The Hypnotic Voice
by Tom Connelly
A Tool of the Trade
Given that the voice is the main tool of the talking therapist's trade it makes good sense that time and attention is spent on it to ensure that the effect of the voice is as good as it can be.
I'm sure we all have some idea in our mind of what a good hypnotic voice should sound like and would like our own voice to appear in this way when we are working. It has always seemed slightly strange to me that vocal training is often left until everything else has been studied, perhaps even until we actually go into practice, before a genuine attempt is made to develop and extend the 'therapeutic tonality' of our vocal presentation.
Of course some people seem to naturally have a voice that is easy on the ear but happily every voice can be improved with a little practice and specific exercises can help us develop particular vocal capabilities.
How is the Voice Produced?
The production of sound starts with the movement of a dome shaped muscle system called the diaphragm, which is poised between the chest cavity and the abdomen. This muscle flexes downward creating a vacuum which draws air into the lungs. When the diaphragm is relaxed again a volume of air is expelled up the windpipe and through the vocal folds of the larynx (voice box). In normal breathing the vocal folds (vocal cords) are relaxed and no sound is created as air passes over them. However, when these folds are flexed and positioned by the muscles of the larynx they can rapidly modulate the pressure of the exhaled air, thereby creating sound. During infancy we learn to craft the noises we can make in this way into the complex sounds of speech.
Perhaps the most basic problem of all relates to the amplitude of the voice, especially once the induction procedure has got under way. Some hypnotherapists may be surprised to find that their voice tends to trail away, becoming too quiet for the patient to easily hear without strain. This can interfere with the relaxation process and introduce an element of doubt into the subjects mind that they may be mis-hearing important instructions.
One cause of this is that we are very close to the source of our own voice as it passes from our lips and as such it is easy to hear. Not only that but we also hear our own voice as it is produced at the larynx and transmitted in vibrations through the bone structure of the skull. This is one reason why people find the sound of there own voice strangely unfamiliar on hearing it played back from a tape recorder - the 'bone vibration' element is missing.
Another reason is more psychological, in so much as the therapist knows beforehand (even if only in milliseconds) what words are going to be used and so there is a predeliction to hear the spoken word 'more completely' than it might actually have been spoken. However It isn't really necessary to descend to a whisper to obtain a suitable trance. The tone of the voice is much more important than its volume.
Imagine an actor on stage, acting the part of a hypnotherapist at work. Although the tone of his voice may seem quiet and calming he will still be heard at the back of the theatre. Good amplitude maintains stress free listening and contains within it a useful authoritative element, even while making indirect suggestions. Volume also suggests confidence and certainty, while a lowered voice may unconsciously be perceived as sly or deceptive behaviour.
Other problems include: Fading away at the end of sentences (either becoming too quiet or just running out of air) - Fading out at the end of words - Dropping consonants from the end of words (typically T's or D's), unclear enunciation, speaking too quickly and so on.
Regional accents are not really a problem, unless the accent is too 'heavy', and may even lend an air of authenticity to your speech especially when working in the part of the country specific to that accent. Better to speak in a fluent way with a regional accent than try to talk with a slightly 'classier' accent and sound uncomfortable or stilted.
Remember - once you have eye closure in a patient and they no longer see you, you actually become your voice to them.
What You Can Do
The first thing you should do if you want to improve your delivery is obtain some means of recording your voice. Before you can set about making changes it's a good idea to have a clear perception of how your voice sounds to others.
Place a tape recorder approximately where a patient would sit and run through a hypnotic induction and suggestions. Then play the tape back and examine what you hear carefully. Take a pen and paper and describe your voice. Is it flat, thin, strong, sonorous, squeaky, hesitant, dreary, bright, sweet, grave, fat, etc. Note its strengths and weaknesses. Write down what you would like to change about it. Write down what you think a good hypnotic voice should sound like and imagine speaking in that voice.
You might also record some of the speakers from radio or television, or perhaps listen to some of your favourite hypnosis recordings made by presenters whose voice you would like to model.
Some of the problems connected to indistinct vocal presentation are caused by the simple fact that people often fall into the habit of not opening their mouths wide enough when they speak. With this in mind re-read some of the text on this page out loud, while intentionally opening your mouth a little wider than usual. You will find that words sound more distinct right away and there is less tendency for them to fade out at the end.
It's a good exercise to regularly read aloud from a book or a newspaper, while opening the mouth wider than usual. Read as though you were addressing someone across the room.
You can then extend this exercise by intentionally talking slightly slower than usual, as well as opening your mouth slightly wider.
Posture is Important
If you are looking down while reading this and your chin is close to your chest (as when reading from a book), read a passage aloud to yourself to get the sound of your voice. Then, with your head level (eyes looking forward) and your neck straight - read aloud again. You will notice that the sound of your voice is immediately clearer because the larynx is able to work unhindered. Often openning the mouth slightly wider than usual when speaking helps with intonation as well as enunciation.
Always try to keep your head level and your neck straight when you speak as this adds to the clarity and the innate sound of authority in your voice. Try talining and moving your neck into different positions to see what changes occur.
Get fitter - improved physical fitness not only develops posture and lung power but also tends to 'sweeten' vocal harmonics.
Use the Force...
If all else fails resort to hypnosis! Why not use self hypnosis to give yourself suggestions relating to the development of your hypnotic voice? Imagining it growing in richness and subtlety until it becomes totally compelling. Imagine speaking with the voice of one of your favourite sounding characters from TV or film.
It is possible to obtain the services of a professional voice coach who is likely to know most of the tricks of the trade and so ensure rapid progress. However, these coaches seem to be few and far between, with many of them concentrating only on the singing voice.
There are many books on the market that can help vocal development and here are a few, with appologies for those good books that are unintentionally ommitted:
- The Voice Book by Michael McCallion
- Your Voice and how to use it by Cicely Berry
- Voice Power by Renee Grant-Williams
- Your Voice by Andrew Armitage
- How to Say it with Your Voice by Jeffrey Jacobi
- The Right to Speak by Patsy Roenburg