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I don’t like my speaking voice. What can I do about it?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I started podcasting. It’s not that I don’t like my voice, but I’ve noticed that I have some speaking habits that I need to work on. I know this is something that a lot of people struggle with, because I get emails from people who tell me that they don’t like the way their voice sounds or that they think they aren’t a good speaker.

This is a vicious cycle that you can fall into. If you don’t feel confident about your voice, you will speak timidly, which makes other people think you aren’t confident, so they won’t pay attention to you, which re-enforces your belief that your voice isn’t good, and on and on. See how this circle feeds itself?

You have to break out of this cycle. You need to know that it’s ok that you aren’t a professional speaker yet. No one is born with a natural talent for speaking. It’s something you can be taught, and like many things that can be taught, you can teach yourself. So if this is important to you, invest time in learning how to be better at it. It’s a process.

Every time you talk to someone in person or on a podcast, you have a chance to improve and do better than the last time. It’s up to you to take the initiative and look for ways to improve your speech.

Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins:

  • Not all microphones will make your voice sound good, but cheaper mics will make your voice sound harsh.
  • The people who are good at speaking are good because they practiced a lot, not because they were born that way.
  • Learn to spot the difference between someone sharing their opinion and someone giving good feedback. “Your show is terrible” is much different than “your show needs more structure”.
  • Speaking confidently will start to make you feel more confident. Fake it till you make it.
  • Slowing down will give your listeners time to digest what you’ve said and will make you seem more confident and in control.
  • Pause for emphasis after you’ve made an important point or said something that you want your audience to really think about.
  • People love hearing other people speak passionately. It’s ok to get fired up on your podcast!

Show Notes

  • 2:45 Sean McCabe gave me some feedback last week. He said: I notice you tend to sigh a lot/release held breath into the microphone. As a listener, I’m looking to you for how to feel. When I hear the held and released breath (sighing), it brings about an anxiety/apprehension. I don’t think it’s actually how you feel and it’s probably just a matter of getting comfortable, but being aware of it will help you to work it out of your delivery. Definitely a comfort thing that has the potential to get better, but if you’re not consciously practicing it out, it will get cemented.
  • 3:30 Sean’s right. I noticed this myself as I was listening through. I know why it happens. It’s me releasing nervous energy. I’m often very nervous when recording a podcast. I’m not as nervous when I speaking in conversations, but podcasting is difficult because I’m streaming live to the seanwes Community, and I know that the show will be published online where anyone can hear it. A lot of people that I respect might end up listening to my podcast, which is intimidating.
  • 4:21 So I have a lot of nervous energy. I don’t want to waste my listener’s time. I want to do a good job. My speaking is something I want to improve, and I want to help you improve as well.
Make a Conscious Effort to Relax
  • 4:36 Being nervous while podcasting is something a lot of people struggle with, especially if you care about doing a great job. You want the show to be good. You want to avoid making mistakes. At some point, you have to get out your head and be in the moment. You have to be present with whatever is happening right now and roll with the mistakes. You might find that doing a solo show is more stressful than having a co-host or interviewing someone (I did). I’ve found it tremendously helpful to stay mindful of my stress and remind myself to relax while recording, slow down, and take more breaths.
Find a Microphone That Makes You Sound Good
  • 5:27 I see this alot: I don’t like the way my voice sounds. Rafael brought up a good point in the chat. He said: My voice when recorded is usually more high-pitched than I remember. When I played with my band, I used to change it a little bit with EQ so it could match to what I actually heard in my head.
  • 5:58 What you hear in your head is not what you sound like to other people, because you have vibrations that are passing through your skull from your vocal chords.
  • 6:27 Devin asked: Can a good mic make your voice sound bad? I think that depends on your definition of bad, but when I hear someone say that they don’t like the way their voice sounds, I ask what microphone they’re using. Nine times out of ten, they’re using a cheap microphone like the Blue Snowball or the Audio Technica 2020; a mic that costs less than $100. I tell them flat out that those microphones don’t sound good raw.

Not all microphones will make your voice sound good, but cheaper mics will make your voice sound harsh.

