Why You Hate Your Voice

Do you cringe when you hear your own voice on playback? Do you find that it’s higher-pitched and thinner than what you expected? The Public Speaker explains why this is. Plus, learn how to focus on what’s most important about your presentation.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #206

Why You Hate Your Voice

Do you cringe when you hear your own voice on playback? Do you find that it’s higher-pitched and thinner than what you expected?

Here’s a recent email I received from Public Speaker listener Stacy:

“I listened to your recent podcast on how to coach yourself to be a better presenter. I took your advice and made an audio recording of myself and then a video recording. When I played back the recordings, I didn’t sound like myself. What’s going on?”

Stacy, this is a very common reaction. Many people don’t like to hear recordings of their voice. In fact, many of my clients resist sending me videos or listening to recordings we’ve made. “Lisa, do we really have to review the video?” they say. “Does my voice really sound like that?” is a common question.  

Even though it may make clients uncomfortable, reviewing recordings is by far the best way to improve your presentation style.  But sometimes hearing our own voice played back is a bit of a shock.

I Hate My Voice!

When you hear your voice on playback, it’s usually higher-pitched and thinner than what you expected. What happened to your deeper, fuller-sounding voice that you hear in your head? Why does it sound different?

In an interview with Popular Science Magazine, Vanderbilt University Audiologist Ben Horsby says what we hear in our head is not what our audience hears:

“The vibrations mix with the sound waves traveling from your mouth to your eardrum, giving your voice a generally a deeper, more dignified sound — that no one else hears.” Through a loudspeaker or recording device, you pick up sound only through air conduction. "The sound we're used to hearing has a lower frequency from the bone vibrations," Hornsby says. "We like that because it sounds rich and full.”

So, what you hear on recordings is a more accurate representation of the voice that other people hear. If you use Audacity audio editing software or Apple’s Garage Band to record yourself, you can hear your own voice but from the perspective of a speaking coach. More importantly, you can also see what you voice looks like. You can see your cadence. You can see how loud or soft you are. Once you gain some experience, you can even see your ums and ahs!  Using audio software can help you improve your voice and help you to work on voice techniques.

I’ve written before about techniques you can use to warm-up your voice. So please check out that episode for more tips.

When you hear your voice on playback, it’s usually higher-pitched and thinner.

I Hate the Way I Look!

Now about your image on video. Often people react similarly to seeing themselves on video as they do to hearing their voice on audio playback—is that the way I really look? What you see on video is not the same image you see in the mirror. So, the natural question is, does your audience see what you see in the mirror or what you see in the video recording? According to the gadget guide Gizmodo, the answer is neither.  Lenses, light, and angle all impact the image on screen and turn it into something different. The reverse image in the mirror distorts our appearance too.

So, yes, watching yourself on video may feel odd or embarrassing, but again, it’s an important and necessary step if you want to improve your performance. Look past the fact that you don’t like the shape of your nose or that you’ve gained weight. Instead, focus on watching for behaviors and gestures that highlight or detract from your message.

See also: How to Persuade Using Body Language

Hear and See What Really Matters

Ultimately, your voice may not be as full and rich-sounding as you thought, but it’s probably just fine. It’s much more important to use your recordings to listen and watch for these more important factors:

- Are you speaking too quickly? When you speak into a mic too fast, you sound distorted. Your audience will just hear noise and won’t be able to follow you. When we speak quickly, our voices also tend to take on a higher pitch. Practice slowing down your delivery to improve your vocal quality.

- How often do you say “like,” “um,” “ah,” or other filler words? These are called disfluencies. If there are too many, they can distract your audience and disrupt your message. Practice using pauses instead of peppering your speech with filler. Deliberate pauses make you sound more confident and make your audience wonder what’s coming next. 

- Are you out of breath? That’s a problem I suffer from. Learn to breathe effectively. Fill your belly with air instead of your chest. Your belly will push out instead of caving in when you take the right kind of breath. For me it also helps to remind myself when and where to take breaths

- How does your throat feel when you talk? If you feel like you constantly need to clear your throat, pay attention to what and when you’re eating and drinking. The best time to eat is an hour or two before your presentation. Drink plenty of water during the day, and make sure you have water available during your presentation.

- Does your voice express emotion? Imagine what President Obama’s speeches would sound like if he spoke in monotone. It’s important to naturally express appropriate emotions by speaking louder or softer as necessary.

- Does your face show emotion? Make sure your facial expressions match your words.

- Are you pacing the floor or glued to the podium? Practice walking around the room deliberately. Stand up straight and keep your head up. Use your hands to make appropriate and meaningful gestures that support your message.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you are relaxed and enjoying the experience. If you are nervous or bored, it’ll show. If you’re relaxed and truly excited about your topic, your natural enthusiasm will resonate in your voice and body. If you speak passionately from the heart, your audience will feel it. Once you put all of this together, you’ll learn to love (or at least tolerate) the way you look and sound on camera. Finally, I’m very curious, do you like the sound of your voice? Tell us in the comments. 

Get More Tips for improving your audio in the Public Speaker’s How to Sound Better.

This isLisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker.  Helping you lead, influence, and inspire through better communication. Do you wish you got an email from me letting you know the new podcast is available? Join my newsletter to get weekly updates and get a free bonus.

Do you struggle with difficult conversations? Do you procrastinate when it comes to delivering feedback?  Do you know how to effectively persuade and influence others?  Learn this and more in my book Smart Talk. Radio personality, Maureen Anderson called it “The owner’s manual for your mouth!”  Visit www.smarttalksuccess.com to get your personally signed copy. 

Open Mouth image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.