By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”
During the past year, I replaced my old fashioned cassette recorder with a nifty new portable hand-held digital recorder; a Tascam DR-05. I use it for a number of purposes, but frequently for recording and listening to my own voice and speech patterns.
I live in the Southern US and in these parts almost everyone has a “Southern accent.” While some may consider it quaint and appealing, I try not to let it be overly noticeable in my speech. So, with an external microphone plugged in, I record myself, play it back and critique my speech and pronunciations.
It’s a practice that was de rigueur during my radio broadcasting days. DJs, newsmen and commercial production staff were very often required to regularly furnish station management with “air checks” – telescoped segments of on-air performance. Management would review the tapes and make suggestions or corrections as necessary. For me, these regular checks helped me avert falling back into my Southern accent.
How about you? When’s the last time you set aside concerns about the latest gear or music tracks and listened to a recording of yourself doing wedding party introductions, toasts, etc. Do you know how you truly sound to others?
People are very often surprised when they hear their recorded voice for the first time. “Is that really the way I sound?” In fact, what we hear when we speak is not what the listener hears. We hear ourselves predominately from inside or heads and throats and the external listener hears our final speech product and it is very different.
As a broadcast veteran, I’m much more conscious of the speech of others than most. It’s my contention that our speech patterns have taken a severe decline in recent years. Many people now talk at a rapid-fire rate, running their words together and making it difficult to understand them. Many speak with a nasal, high pitched voice when some find irritating.
What’s happened to our speech which not so long ago was regarded as a mark of education, intelligence or culture? There may be many contributing factors, one of which is that speech and diction have sadly been eliminated from the modern educational curriculum.
Throughout much of my broadcast career, one’s voice and speech greatly determined if an applicant for an on-air position got hired. Not so much these days, and if you doubt it, just listen to the voices of some of those in prominent positions in broadcasting.
Have you listened to yourself – not only your speech patterns but also what you are saying? I attended a very large and elegant wedding a while back. Everything was beautiful, the food was great and the cocktails were just right. The bride had engaged a well-known DJ company for her reception, and as things got underway, the DJ made very routine introductions of the bride and groom. I thought the guy could have done much better, but I was there to celebrate the couple’s marriage and not critique the DJ. So, I’m at my table, sipping my cocktail and the DJ announces the mother-son dance thusly; “Time to dance with your mom, bro!” My unfortunate table mates got a sudden cocktail shower as I choked on my drink.
I know the guy was attempting to appear hip and cool to the predominately college-age B&G and their friends, but in this setting and with this very upscale audience, his comment did not go over well with many. It’s things such as this which we need to be aware of during our performances.
Think about your introductions from the standpoint of the audience to whom they will be addressed. Will the audience be a younger group, older, mixed…? Spend some time “customizing” your introductions or comments to fit your audience. We all want to be respected as professionals and what we say and how we say it goes a long way toward the impression our audiences have of us.
Okay, so I may be a bit “old school” on some things, but I’ve always strived to be a true professional in my DJ business. I want my customers to feel confident with me from the outset or our relationship and one of the ways I try to instill confidence is via my conversations with them. I avoid using slang, I NEVER use a curse word – not even a mild oath – in the presence of a client. Everyday conversation is often sprinkled with expletives, but we should remember that many people are still offended by bad language.
All this being said, I strongly suggest that you regularly record yourself – use whatever device you prefer, although one with good fidelity will allow you to more clearly evaluate yourself. Listen for a regional accent – do you have one? Are there specific words you have trouble pronouncing clearly or correctly? Are you speaking too fast or too slow? Are you running words or sentences together? Are you pitching your voice too high or too low. Do you project your voice or is it getting lost in the background?
There’s not one of us who could not make some improvement in our speech or delivery, and fortunately, with a practice the voice can be altered, shaped and improved.
There are a number of voice coaches who offer training (Roger Love, who bills himself as “America’s favorite voice coach,” Dr. Ann Utterback, and many others.) There are even speech improvement apps that one can download for a reasonable cost. According to some sources, your voice accounts for about 40% of whether people regard you as smart, funny or successful. In short, there’s no valid reason why we should not make an effort to improve our vocal delivery, and fortunately, there is no lack of resources.