  • 7:27 You can fix a lot of the problems with post-production EQ, but if you spend a little more money up front, you can get a mic that will make you sound good, and you’ll have to work less to make your track sound good. That’s a no brainer for me. If you are really serious about podcasting, screencasting, or doing video, you need to invest in a good microphone. You’ll probably want to start with a dynamic mic instead of a condenser. Condenser mics are more sensitive and will pick up more of the subtleties in your voice. That can be a good thing if you’re well-practiced and confident, but if you’re like me, you might still have some issues to work through at a lot of practicing to do before you upgrade to something that will pick up more of the nuances of your voice. If you can’t afford to test multiple mics to see which mic works best for your voice, get familiar with using an EQ plugin to fix any frequencies that sound unpleasant to your ears.
Listen to Your Recordings to Identify Poor Speech Habits
  • 8:24 Get into the habit of listening to recordings of your voice. Record yourself talking, listen back, and think objectively about ways to improve. Don’t make judgments or excuses. Identify what you could do differently to make your delivery better next time.
  • 8:55 Q: I am a noob when it comes to audio. I have edited video in the past, but I don’t have much experience with professional software. I feel strange speaking into a microphone and I don’t even have a good one. I hope to be ready to launch my podcast later this year or early next year, with a lot of blogging under my belt.
  • 9:20 Blogging can be really helpful when you’re first starting to publish recorded content. When I first started really focusing on the way I talk (my speech habits), it really helped me to read out what I was writing. I would write as much as I could about a subject, and then I would read it out loud. That let me focus on how I was using my voice instead of what I was supposed to be saying. So practice reading your blog posts out loud. Practice, practice, practice. Put yourself into situations where you have to speak in front of people. Record video of yourself, watch it and write down things you’d like to improve. Print out that list and practice some more.

The people who are good at speaking are good because they practiced a lot, not because they were born that way.

How to Deal With Negative Feedback
  • 10:19 Many people who are new to speaking publicly worry about what other people think about the way they sound. I actually haven’t received much feedback about the way I speak, but I still worry a lot about it.
  • 10:43 There are really two kinds of feedback:
    1. Feedback given that is meant to help you
    2. All the rest of it

Learn to spot the difference between someone sharing their opinion and someone giving good feedback. “Your show is terrible” is much different than “your show needs more structure”.

  • 11:01 Whenever you get feedback from someone, ask yourself if there are any valid points. If someone tell you that your voice sucks, is that meant to help you? No. It seems obvious, but there are people who are going to say mean things. They are probably insecure about certain things in their own lives, and for whatever reason, they’re taking it out on you.
  • 11:28 You should examine every piece of feedback and see if there is truth to it. If it’s valid, and there is something you can learn from it, thank the person who gave it and acknowledge it.
What Can I Do to Improve My Speech?
  • 12:12 I think most people struggle with confidence. If you believe you aren’t a good speaker, that will make you even more nervous when speaking in front of groups of people, or on a podcast where you know there will be a large audience listening. You’ll worry about what other people are going to think about you and you’ll worry about providing value and doing a good job. My biggest tip for you, if you take nothing else away from this show; is relax.
  • 12:34 Here’s a little secret. No one cares about your show as much as you do. Sure, there are people who will listen to your show and be big fans, but they’re not as close to it as you are. It’s your baby. Your audience isn’t obsessing over every little detail as much as you are. They have their own crap to worry about. So relax a little.

Speaking confidently will start to make you feel more confident. Fake it till you make it.

  • 13:10 Slow down. Speak a little slower. This will make you sound more confident and will allow everyone to hear and understand what you have to say. This is one of the biggest things that I’m working on right now. When I get nervous, I talk faster. This is a bad speech habit I’m working on. There are people who can talk really quickly without stumbling over words, but I’m not one of those people yet. I’m working on it.

Slowing down will give your listeners time to digest what you’ve said and will make you seem more confident and in control.

  • 13:48 It’s said that in music that if you want to learn to play fast, you should practice slow. I believe this translates to speaking; if you want to learn to speak quickly, you should first spend a lot of time speaking slowly. You might be worried that speaking slowly might turn your listeners off, but there is a difference between talking slowly and talking aimlessly. The trouble starts when you talk slowly and without direction or confidence. Speak deliberately, but not so slowly that you sound like you don’t have a point to what you’re saying.
It’s OK to Pause for Emphasis
  • 15:46 Contrary to what the people who listen to podcasts at 2x speed think, pauses make your speech more interesting, especially if you’re pausing in the right places.

