PEOPLE are greatly influenced not only by what is said but also by how it is said. If a person speaking to you has a voice that is pleasant, warm, friendly, and kind, is it not true that you are more inclined to listen favorably than if his voice is cold or harsh?
Developing a desirable voice quality is not altogether a matter of voice mechanics. It may also involve one’s personality. As a person progresses in his knowledge and application of Bible truth, changes become evident in the way he speaks. Such godly qualities as love, joy, and kindness are reflected in his voice. (Gal. 5:22, 23) When he feels genuine concern for others, his voice shows it. When gratitude replaces a spirit of chronic complaint, both the words spoken and the tone of voice give evidence of it. (Lam. 3:39-42; 1 Tim. 1:12; Jude 16) Even when you do not understand the language being spoken, if one person sounds arrogant, intolerant, critical, and harsh and another person sounds humble, patient, kind, and loving, it is not difficult for you to tell the difference.
In some cases an undesirable voice quality may be the result of an illness that damaged the person’s larynx or an inherited structural defect. Such conditions may be so severe that they will not be completely corrected in this system of things. Usually, however, learning to use the speech organs properly can result in improvement.
At the outset it is important to appreciate that voice characteristics vary from one person to another. Your objective should not be to develop a voice that imitates that of someone else. Rather, cultivate the potential of your own voice, with its distinctive qualities. What can help you to do this? There are two main essentials.
Properly Control Your Air Supply. For best results in the use of your voice, you need an adequate supply of air along with proper breath control. Without these, your voice may sound weak, and your delivery may be choppy.
The largest part of the lungs is not at the top of the chest; this area merely appears larger because of the shoulder bones. Rather, the lungs are widest just above the diaphragm. Attached to the lower ribs, the diaphragm separates the chest from the abdominal cavity.
If you fill only the top portion of your lungs when you inhale, you will soon be out of breath. Your voice will lack power, and you will tire easily. To breathe properly, you need to sit or stand straight and hold your shoulders back. Make a conscious effort to avoid expanding only the upper part of your chest when you inhale to speak. Fill the lower part of your lungs first. When this part fills, the lower part of your rib cage will expand sideways. At the same time, the diaphragm will move down, gently displacing the stomach and the intestines, so that you feel the pressure of your belt or other clothing on your abdomen. But the lungs are not down there; they are within the rib cage. To test yourself, place one hand on each side of the lower part of your rib cage. Now breathe deeply. If you are breathing properly, you will not be sucking in your belly and raising your shoulders. Instead, you will feel the ribs move slightly up and out.
Next, work on the outflow of air. Do not waste the supply by letting it escape with a rush. Expel it gradually. Do not try to control it by tightening your throat. That would soon result in a voice that sounded strained or abnormally high-pitched. Pressure from the abdominal muscles and from the intercostal muscles (between the ribs) expels the air, while the diaphragm influences how quickly it is expelled.
Just as a runner trains for a race, so a speaker can develop proper breath control by exercise. Stand erect with shoulders back, breathe so as to fill the lower part of the lungs, and gradually exhale while slowly and smoothly counting as high as you can on a single breath. Then practice reading aloud while breathing in the same manner.
Relax Tense Muscles. Another essential for good voice quality is this—relax! It is really amazing what improvement you can make by learning to relax when speaking. The mind as well as the body must be relaxed, for mental tension causes muscular tension.
Relax mental tension by getting the right view of your listeners. If these are people that you meet in the field ministry, remember that even if you have studied the Bible for only a few months, you know valuable things about Jehovah’s purpose that you can share with them. And you are calling on them because they need help, whether they realize it or not. On the other hand, if you are speaking in a Kingdom Hall, most of those in your audience are Jehovah’s people. They are your friends, and they want you to succeed. No people on earth face such a friendly and loving audience as we regularly do.
Relax the throat muscles by focusing your mind on those muscles and consciously making them less tense. Remember that your vocal cords vibrate when air passes them. Voice tone changes as the throat muscles tighten or relax, just as the tone of a guitar string or a violin string changes when it is tightened or loosened. When you relax the vocal cords, the tone lowers. Relaxing the throat muscles also helps to keep the nasal passages open, and this will have a definite effect on the quality of your voice.
Relax your entire body—your knees, your hands, your shoulders, your neck. This will contribute to the resonance needed to give your voice carrying ability. Resonance is produced when the entire body acts as a sounding board, but this is hindered by tension. Voice tone, which is produced in the larynx, reverberates not only in the nasal cavities but also against the bony structure of the chest, the teeth, the roof of the mouth, and the sinuses. All of these can contribute to the quality of resonance. If you place a weight on the soundboard of a guitar, the sound will be deadened; the soundboard must be free to vibrate if it is to resonate properly. So, too, with the bony structures of our body, which are held firm by the muscles. With resonance you will be able to modulate your voice properly and express shades of feeling. You will be able to reach a large audience without straining your voice.