Research Paper By Bridgette Raynolds-Perry
(Transitional Coach, UNITED STATES)
Chances are that by the end of your time in the International Coach Academy you will have to listen to a recording of yourself coaching. While listening to yourself coaching is a powerful way to make improvements in your coaching technique it can also be an unsettling experience. As you are checking off International Coach Federation Markers while you listen you may become distracted or surprised by the sound of your own voice. A study by Rousey C, Holzman PS found that thirty-eight per cent of people do not recognize their own voice when it is played back to them. Most people are also dissatisfied with how their voice sounds. People also may have vocal impediments, strong accents or use colloquialisms frequently. These things may hinder coaches in a session with a client or in their ability to be understood by a wide audience if they are involved in public speaking. Others may also make judgments about you based on the sound of your voice. How can you move past these judgments? How can coaches do an impartial examination of their voice’s strengths and weaknesses? How can your voice serve yourself, your clients and your career? Fortunately, there are tools and techniques to turn your voice into an asset and boost your confidence.
Knowing why you hear your voice differently than others hear it is an important first step in your vocal journey. When someone speaks the sound waves travel through the air and vibrate your ear drums. Your brain converts all that vibration into sound. But when you are speaking, you are receiving the sound from two different sources: those same sound waves that travel through the air and also your own vocal cord and airway vibrations. The sounds echo around through the cavities in your head which affects how you hear your voice compared to how others hear it. The disconnect happens when you hear a recording of yourself because you are only hearing your voice from one source as opposed to two sources. Try reading a paragraph out loud and placing your fingertips on the sides of your nose, your cheeks, your mouth and your throat. You should be feeling vibrations in all those places. Some people may feel them more strongly in certain places than others. For example, those that have a more nasal quality to their voice may feel vibrations strongly when they touch their nose. Judging your own voice is quite literally in your own head. Hearing yourself in a recording can be jarring because you are now hearing yourself as others do. The voice you are hearing in that recording is the voice the world hears and contributes to the overall impression you make.
Actor Will Rogers is remembered as saying
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
International Coach Federation Certified Life Coaches follow the 80/20 model; eighty percent of the time the coach is listening and twenty percent of the time the coach is speaking. That is not a lot of time to make an impression but a coach is expected to use their voice in a significant way when they do speak. The Discovery Session and initial meeting is a valuable place to make a good first vocal impression. With today’s technological advances enabling the ability to coach anywhere in the world, coaches do not always have the opportunity to meet new clients face to face. Oftentimes coaches only have the sound of their voice and the things that they say to influence a client’s first impression of them. Human brains automatically and immediately start judging new acquaintances based on appearance, age and conversation. If you take away any one of those tools then people are forced to make an assessment based on less information. This all happens faster than you realize. A study by Princeton University found that one-tenth of a second is all it takes for the brain to process information based on seeing someone’s face. This is an evolutionary ability to help establish trustworthiness, among other things. Competency Three of the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Markers is: Creating Trust and Intimacy. Quite literally you start creating trust with a client the moment you meet them or the moment they see your face on your website. You can continue to develop your trustworthiness with your voice.
A study was done at The Laboratory of Instrumental Analysis of Communication at the Autonomous University of Barcelona regarding the tone of voice and perception. Some of the findings included: speaking in a quiet tone conveys weakness, a high tone of voice indicates a lack of credibility, a deep tone helps generate trust and gives the implication of maturity, a firm and confident tone gives others a sense that you are important and distinguished. Your volume, speed of speech, emphasis and articulation all contribute to the psychological information you are giving a client. Cast your mind to times when you have intentionally used the tone of your voice to help convey information. Try saying the phrase “what do you want?” out loud with these different scenarios in mind: to a person you do not want to engage in a long conversation with, to a romantic partner, to a child who needs something, to a client in a coaching session. The same sentence is suddenly conveying different information and meaning based on how you say it. Now turn this awareness around the other way and imagine the information a client can provide a coach based on how they are saying something. Competency Five of the PCC Markers is Active Listening. Number Four in the Marker states “Coach inquires about or explores the client’s tone of voice, pace of speech, or inflection as appropriate”. There is valuable learning to explore when you hear a verbal shift happening. A coach never makes assumptions about a client’s meaning but rather inquires about the meaning to help a client move towards action and awareness. Listening attentively and powerfully for these changes in speech and asking our client about the changes empowers the client to tune into their true feelings and beliefs about themselves or situation.
In Competency Seven, Direct Communication, Number Four states
Coach’s language is clear and concise.
