Whether you’re meeting with a potential agent, or are deciding how to relay your character’s lines, you may want to open up your vocal toolbox to maximize your impact. What vocal toolbox? The one that sound expert Julian Treasure talks about in this popular Ted Talk which highlights some useful tips and warm-up exercises to speak deliberately, more powerfully, and with empathy. He asks, “Have you ever felt like you’re talking, but nobody is listening?” and then advises how to choose your words as well as how to improve your vocal quality whether it be in your personal relationships, when giving a speech, or during an important meeting. With the toolbox, he emphasizes how to make your voice sound more authoritative and pleasing to the ear when it’s crucial to make a positive impression. But actors can also apply his tips to their characters–or likewise by purposefully doing the opposite for their less authoritative ones. If your character is gossiping, judging, or making excuses, for instance, you can deliberately modify your vocal tools to fit the circumstances. 

First off, to have genuine interactions and to make the words you use powerful and assured, Treasure says to 1) speak honestly, clearly, and straight forwardly; 2) be your authentic self; 3) conduct yourself with integrity; and 4) come from a place of love–that is, to wish others well.

Regarding how you say your message, that’s where the toolbox comes into play. Here are some of the tools he lists to tinker around with.

  • Register  How much authority do you hope to command? How much influence does your character have on others? A person with a high register who speaks from the nose will not be taken as seriously as the person who speaks from their chest. When someone speaks from the lower register of the chest, he or she commands more respect–as do the leaders we choose. However, it’s most common for people to speak from the throat, that is, in a middle register.
  • Timbre  How pleasant and attractive is the quality of your speech? Timbre affects how rich, smooth, and warm your voice sounds. A cold, sharp, or abrupt timbre can be improved by adjusting your posture, relaxing your breathing, and following the exercises he provides.
  • Prosody  Prosody has to do with patterns of stress and intonation as you speak. For example, a person can bore you with a dull monotone manner of speech. On the other side of the spectrum, a mother often exhibits a particularly lively intonation when speaking to her newborn. Someone lacking in authority will excessively end his or her sentences as if asking a question.
  • Pace  A fast manner of speech reveals the excitement of the speaker; whereas, an authoritative speaker will slow down to draw attention to a subject, and allow moments of silence to occur for a commanding effect.
  • Volume  Overly loud talking can come off as rude and insecure. A person can effectively grab the attention of others by giving a more quiet delivery.

Every voice is unique, and fortunately, there are many ways to modify our speech to suit our needs. Hoping Treasure’s tips help serve you in all areas of your life as an actor!