It always starts the same: I’m at dinner, mumbling over the latest political development, when I’ll get stopped mid-sentence. “Use your speech voice, please.” Frustrated, I’ll once again repeat the phrase, paying careful attention to the articulation of my words. My parents are not in the wrong--I am, regrettably, also trying to stuff my face with food--but the concept stands. Growing from a shy, timid second grader who couldn't stand in front of a crowd without crying to a confident, comfortable senior hasn’t been an easy walk in the park. This definitely isn’t to say that I don’t have my days. Using my speech voice at all times, however, isn’t that simple.
What is a “Speech Voice?”
As it’s different for every person, I find it hard to describe a “speech voice” in a universal standard. In my best effort, I would define it like you’re sailing: the voice, usually choppy and slurred, decides to put a specific weight behind each breath, making the string of consonants fall into a specific flow. Politicians use it all the time; the most popular and effective user, in my opinion, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her recent speech addressing Congressman Ted Yoho is a perfect example of her speech voice. Each word holds a distinctive weight, each phrase holds a powerful meaning, and each pause holds a deafening silence. It’s verbal storytelling. Not only does it make her an incredible public speaker, but it also allows her to concisely tell her story.
How Do You Find Your Speech Voice?
Funny that I mention Congress! Despite being a speech kid to the core, I found my speech voice in Congressional Debate. Standing on a podium in front of a mock chamber, I had to fight for the issues I was bringing to the table; in this case, it was the abolition of child marriage in Arkansas. I, of course, was using my “speech voice”--or so I thought at the time. It wasn’t until my bill was directly challenged that I found my true voice. When another person is unable to empathize with your standing, it is tried and true in culture to use stories to pull them over. This is where your true speech voice is revealed. We all tell stories differently, speak poetry differently, and sail oceans differently. I found my spark by sharing stories of what I had observed with my own eyes, what I had read in multiple articles, and what I had always known in my heart. In that moment, I demanded silence: this story deserves to be told. I fought, using every syllable that my voice carried, until the chamber erupted into applause as the bill passed.
Why Don’t You Use Your Speech Voice All the Time?
This is the quintessential question of the day, isn’t it? A perfect world is one in which I use it all the time, rapid firing anecdotes--devoid of platitudes--until everyone listens. I wish this was the case, but like all things, it’s mentally and physically draining. It requires patience. It requires honesty, and sincerity, and gracefulness. It requires that you be humble, and patient, and open to expressing a part of you that the world doesn’t get to see. It requires that you truly care about what you’re speaking about. I can use my “speech voice” all I want to describe a scathing critique of the next commercial I see on TV, but it will never compare to speaking from the heart about something I truly care about. Simply put, a “speech voice” is sounding pretty. Sounding pretty, however, only matters if the accompanying words have true weight.
In the past year, I challenged myself to carry my true “speech voice” over into my forensics career. I have found it in speaking about indie movies in Original Oratory, in telling small, personal stories in Impromptu, and in sharing my deepest feelings in Spoken Word Poetry. The feeling is indescribable. I leave with this:
I Challenge You To Find Your Speech Voice.
Yes, it takes time to find it. Yes, your friends will bug you about how funny it sounds compared to your normal voice. Yes, you might be mumbling about yet another incident that Trump or Biden is involved in at the dinner table, and your parents ask you to use it. Don’t feel pressured into believing you have to use it all the time, or that each word or phrase that comes out of your mouth has to be part of a grander statement. We’re all human; we have to word-vomit low-energy statements every once and awhile. Your public speaking voice isn’t a secret to hide from the world, but rather, it’s a gift.
Clayton Kincade (he/him)
Cabot High School Senior