Do you change your voice when you answer the phone? First impressions are essential when most of our communication and interactions are electronic and done over email or text. So when you do get the chance to have more human exchange over the phone, you don’t want to waste it. Phone calls are an opportunity to create a stronger, better relationship, but not everyone likes the sound of their phone voice. And with good reason – not everyone has thought about or put any practice into their speech. I have—a lot.
As a professional voice actor with over 30 years of experience, I’ve come up with a cheat sheet to help anyone improve their phone voice (or anytime voice, for that matter). Here are nine tips to having a fantastic phone voice from the perspective of a voice over artist and some bonus insights on the importance of phone etiquette.
Morgan Freeman is the first name that comes to mind for most of us when we think: great voice. When asked for his vocal tips, Morgan Freeman’s advice is to yawn before speaking because it opens the throat and relaxes the vocal cords. Doing this helps to achieve a deeper and more commanding voice that aids in pulling listeners into the subject matter. “The tone drops,” he says, emphasizing that “the lower your voice is, the better you sound.” This is not just Freeman’s opinion. There is scientific evidence to back the claim that we respect lower-pitched voices.
Breathing and Your Phone Voice
People (like me) who are paid to talk for a living understand the importance of breath control. When I coach people to get better at voice acting, I tell them that breath is critical. It helps their voice come out clear, strong, and controlled. If your voice cracks or seems to slide from one octave to another, breathing deeply from your diaphragm can smooth away those cracks. One of the most impactful coaches I spent several months working with early in my career as a vocal coach with a classically trained opera background. We sang and spoke and did a lot of breathwork, and this good foundation of control has helped me time and time again, whether I’ve needed to use it for a phone call, a 30-second commercial, or a 40-hour audiobook trilogy.
Watch Your Energy on Vowels and Starting Sentences
Looking at a picture of a sound wave file in my job as a voiceover artist, I can see the energy flow of my speech. When the wave is consistent, my energy is constant and less distracting. This is something I’ve consciously worked at achieving. When I began in this field, I’d typically have a larger waveform at the beginning of sentences that diminished towards the end. By becoming more mindful of keeping my energy consistent, I eventually corrected it. So what does it mean for a phone voice? It might explain a rising and falling pattern that could be annoying for the listener after a couple of minutes. Your issue may even be energy bursts in the middle of your sentences. This is most noticeable with vowels. At the same time, don’t forget to use inflection to captivate your listener and drive your point across by using your best voice.
Be in the Right Phone Voice Frame of Mind
If you have to make an important phone call, evaluate your current mood. Are you feeling confident, positive, content, or even happy? Whenever possible, try to make your phone calls from a good frame of mind and always remember that it helps to smile. But make sure to think of something that puts a smile on your face because a smile without reason comes off as less than genuine. Anticipate a successful call with a positive outcome.
Be Aware – The Reason We Are Very Sound-Discriminating
So much sensory data comes through to us visually, approximately 75 percent to be exact, so it stands to reason that our brains need to be that much more discerning over the rest. With a significantly smaller amount of auditory information coming in at just 13 percent of our brain’s ability to make sense of the world around us, we end up being that much more discriminating over what gets through and how. The difference is staggering and contrasts as 10 million bits of visual data to just 1 million bits of auditory information – per second. While 13% might seem drastically low compared to how much we perceive visually, the other senses (touch, taste, smell) collectively make up the remaining 12%.
Practice Your Phone Voice Intro and Outro
When I was a little kid, they taught us telephone etiquette in school (and definitely around my dinner table. While that isn’t necessarily the case today, I’ll let you in on an old trick from working in radio and television. People don’t mind a bit of stumbling around in the middle of your interaction, as long as you sound confident at the beginning and end of whatever it is you have to say. To practice, write out your opening and closing lines first to make a good impression and get your point across.
Check Your Tech
While this may or may not surprise you, as far as we’ve come with smartphone technology, the sound quality on most phones isn’t the greatest. Most smartphones use what is essentially a speaker in reverse and have a lot of limitations in terms of sound quality. The easiest fix for this is to invest in a microphone (or headset), and the results speak for themselves dramatically.
Be Mindful of Your Environment
Sometimes when you make a call, there’s not much you can do about the environment around you. As a voice over artist, I’m fortunate enough to have a sound booth at home, but most people aren’t so lucky. You may be in a crowded room or on a windy street when you answer a call. Try to fix this by stepping away from the noise. If you can, find another room or duck into a shelter – phone microphones don’t discriminate or filter sound and pick up everything. Your voice is only as strong as the environment around you, so kitchen noises like plates, knives, and other clanking sounds hit the top decibels your mic can pick up and come across as really annoying. Also, make sure to be conscious of wind cutting across the phone – it creates additional low-end frequencies in the diaphragm of your mic that make those frustrating blasts of static rumbles.
Take Your Time, But Respect Theirs
Speaking too quickly makes it hard to catch details. Speaking more slowly and clearly, or pausing once in a while for people to catch up, allows people to absorb what you’re trying to say. Without the aid of visual (body language) cues, listeners only have your voice to go on. When you speak at a rushed pace, it comes off as not properly attending to your listener’s needs. Take your time and slow down – nobody wants to play the same message back multiple times in a frantic attempt to glean whatever information you have to give. But don’t go too slow, either. People still have places to be.
Bonus: Phone Voice Etiquette – Yes, it’s Still Important, and it’s Flexible
With the advent of smartphones and the internet, knowing how to talk effectively became something of a lost art. The days of ten-foot-long phone cords that reached around every nook and cranny of the house became obsolete, and we used texts or emails to communicate with each other. During the pandemic, we missed contact, and people picked up their devices, not to send a text, but as a phone once more – only now with zero idea of how to communicate on it effectively. Today, phone etiquette has become increasingly essential, especially with many people working from home and communicating over Zoom. Take some time to brush up on your phone etiquette, evaluate how you speak, and tell me if these tips helped!