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Not all of us are blessed with a voice like James Earl Jones or Catherine Zeta-Jones. In fact, almost none of us can match their unique vocal gifts … and that’s why voice quality need not be nearly as great a concern as many of us fear.

It’s really good news. When you get up to speak, almost no one is expecting a great work of theater! They just want you to demonstrate your knowledge, perspective and passion for your topic. Think of the careers of Lucille Ball, Joe Pesci and Woody Allen (minus Woody’s whole creepy personal life, of course). None were blessed with great voices and all were probably told many times they needed to do something about their voices. All made their mark in the most public forum possible and, in many ways, did it BECAUSE of their voices.

Think of it this way. Your voice is an extension of your personality. Just as what you wear and the way you walk help make you who you are, so your voice helps define you. Embrace it. Understand it. Play off of it if you can. Use it as a tool to help get your point across.

One of the most highly paid speakers in the country is former college football coach Lou Holtz. Lou has a lousy voice, some speech challenges and big ears. He’s also one of the best, most engaging speakers out there because he uses ALL of those items to his advantage!

If you really hate your voice, there are things you can do to change it. A voice coach can provide specific suggestions, such as remembering to speak from your diaphragm instead of your nose if you have a high, squeaky voice. Also, if you tend to lose your breath, practice making a single point with each sentence and watch the punctuation. (Most “breathy” speakers run right through the natural stop signs that can help them slow down.) If you have a unique, quirky voice, don’t be afraid to play off of it! The audience will remember your message because of the way you acknowledged what otherwise might have been considered a “flaw.”

Also, a tape recorder or video camera can actually be a great help for anyone who speaks in front of any audience. You’ll learn more from hearing and seeing yourself speak than any coach can teach you! It may not be your favorite exercise, but it will be very insightful.

Finally, a story about one of the best voices I ever had the pleasure to hear. One of my fondest memories from my years working in Hollywood was one day when I crossed paths with the recently departed Lou Rawls. He was walking toward me on the Paramount Studios lot. I said, “Hi.” He smiled and responded, “Hey, how are you doing?” I have to say hearing Lou Rawls, with that deep baritone instrument, say hello to you was something very few people could forget. He truly had a great, unique voice.

ClearComm Note: This is the 20th Monthly Memo. If you have just recently joined us, check out the past editions at our Web site, listed below. I love writing the Memos and always appreciate hearing any thoughts you might have.

Here’s to a great 2006!

Cary