Help for “Soft Talkers”

I went to the audiologist with my 90-year-old mom last week. Jennifer is smart, thorough, and takes the time to be personable. She originally took up audiology – the fitting and servicing of hearing aids — as a way to supplement her income as a yoga instructor. Twenty-five years later, it is obvious Jennifer loves her work.

The first step to servicing Mom’s hearing aids was to remove them. Suddenly the audiologist had to raise her voice to check on the function of the hearing aids and chitchat in the way Mom likes so much. Mom had to ask Jennifer to repeat herself over and over.

Jennifer has what I jokingly call “a yoga teacher voice” – calming, smooth, and flowing. It’s a beautiful voice, but it doesn’t project very well, especially to listeners with hearing loss. She mentioned with a frustrated sigh that her voice wears out by midafternoon every day. So I introduced her to the “metal voice” as a way to increase the volume and resonance of her voice without strain.

What is the metal voice? It describes one of the five vocal colors in the Five Elements Framework, which is at the heart of my work with the voice. The framework uses the elements of earth, fire, water, metal, and air to identify and isolate specific sound qualities in the voice. People use it to learn what their vocal habits are – and to expand their range and choice in how they use their voices in everyday communication.

The metal voice focuses the sound in the face – what classical singers call “the mask.” In its purest form this voice has echoes of Ethel Merman, the Wicked Witch of the West, Fran Drescher, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson. It’s nasal and bright and can cut through background noise like a warm knife through butter.

All by itself the sound can be irritating or comical – a caricature. In small doses, however, it can brighten up a soft voice like Jennifer’s to reach her clients even when they aren’t wearing their hearing aids.

You can find the sound in your own voice by pinching your nostrils shut and making an “ee” sound. Take your hand away and see if you can keep the sound the same. It also works to imitate one of the characters above. The sound of the wicked witch saying, “I’ll fix you, my pretty – and your little dog, too!” is a vivid sound memory for most people. I like to call metal “the cheapest sound in the mall” as it makes a LOT of sound with minimal effort.

Whether or not you are a “soft talker,” the metal voice is an invaluable tool to have on hand when you are trying to project your voice in a loud environment or when the microphone stops working or – as Jennifer learned this week – when someone you like takes out their hearing aids.

You can learn more about the Five Elements Framework in my book, Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence.  Available in paperback, e-book, audiobook, and enhanced e-book with built in videos and songs.

About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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