Your voice says a lot about you. Make vocal work part of your presentation skills training.
Faith Salie brought the vocal heat to this weekend's edition of CBS Sunday Morning. The target of her fire? The trend among young women to speak with the vocal affect known as"vocal fry". (You can read about the segment here- we're hoping they post video soon!) As she so wittily points out, "It's annoying to listen to a young woman who sounds world-weary, and exactly like her 14 best frieeeeeeeeeeends." Oh, how true.
As Salie points out, vocal fry is not such a new topic- multiple news outlets have covered the
trend. The craggly sound- once largely reserved for disdain from singers and actors- seems to be a national phenomenon. The origins of vocal fry seem to stem from an attempt made by females to force the pitch of their voices into a lower register-a practice assumed by many when trying to be taken more seriously in the work place. Still not sure what we're talking about? Watch anchor Andrea Hay's segment for Good Evening Nebraska:
Aaaahhhhhhhhuhhh that's rough. During my acting training, I remember one particular speech teacher who was on the front lines of the vocal fry attack. "Get up off your cords!" was a call that went up often during class- a reminder that this vocalism was not only unpleasant, it was potentially dangerous to our vocal cords themselves.
When it comes to presentations and our everyday communication, some simple self-awareness activities can help us break bad vocal habits like vocal fry and others. Here are some things you can do to take the creak out of your speak:
1. Acknowledgment is the first step: Many people don't realize their constant fry, and it takes a bit of effort and self-analysis to discover. A great way to find out whether or not you're frying, and how it feels when you do, is to listen to yourself on a phone call. Because our physicality tends to get lazy on the phone, our breath support suffers. We might have our head inclined to one side while balancing the phone between our ear and our shoulder. These body shapes combined with the social desire to emulate "that sound" can result in some major fry. If you already recognize the problem in your day-to-day speech pattern, good for you! You're ahead of the game.
2. Find the root: Once you've discovered the "how" and the "when", you can tackle the "why". Sure, we may all fry on occasion, but when do you find yourself overly-frying away? Young women often find it while socializing with friends. Are you trying match the "tone" of your social setting? Do you find that you fry when presenting in front of the company big dogs? Perhaps your trying to force your pitch into a lower register in a effort to be taken seriously. Once you can find out what triggers you to use that vocalism, you can start to weed it out of your speech.
3. Fighting the fry: Since vocal fry is produced by allowing only small puffs of air through the vocal cords at a time (instead of even cord movement, the cords actually bang around a bit...), a great way to combat the sound by producing tones on large, sweeping breaths. When you find yourself deep-frying your words, take a large breath in and sigh it out while making a clear "oooh" or "ahhh" sound, allowing your pitch to sweep up and down like a siren.
Yes, it's a lot. However, this will help you to reengage the cords in a healthy manner. Speaking on that sweeping breath/pitch is a great way to practice avoiding the fry- let the words travel up and down the pitch register on the breath. OK, you may sound a little silly while you practice. You'll sound worse should the fry take over your speech!
The insidious nature of vocal fry is not easy to overcome, especially now that it's starting to become socially desirable in certain circles. But unless you want to sound like a certain reality show family all of the time, it's worth the effort to combat. Here's some inspiration (No one does that sweeping speak/sing like Julie Andrews- ok, and Stewie Griffin, too...):