How to Dramatically Improve Your Speaking Voice, According to a Top Vocal Coach
Use your “magic spot” and other secrets that will help you speak with greater confidence and authority
Whether it’s a presentation in front of thousands of people, a meeting with your coworkers, or even just a first date with a person you like, how you sound can help pull your listeners toward you or push them away.
“Your speaking voice is like walking: it’s something we’ve always just done, but we’re always judged on the quality of our voices whether we know it or not,” says Lisa Popeil, MFA — a celebrity voice coach and owner of Voiceworks in Los Angeles who’s helped people improve their voices for over 40 years.
And it turns out our voices might be more important than we imagined.
“It’s the missing ingredient,” Lisa says. “When you talk, you make waves in the air and make the hairs in someone’s ear canals move—so you’re affecting someone else’s biology.”
How different would things be if your voice was calming, soothing, and inviting? Or if it could make someone’s day better? After all, if you make the effort to wear nice clothes, take care of your body, and even get your hair done, why undo all your hard work when you open your mouth to speak?
I interviewed Lisa and she kindly shared several powerful tips, tricks, and exercises to quickly enhance your speaking voice based on your unique body. If you want to get a better response and avoid your words falling flat, these tips can make a huge difference.
Use the “Magic Spot” Trick to Instantly Sound Better
Many people are told they need to breathe and speak “from the diaphragm,” yet most people don’t actually know where it is. “If you take 10 people, they’ll touch their abs,” says Lisa, “but the diaphragm is actually in your ribcage underneath your lungs.”
The interesting thing, however, is you don’t need to focus too much on it, though. Because if your diaphragm didn’t work, you wouldn’t be alive.
The real problem is that many people suck in their gut or squeeze their belly when they talk, which actually limits their voice. “Tight bellies, tight throat,” Lisa says. (People who work out really tend to suck in and tighten their upper belly.)
Instead, use Lisa’s “upper belly magic spot” trick and push that area out.
The “magic spot” is located below your sternum and it’s the region around your upper belly that sticks out the most when you make a loud “Shhh!” sound.
When you slightly push out your upper belly during any speech or singing, it makes your voice sound so much better. (Try it yourself.) To practice, take a deep breath, push out the upper belly magic spot, and start counting up aloud and see how many numbers you can get while sounding good. Then, practice improving that number.
Improve Your Posture for Vocal Support
“We spend so much time on our computers and cell phones that a lot of us hunch, which ruins our posture,” says Lisa. Yet posture is critical to achieving your best voice; your voice box is part of your neck so — as boring as it sounds — posture and alignment are key.
Stand tall, keep the back of your neck long, your shoulders relaxed, and your spine tall. “You want to feel like you’re hanging from the ceiling by the crown of your head,” she explains.
For optimal voice — as well as breathing, health, and mood — have your head sit on top of your neck and your neck sit on top of your spine, not in front of it. (If you need to, look at a mirror sideways to check.) When standing, you also want to have your feet apart with soft knees and a soft belly.
According to Lisa, everything with your voice starts with “support” and the two main parts of support for speaking are:
- Keep your chest lifted like there’s a hook under your sternum pulling it up, and don’t let it collapse.
- Push out the upper belly magic spot when speaking—slightly, not all the way—and relax it when you’re finished. That way, you don’t build residual tension.
“Because gravity pulls us down, it’s a lifelong battle to stay upright and aligned,” she adds.
How to Fix Common Speaking Problems
Some people tend to talk over others—they’ll ask a question and, as someone tries to answer it, they’ll start talking again. “Instead, listen and look at them,” Lisa says. It seems so simple, but a lot of high-energy, “alpha” guys can benefit from this because people love listeners.
Some people also speak too loud, forcing people to take a few steps back. “It’s better to err on the side of sounding sexy with a little bit of air in your voice and on the soft side—in an enticing way, not in a quiet way—because it makes people come to you,” she explains.
How to Speak With More Weight and Maturity
Want to add more emphasis to what you’re about to say? Try this tip:
Take your hand and put it on your upper chest so that part of your hand is on your upper chest and part of it is on your collarbone. When you talk, focus on getting that area to vibrate. When it vibrates, there’s more depth, which translates to a mature voice.
“You don’t have to sound like that all the time, but it helps when you need some extra oomph,” Lisa says.
Find Your Perfect Pitch
Using the perfect pitch when speaking is important. For example, some men will try to sound more “manly” by forcing themselves to have deeper voices—but by speaking too low, however, they sound like they’re talking through their throat.
“You can’t change the fundamentals of your voice: your head, your nose, your neck, your throat, and your geometry of those spaces,” Lisa explained. In order words, you shouldn’t force yourself to speak lower or higher than you naturally should.
To speak with your perfect pitch, the sound should feel like it’s coming straight through your lips. “You should feel like your lips, gums, or teeth are tingling,” she says.
Use the Power of Pauses
Pauses are another powerful element in effective speaking because… when you take a pause… you give the listener an opportunity to process what you just said.
If you just keep going, however, it can be overwhelming. Instead, take your time to use pauses and to use those pauses to breathe. (It also prevents you from speaking too fast.)
“We’re breath instruments, not string or percussion instruments,” Lisa explains. “We have to take in extra air to make the vocal cords work and to speak in long flowing ways. So remember to breathe, especially when you’re nervous and about to give an important presentation.”
Also, breathe before you speak, not just after you speak. The sound will have more air in it and you won’t run out of air either.
How to Instantly Cure the “Vocal Fry”
Some people have a vocal habit, known as the “vocal fry,” where they sound rather croaky and raspy. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like a healthy, vibrant, and confident person who knows themselves,” explains Lisa.
Her quick fix? Raise your pitch and blow more air through your vocal cords—the vocal fry will instantly disappear. Also, keep your chest high.
Lisa also uses what she calls the “Hot Steam Test”: hold your hand in front of your mouth and, when you speak, try to feel the hot steam on your hand. If you feel hot steam, that means you have enough air going through the vocal cords.
How to Hear Yourself to Fine-Tune Your Voice
The challenge with correcting our voices is that we can’t actually hear how we sound in real-time. “The ears are engineered to hear the world,” says Lisa. “We can only hear ourselves through the bones as they vibrate and the reverberation off of hard surfaces.”
To help you listen to yourself as you talk in real-time—instead of listening through a recording—Lisa teaches a method called “The Big Ear”: cup your ears with your hands and bring your elbows together in front of your body about 12 inches apart; then speak.
Now, you’ll be able to hear yourself as other people hear you.
How to Put It All Together
Just like good habits create a successful life, we can have good habits with our voices. Because having a great voice isn’t the ultimate goal: it’s merely a tool to clearly communicate your feelings, emotions, knowledge, and more in the best possible way.
“No one else on the planet has our unique voice; when you die, you take it with you,” Lisa explains. “So while you’re here, you might as do what you can to make it the best one possible. Be in control of it and don’t let it control you.”
The fixes she provides are quick and easy, but if you want to truly change your voice, it takes commitment because we’ve been speaking without training since we started. Any change you make can feel odd and fake until you get used to it.
To address that, Lisa recommends you use your “regular” voice at home and with friends and family. “But when you’re in a business situation, it’s good to be able to push a button and have a professional voice that sounds natural and effective,” she explains. “It takes practice, but it’s worth it.”