A recent study pinpointed the vital issue of vocal fry and its effect on our perception as speakers and leaders. Vocal fry (A.K.A. creaky voice, laryngealisation, or glottal fry) is the low, vibratory cracking of the voice that happens often with beginning speakers/leaders. Vocal fry makes the voice sound like a creaky door, with the voice being creaky at the lower register. It is the sonic equivalent for an audience to nails on a chalkboard. The results of the study were quite controversial because they showed that women participants in this study were more likely to engage in vocal fry. Many women, with good reason felt the study was unfairly and unjustifiably criticizing them and their capacities. Personally I agree. The truth is, no such negative assumption on women’s communication skill or leadership should be made from this or any other study. Vocal fry isn’t singularly a female issue but one everyone (male and female) experiences.
To Err is Human
Fact is, vocal fry is a human problem seen in both men and women and it is nothing to be ashamed of. In my nearly 15 years of training speakers and leaders I’ve found both men and women exhibit vocal fry. The prevalence in male vs. female I think quite irrelevant as both sexes exhibit vocal fry and both need to stop. Vocal fry is a human habit (a bad one) and it is one we all ought to work to eliminate.
Vocal Fry Indicates Lack of Confidence
Vocal fry has several potential origins. For some, vocal fry is simply a question of emulating the poor speech habits of those around them. For others, vocal fry arises from a deeper challenging physiological experience. Whatever the root cause it is a vocal habit that doesn’t serve us well and should be eliminated. Whether the speaker is male or female vocal fry often happens in the following situations:
- We feel nervous
- We overwhelmed
- We feel frightened
All of these situations share a common thread. We as human beings become emotionally overloaded by some situation (stimulus) and we exhibit a lack of self-confidence that is heard in our voice in the form of vocal fry. Even if we are not experiencing these feelings, vocal fry speaks this to our listener or audience. Do we really want our audience to make any negative assumption about us or our message? This doesn’t have to be our constant. We can change and embrace vocal habits that make us sound more relaxed, confident and present.
Potential Harm to Vocal Chords & Eardrums
Beyond being harsh on the ears of your listeners vocal fry can cause very real damage to your vocal chords. Vocal experts have identified that vocal fry causes fatigue, swelling and even lesions in constant offenders. This bad habit not only hurts our capacity to deliver our communications with confidence – it also is potentially damaging to your voice.
Stop Frying – Practice Being Present/Self-Aware
One of the most important thing successful speakers and leaders do is to be present and self-aware. If we practice that non-judgmental awareness of our selves we will have deeper insights into how we communicate. How can we develop such awareness you might ask? One very simple way to do this is to video ourselves and review our vocal performance on many levels. For many, this can be a challenging task as we are often very harsh and judgmental with ourselves. I encourage you to be kind and gentle with yourself if you want to gain insights. As we are focusing on the voice in this exercise you should close your eyes and focus on the sound of your voice. Do you hear vocal fry? Are you using a lot of filler words? Do you have a habit of not using pauses? Remember to focus first on what you are doing right and then start work on those things you’d like to improve.
Practice Not Frying
With some practice you will become aware of your own habits and emotional state. You will become ware of how it effects your vocal performance. In time, you will be in the habit of catching yourself if you hear yourself frying. If you find yourself frying – simply stop yourself, take a deep breath, practice presence and choose to speak with confidence instead. Previous posts on both breathing techniques and relaxation techniques will help you with this practice.
You are NOT your past habits but the sum of your current choices and actions. Choose to be effective as a speaker and a leader by NOT engaging in vocal fry. Treat your vocal chords well and put your best vocal presence forward. Vocal fry is a bad habit and a linguistic fad – just like upspeak that we ought drop. Others will perceive the genius of your unique and powerful contributions to the world around you. Want to learn more? Our public speaking training and leadership classes contain modules to help you optimize your speaking voice so you are most effect. Until then, quit frying and let your powerful voice shine.