Jessica Hansen — NPR’s Vocal Coach on Finding Your Voice, Owning It, and The Art of Communication

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Before I even introduce this episode’s guest, you’ll likely recognize her voice. Jessica Hansen (@JessActs) is NPR’s voice of underwriting as well as its in-house voice coach. In this episode of Outliers (which is brought to you by Flow), Jessica and I discuss:

  • The importance of having a strong voice in both a professional and personal setting.
  • The “ideal” voice. (Hint: It’s your own!)
  • Techniques to hone your voice, including tongue twisters and breathing exercises.

No matter how old (or set in your ways) you are, there’s always room to improve your voice, and Jessica reveals some of her go-to techniques with me in this episode.

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Before any sort of performance, you might catch Jessica Hansen backstage laughing, crying, humming, stretching — even howling.

These are just a few of the techniques she uses to warm up. After all, voice work is like any other sport or activity; you’ve got to stretch, practice drills, and loosen up.

When Jessica isn’t performing, you can find her at NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. There, she’s a voice coach and the voice of underwriting. (If you’ve listened to NPR in the past five years, you’ve definitely heard her.) She works with the organization’s journalists, hosts, and correspondents to help hone their on-air voices.

This work has been a lifelong passion for Jessica, who began acting when she was 5. (You may have caught her guest appearances on “Parks and Recreation” or HBO’s “Veep.”)

But if you’re thinking, It’s too late for me to improve the way I speak, you’re wrong. Jessica says the whole “old dog, new tricks” thing is a total sham when it comes to voice work. Whether you’re 12 or 92, you can work on your vocal skills.

On this episode of Outliers, I talk with Jessica about her experiences working with some of NPR’s most recognizable voices. She also walks us through some of her “secret” voice techniques, the ones she typically shares only with her coaching clients.

Jessica also reveals her go-to breathing technique for calming your nerves before a big presentation — it’s helpful even for just another regular day at work.

For more, join our newsletter at Outliers.fm/newsletter. Each week we send out a single email that contains all of the best quotes, themes, and ideas from each episode.

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Connect with Jessica

Links from the Episode

Favorite quotes

“I think it’s the quirks that make us the most interesting. That’s what’s interesting to listen to — is something different and unusual.”

“Most people tend to use about 50% of their lung capacity. Well, opera singers or horn players use 70% or 60%. You think of that and then, ‘Hey, what else can you do? If you’re only using 50%, you’ve got so much more.’”

“Step one is you have to shed the tensions. You have to open up the bodies, get the muscles soft so they’re not in the way, so you can breathe. The breath is under everything.”

“I can really help people change not only this technique but change how they feel in a boardroom or how they feel in their lives. People can feel more heard. People can feel stronger and more confident. People can feel like they’ve got control over the image they’re projecting vocally.”

Big Ideas

Discovering the art of voice

Mastering your voice = more confidence in life

The importance of voice in journalism

You can learn “voice” (no matter how old you are)

The ideal voice: Sound like your best self on your best day

Using your whole voice all the time

The key: Mindfulness

How to overcome nerves: the 4–7–8 technique

Keep folks interested by mixing your voice up

Get your voice moving by howling and humming

Written by

Fanatical about decoding what the Top 1% of people across industries have mastered — as well as what they’ve learned along the way. Host of Outliers.fm.

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