations go to the cochlea in the inner ear, and that vibrational energy is translated into electrical energy. That’s how our brains perceive sound.

When we talk, our voice sounds louder to us (because of the distance from mouth to ears), and we can also hear a lower pitch. So hearing our actual voice played back can be jarring.

It’s instructive too. How we talk is part of our identity. It also plays a huge part in whether what we say is remembered.

A new study looked at the link between clear speech and clear memory. It was conducted by researchers Rajka Smiljanic (a linguist) and Sandie Keerstock (her doctoral student) at the University of Texas at Austin. They presented the results earlier this month at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in Victoria, B.C.

In their experiment, Smiljanic and Keerstock had subjects listen to a series of 72 sentences. The lines were delivered alternately in two styles. In one, the speaker talked slowly, articulating each word. In the other, the speaker had a more casual and quick delivery.

After hearing blocks of 12 sentences, the subjects were given small clues (like a key word) and asked to recall the lines verbatim. They did better with the clearer speech.

No real surprise there. The researchers noted that when we’re hearing everyday conversational speech, we devote more mental resources to listening, so there’s less on hand for memory.

The trick is how to speak clearly and powerfully. You don’t need a megaphone to do it.

A pair of articles in Fast Company, here and here, laid out seven of the ways.

  1. Slow down. A measured pace gives you a greater chance to articulate and emphasize. You also sound more confident. A tip: speak slow enough so that if you were giving a phone number someone would be able to jot it down.
  2. Breathe from the diaphragm. Your voice will sound fuller and richer.
  3. Watch your posture. When you’re sitting or standing straight, it’s easier to breathe properly. That strengthens your voice. Tight shoulders bent up can also detract from your delivery.
  4. Cut things down. Use shorter sentences, and shorter words within sentences. Simplicity drives clarity, and you’re also more likely to get through a line without taking a breath.
  5. Drink water. Keeping hydrated helps your vocal cords to be pliable.
  6. Know your purpose. What are you trying to convey? What’s your story or point? If you can’t figure it out, why should anybody else pay attention?
  7. Listen to yourself. Use a recording to get a realistic sense of how you sound, i.e. tone of voice, volume, vocal tics, etc. Pay attention to what sounds better or worse coming out of your mouth.

We all want our messages to be memorable. That’s true in our professional and personal lives alike, whether we’re chatting with friends, giving a work presentation or sharing information with family.

With the right vocal quality, you won’t just be listened to; you’ll be heard.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

Nov. 14, 2019

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