How to Have an Attractive Voice — With Science
Ever wondered how to have an attractive voice? This science-based voice guide will teach you everything you need to know about improving your vocal tone & vocal projection.
Note: after this started trending on Google, I filmed a 1-hour, in-depth masterclass on this very topic. It substantially expands the content you see here, includes tons of practical examples, and is now one of the top-rated courses on Skillshare. Watch it (and all my other content) for free with this link.
Let’s face it: most of us wish our voices sounded better. And listening to famous actors, pretty actresses & smooth podcast hosts all day long doesn’t really help that proposition.
Now, most people think our voices are set in stone. They’re convinced it’s a biological hand-me-down, and once those “voice” genes have been given to them there’s nothing they can do to make their voice more attractive.
The truth, however, is a bit different. You have significantly more control over the end product — your voice — than you probably think. With practice (and a little bit of science) you can use the power of vocal tonality & vocal projection to change how you sound, for the better. And I want to help you do it.
What follows is a concise, science-driven guide on how to sound more attractive and confident.
Most people don’t realize this, but speech (and your voice) has several parts.
First, there’s semantics, which you probably already know and love — these are the words that we use to talk to one another and exchange information. Semantics convey meaning, and they’re the reason why words have different definitions in the dictionary.
On top of that, humans also use body language. This generally refers to things like hand gestures, the way you stand, walk, or run, eye contact, and haptics (physical touch). These are very important components of communication, and they each provide additional defining characteristics with which we can judge others behavior. It’s hard to trust somebody, for example, if they never look into your eyes.
But one of the most powerful and commonly misunderstood ways of communicating are our paralinguistics — the tone, cadence, and staccato of your voice and the words we say to one another.
The sound of your voice, for example, tells someone a lot about how you’re feeling. Pauses and changes in pitch similarly imply specific emotions or thought patterns. Our brains process these markers all the time to inform how we feel about other people, and it’s a huge chunk of how we and other people are perceived.
And it’s backed up by science: researchers have shown that a significant portion of the information in day-to-day speech is derived from paralinguistics alone. Astounding, right?
These factors (and more) lead us to the notion that it matters less what you say, and more how you say it. And we can explore that theme by learning about the biological pathway that produces sound. This will teach us how to make our voice more attractive — by manipulating the machinery that creates voice in the first place.
So let’s get scientific!
How Your Voice Works — The Nuts & Bolts
Before you can make your voice more attractive, it helps to understand how your voice works at a physiological level. This is significantly less complicated than it sounds, because there are really only three components involved: your lungs, your diaphragm, and your voicebox.
Your lungs acts as a negative pressure system, drawing air in by increasing their internal volume.
This sounds complicated at first glance, so I like to compare it to the way a syringe works.
When you pull back on the handle of a syringe, the volume inside the cavity increases. For physics-ey reasons, this leads to a the pressure inside the cavity decreasing.
Fluids — and yes, air is technically a fluid — move from regions of high pressure to low pressure, to equalize pressure differences. In this analogy, your lungs are the syringe cavity, and the muscles around your ribcage are the syringe handle.
The muscles around your ribcage — the diaphragm, intercostals, and sternocleidomastoid — contract to “pull” open your lungs, and air gets sucked in as a result. This allows for the transfer of oxygen & CO2, giving your body the fuel it needs to keep on doing stuff.
When you breathe out, the inverse happens. Your ribcage muscles relax, decreasing the size of your lung cavity, and air is expelled out as a result.
Depending on the speed with which you want to exhale, you can also perform what’s called active exhalation. This is where, instead of just relaxing the muscles involved in inhalation, you actively push air out by contracting your abdominal group. This leads to a compression of your internal organs, which squeezes the diaphragm and expels more air than you would if you simply relaxed.
As the air is pushed out of your lungs, it’s forced up and out through your trachea. Eventually, it reaches your larynx, which contains your vocal cords (these are what make your voice attractive or unattractive)!
Your vocal cords are small folds of membranous tissue that create sound when air is run over them. They function kind of like a flute — depending on the shape of the openings (and how big they are), your vocal cords create different pitches of sound as air is pushed out.
This is the important part: because everybody has slightly different sizes and shapes of lungs, tracheas, and voiceboxes, the resulting sound that’s pushed out of their mouths has a different characteristic pitch. This is why some people have high voices, and others have deep voices.
Now that the physiology is over, let’s talk about how this translates into inflection.
