In April, I launched a brand new podcast. The episodes are roughly 30 minutes long, and feature me interviewing scientists and other experts, and telling stories about animals and nature. In other words, it features my voice — a lot. And that took some serious getting used to.
Like most people, I suffer from a little bit of “voice confrontation” — the term for hating the way your voice sounds on recordings. Even if you haven’t dipped a toe into podcasting, you probably know the feeling: you hear yourself recorded on a voicemail message, or a TikTok, and think, “is that really what I sound like?”
The potentially-bad news: yes, that is what you sound like. Or, at least, it’s a lot closer to what you really sound like than what you hear inside your head.
When we talk, we hear the sound being conducted over the air, just like the people we’re talking to hear it. But our skulls also act like a kind of surround sound system. Our voices vibrate through the dense bone, which adds resonance and lower frequencies that others aren’t hearing. Thus, the recorded version sounds higher and thinner, and we tend to dislike it.
In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, Dr Silke Paulmann, a psychologist at the University of Essex, said:
“I would speculate that the fact that we sound more high-pitched than what we think we should leads us to cringe as it doesn’t meet our internal expectations; our voice plays a massive role in forming our identity and I guess no one likes to realise that you’re not really who you think you are.”
But it’s not all about sound conduction. There’s almost certainly a psychological element to voice confrontation, too. A 2013 study performed by researchers at Albright College and Penn State asked people to rate multiple voices in a recording, without knowing their own voices were mixed in. The respondents not only rated their own voices higher than other people did, they also rated their own voices higher than the voices of other people. In short, we may not hate the sound of our own voices as much as we think.
If you’re still not thrilled with the way you sound, there’s good news: you can make small changes that help the voice people hear sound a lot more like the version you’re hearing in your head.
To get a fuller tone, practice abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. Once you know how it feels to engage your diaphragm, you can project your voice from deeper in your chest, which helps the sound come out richer. The way you hold your body as you talk matters, too. If your arms are folded tight, or your chin is dropped toward your chest, your voice will sound small and tight, too, so loosen up. Finally, to help add resonance, try to focus on where the vibrations are happening in your mouth as you speak. If you purse your lips for sh and th sounds, and round your mouth tightly on o and u, you’re using front resonance. Practice making your lip movements more subtle, and moving the vibration toward the back of your mouth. This is called back resonance, and it helps lend that lower-frequency tone you hear through your skull.
Ultimately, there are a lot more reasons to enjoy the sound of your voice than there are reasons to dislike it: it’s yours, it’s unique, and it’s the way you make yourself understood and get your thoughts out into the world. What’s not to love?