Pause for emphasis after you’ve made an important point or said something that you want your audience to really think about.

  • 16:12 Take deep breaths between paragraphs. It’s ok to take a second to breath. You don’t have to get everything out right away. Give people a second to digest.
  • 16:23 Fill the room with your voice. This is another part of speaking that I struggle with. Since I consider myself a polite and considerate person, I often feel that it’s rude to speak loudly. It really depends on the situation, but as a rule of thumb, you should aim to fill the room with your voice. That’s not the same as yelling, but practice speaking loud enough to fill the space you are in.
Use More Volume Dynamics in Your Speech
  • 16:58 Speaking softly can be just as effective as yelling. They are both just tools to make your voice more interesting to your listeners, so learn how to use them. Many people are afraid to speak loudly because often when people raise the volume level of their voice it’s because they are angry. You can speak loudly and still sound happy. Think about drunk people; they are often very loud but most of the time, they sound pretty happy.
  • 17:27 It’s ok to sound a little bit angry if you are talking about something you are passionate about. There are a lot of podcasters who do this very well. If you’ll like some examples of podcasters getting “fired up”, check out Sean McCabe, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Dan Benjamin.

People love hearing other people speak passionately. It’s ok to get fired up on your podcast!

Your Voice has Three Octaves. Use Them.
  • 18:33 Depending on how much you know about music, you may or may not know what an octave is. Most humans have a three octave range of notes (think about keys on a piano) that we can hit with our singing and speaking voices. You can talk very low, and very high. A lot of people stay within a three note range, which makes them sound monotone. It’s really easy to fall into the monotone trap, especially if you aren’t thinking about how you sound. Monotone speaking makes people tune out. Practice using the full range of your voice as you speak.
Eliminate Filler Words Like Umms and Ahhhs
  • 19:40 Slowing down can help you use filler words less often. When you talk slower, you have more time to think about the words you’re going to say. Over time you’ll feel more confident about what you’re saying. There’s a great vocal coach – Roger Love – who says to think of filler words as curse words.
Writing more can help you feel more prepared
  • 20:10 The better you understand a topic, the more confident you’ll feel when speaking about it. Writing about something is the best way to understand it on a deeper level. This is why I recommend writing for everything you do. If you’re going to record a video, write out a script. Spend time reading it out loud and memorizing it. If you’re going to record a podcast, at the very least prepare an outline. What’s been really helpful for me is starting with an outline and then spending another few hours filling it out. So I start with headlines and takeaways, and then I’ll continue to revisit and fill it out over over the course of the week.
Other Tips for Preparing for Shows:
  • 21:18 I got a question about vocal warm ups, so I wanted to link to this great video. I do think vocal warm ups are a good idea. I don’t have a regular routine that I do before shows, but I try to loosen up a little bit.
  • 22:05 Stay hydrated. Be careful about what you drink before you have to speak for an extended amount of time. Warm liquids can help, but avoid anything too hot, and know that caffeine dehydrates you and can affect your vocal chords. So don’t slam a bunch of coffee before you record a show (I like hot green tea). Also, don’t drink a lot of soda before you record. Burps are the worst.
  • 22:51 Try Lip Balm. When I was doing research for this episode, I came across an article that said that using lip balm and moisturizer can help reduce smacking sounds while speaking. I figured I’d try it, and it worked well.
Closing Thoughts:
  • 23:28 You probably don’t sound as bad as you think you do. Most of us tend to be over-critical of ourselves. Understand that getting better at speaking is a life-long practice. You can get better at speaking regardless of the voice that you have now. So practice more, ask for feedback, record yourself, listen back, and practice some more. Of all the skills that we acquire over the course of our lives, I think speaking is one of the most important.
  • 24:18 Go spend some time listening to great speakers. We tend to pick up the speech habits of the people we spend time with. We start to use the same words as them, the same accents, the same mannerisms. If you spend a bunch of time around people who aren’t good speakers or who aren’t thinking about the way they talk, you’re going to pick up some of their bad habits. So try to spend time really listening to some of the great speakers and analyze how they deliver their messages.