The Three Types of Vocal Tone
In English, human beings speak in one of three ways. These different styles of speaking can be neatly placed into three boxes — seeking, breaking, and neutral rapport — on the basis of the tonal changes they embody.
Each type of rapport employs a distinct pitch shift throughout the word, sentence, or phrase. And, interestingly enough, the type of rapport you engage in most often is directly related to your social standing in any particular environment. Your social status.
So, here’s the scoop: In general, low status individuals tend to ask questions (seeking rapport), whereas high status individuals tend to make statements (breaking rapport).
You already intrinsically know this: people that make statements of fact usually have more confident voices than people that ask questions all the time. We see it frequently in the workplace, our social groups, and our romantic relationships. This statement-derived confidence directly implies high status and leads us to trust the speaker more, especially as an authority or a source of information.
Think of it like the relationship between a boss and an employee: when the boss (the high status individual) talks, it’s usually to tell the employee a fact or an order. When the employee (the low status individual) talks, it’s usually to ask for clarification or for help.
But these vocal tone nuances actually go a bit beyond just questions and statements, and have characteristic sounds that we’ll listen to in a second. And by learning how to manipulate these sounds, you’ll unlock a second, hidden dimension of language that will allow you to project whatever kind of status you want.
By far the most pervasive style of vocal tonality, seeking rapport is also the weakest (from a confidence and attraction standpoint). It literally means “to seek a relationship”, as in, to put the needs of somebody else above yourself. While presumably a nice gesture, too much of it is a one-way street to low value.
If you’ve ever spent prolonged time in North Carolina, or hung around valley boys/girls, you may have noticed that the majority of their sentences sound kind of like questions.
This speaking style is dominated by a pronounced increase in pitch over the course of a sentence. Check out the example below.
Notice how the pitch curves up over the course of each word or sentence. Linguists and sociologists often refer to this as “uptalk” or “vocal fry”, and research shows that prolonged use of this kind of voice (on top of being bad for your voicebox) also significantly decreases the likelihood of career success, particularly for women.
If you could take James Bond’s attractive voice and put it in a bottle, this’d be it. Breaking rapport signals dominance and extremely high confidence, which, for reasons listed above, is sexy.
From a linguistic point of view, things said with breaking rapport vocal tonality sound like statements. They’re curt and final. This is what I was referring to when I mentioned the boss and employee relationship above.
Notice how the pitch turns sharply down over the course of each word or sentence. This is a complete 180 degree shift from seeking rapport; in breaking rapport, the end of your phrase will always be lower than the beginning.
When people say “his voice is so monotonous”, this is usually what they’re referring to. Unlike seeking or breaking, neutral rapport maintains similar pitch over the course of the phrase.
This can be good or bad, depending on how often someone uses it. In almost all cases, however, you’re much better off using neutral than seeking rapport because seeking report voices sound unattractive.
Notice how the pitch remains relatively level. Not much more to be said about neutral rapport. It’s… well… neutral.
Use Inflection to Sound Higher Status
Now that you understand the different subtypes of vocal tonality, it’s time to do something about it. Here are some quick tips:
- If you’re speaking amidst employees or colleagues, use breaking rapport to imply knowledge or strength
- For casual, social settings, stick to breaking or neutral rapport. This allows your voice to communicates confidence
- Out on a date? Avoid seeking rapport as much as possible — it signals neediness and a lack of confidence
- Stay away from breaking rapport in potentially aggressive altercations, like potential bar fights or a heated exchange. You risk escalating the interaction
A warning: it’s incredibly difficult to understand how you talk if you don’t make a concerted effort to listen to yourself. Human beings are subjective creatures, and our own self-assessments are usually subjective too.
Before you get going on any of the tips in this article, record yourself for a minute or two. It doesn’t have to be anything special — simply talk about your day, or read one of your favorite passages — but make sure that you have an objective way to assess how your own voice sounds before moving forward.
Perceived social value is intrinsically tied to our size. This is a direct byproduct of our evolution — human tribal dynamics almost always dictated that the largest and strongest individual ended up leading the pack.
And size is intrinsically tied to loudness and depth. The larger the individual, the larger the lung cavity, rib cage, and voice box — this means more air over the larynx and a louder voice, as well as a generally deeper voice pitch. The net result of these two relationships?
Our perceived social value is correlated with how loud we are.
Basically, you have two paralinguistic angles with which to increase your perceived status: your vocal tonality, which we mentioned above, and your loudness, which we’ll talk about below.