What a coach says and how they say it are equally important here. The use of the word clear implies both word choice and articulation.
Since the PCC markers themselves make clear the importance of speech to both a coach and client, what can you do to identify and resolve any potential vocal issue? A good starting place for self-assessment is to record yourself in a coaching session. Verbal habits may reveal themselves quickly like words or sounds that are repeated frequently. Saying something like “Umm” while you are formulating your thoughts into words may seem harmless but could actually make you sound unsure and work to negate a powerful question. Does your client ask you for clarification frequently? It could be your word choice or your articulation. When coaching clients who have a different language background than yourself you may want to be extra careful with how you are using your voice. Speaking quickly or with poor articulation may make it difficult for a client to understand you. Sometimes coaches can be unaware of how many colloquialisms and cultural sayings they may be using that a client from another culture may not be familiar with or misinterpret. Look out for these word choices in your recordings. On the same subject but on the other side, you may encounter a potential client who has an accent that you struggle to understand and it is important to consider this potential obstacle in your Discovery Session. Listen for any other vocal habits. Can you hear your own breathing? The resolution of that could be something as simple as repositioning your microphone. Vocal fry is another common vocal problem. It can happen when a person is tired or gets lazy about the use of their voice. It makes your voice sound creaky. Do you hear it in your speech? It can be observed more at the end of sentences when you start to run out of air. Vocal fry can undermine your power as a public speaker because it makes you sound anxious and tense. Vocal fry can be resolved with more breath support and concentrating on placing your voice towards the front of your mouth. Resolution to your vocal issues starts with your awareness. Now that you have observed your vocal habits in a recorded session you can bring this awareness into your day to day life. As a coach you are familiar with asking this of clients so now you need to turn your new vocal awareness into action.
Action starts with awareness and the desire to make changes. Changes can range from the simple microphone repositioning that was previously discussed to more thorough work with a speech therapist or coach if you have an impediment or strong accent that you wish to lessen. One of the wonderful things about living in the digital age is that there are amazing resources to solving vocal issues on the internet. Researching how to resolve an issue is a great way to bring yourself into action. Another step to take is deciding how you want to use your voice. Do you plan on coaching in ways that utilize your voice more like in running workshops or motivational speaking? Are you going to mentor other coaches or teach? If the answer is yes to any of these then you may want to develop a plan to nurture your voice. Actors and singers understand that their voice is a tool to treat with respect. Coaches wishing to move into a “performance” space also need to understand this. Treating your voice with respect means understanding how it works and how to care for it. Staying hydrated and learning how different beverages and even humidity levels can affect the voice. Avoiding vocal extremes like yelling and whispering. Learning vocal exercises and warm-ups.
Even coaches who are not running workshops or public speaking can benefit from incorporating daily vocal exercises and warm-ups but it is very important for those that are to make this a priority. Think about if you have a client first thing in the morning. Is your voice still sounding like you just woke up? That can be seen as unprofessional. There are simple exercises that can be done while you are in the shower or driving to your office. Just a few minutes of vocal warm-ups can make you sound awake and prepared. There are articulation exercises that can be incorporated into your warm-up routine and can also be fun to challenge yourself with. One such exercise is to repeat the following:
bah dah gah pah dah gah
boh doh goh poh doh goh
boo doo goo poo doo goo
bee dee gee pee dee gee
bay day gay pay day gay
Try to do it as fast as you can while still making the sounds clear. As you get more familiar with the rhythm try to say as many rounds as you can on a single breath. Just like with physical exercise you don’t jump right into using your voice without warming up. If you are doing public speaking you will want to develop a solid routine to use in the morning and right before your event. Have fun researching and coming up with exercises that work best for you. Supporting your voice with respect can only benefit you.
Your voice is your calling card to the world. It is in your power to make it work for you rather than undermine you. You can change how your clients are perceiving you and can match your voice to the confident and capable coach you are inside. Powerful questions will be powerful, the trust will be there, and you will be heard clearly. Through understanding, awareness and nurturing, your voice will become a useful tool in your coaching repertoire. You will not need a second chance to make a first impression on your next phone call or speaking engagement when your voice is really speaking for you.
Time Magazine, “Why Do I Hate the Sound of My Own Voice”, Kate Samuelson, 2019
Psychological Science, 2006, Willis J, Todorov A.
exploringyourmind.com, “What Does Your Tone of Voice Convey?’, 2018
scienceofpeople.com, “Vocal Fry: What Is It and How to Get Rid of It”
Improve Your Voice, Darren McStay