You can optimize your tonality by using a breaking rapport voice (mimicking large, high status individuals back in our tribal days) and you can optimize your projection by having a loud voice (which also mimics large, high status individuals back in our tribal days).
So how exactly do we get louder? Here are two easy hacks I use in my coaching sessions.
1. Breathe With Your Diaphragm
Fact: the way most people breathe is inefficient.
Also fact: it only takes a few minutes to learn how to breathe right.
The majority of people primarily breathe with their upper chest muscles, while neglecting the diaphragm almost entirely. This leads to a characteristic increase in the size of the chest every time they take a breath.
Now, the main problem with this style of breathing is that all of the the upper chest muscles combined are still much smaller (pound-for-pound) than the diaphragm, and you only get a feeble amount of air in your lungs as a result. This translates to a weak, quiet voice.
Diaphragmatic breathing is crucial to having a load, attractive voice. Nine out of ten times, if you’re not breathing with your diaphragm, you’re putting an artificial ceiling to how loud your voice can go. And since, remember, loud people are generally more successful, that means you’re also putting a ceiling on how successful you are.
Luckily, breathing with your diaphragm is actually incredibly simple. Here’s how to do it, with science.
- Stand up
- Place your hand on your tummy
- Breathe in, and while doing so, push your hand out using the muscles around your stomach. Your hand should move significantly forward while doing so
- Breathe out by pulling those tummy muscles in
That’s pretty much it. When you push out your stomach, you’re contracting your diaphragm. This pulls your lung cavity down and out, allowing significantly more air in than if you were to simply pull it out with your upper chest muscles. You can feel this when your hand is on your tummy.
And the utility of diaphragmatic breathing doesn’t just stop at having a powerful voice — it can improve your cardiovascular endurance, your focus, and even (some believe) your longevity.
Want a more advanced walkthrough on how to breathe with your diaphragm? Our friends at SLT have compiled a comprehensive guide, which you can find here. Study this well: good breathing is critical to having an attractive voice!
2. Use the Oval Trick
Want to learn a quick & easy hack that ensures you’re always speaking loud?
One of my best friends, Soma, swears by a neat mental technique he calls the Oval Trick.
Basically, imagine that you’re in a room with your friend, who’s standing six feet away. You and them are both talking at a normal voice.
The Oval Trick says that most people speak like this:
In this picture, the oval represents your voice. Most people talk at a volume just loud enough for someone at a distance to make out what they’re saying; the very tip of the oval just brushes the other person.
This is non ideal, however, because if speaking conditions change — if there’s a loud noise, or for whatever reason you mumble a word or two — then the listener won’t be able to hear you.
Soma, however, says you should be talking like this:
In this scenario, you’re talking as if you’ve doubled the distance between you and your friend. Now, the fattest part of the oval (the center) is lying directly over the listener — this ensures they’ll hear you despite any interruptions.
Most people think “but if I talk as loud as you’re telling me to, I’d be screaming! Mom always taught me to use my inside voice…”
Not a good idea. In 99% of cases, it’s better to be too loud than not loud enough. Having a loud, attractive voice is a sign of confidence and strength, whereas being quiet is a sign of passivity and weakness. People will forgive you for overdoing the former, but they’ll never forgive you for overdoing the latter.
It’s like the old adage: it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission. If loud is your “default”, you’ll appear more sociable and friendly than most of your peers. And the odd few situations in which you’re too loud are easily remedied by just talking in a slightly quieter voice — nobody will fault you for it.
The Big Picture
Now that you understand the physiology behind how your voice works, you’re in a much better position to make your voice attractive. If you follow the breathing tips listed in this guide, learn how to use breaking rapport tonality, and speak louder than your peers, you’ll easily be at a point where you sound more confident than the top 5% of speakers worldwide.
This has massive implications for every area of your life, including your career, your business, and your relationships. Speaking confidently is the key that unlocks the next level in each of these domains, and it’s what sets the haves and the have nots apart.
However, don’t think your job is over just yet. Your voice is important, but it’s really only half of the overall subcommunication pie; learning fantastic body language can be just as important, and has significant career, business, and relationship implications as well.
Whatever your path to self-transformation may be, remember the key takeaway from this article: science first! Once you learn the fundamentals behind why something works, you’re much more likely to master how to use it.
Hopefully you found the article helpful in making your voice more attractive. If you liked it, you’ll probably find these valuable as well:
- A science based guide on how to improve your body language
- Why most people should take a step back from listening to music
- One simple phrase that I’ve used to speak to thousands of people
- Body language behaviors that are killing your social value