The Wall Street Journal
March 15, 2012

Voice Preparation (TRICKS OF THE TRADE)

Style Asset: a Great Voice

Your sound can have as big an impact as your look. "When I hear a voice, I hear instantaneously who a person is," says Arthur Joseph, a Los Angeles-based voice and performance coach whose clients have included sports stars, CEOs and celebrities.

Mr. Joseph, 66 years old, likes to think of every professional encounter, whether it's a business meeting, teleconference or networking event, as a performance--one that he has carefully rehearsed.

Well before an event at which you have to speak, Mr. Joseph recommends recording yourself in a conversation and listening to it. Your goal, he says, is to decide: "Does that sound like the person I want to communicate?"

Often, hearing the playback can help you pick out "um," "like," "you know" and other tics that can make you sound unsure of yourself.

Another thing to listen for is rushed speech, a common problem. That can convey an anxious feeling that "I don't want to take too much of your time," he says. "It might be perceived as 'I hope you like me.' " Younger people and others more used to texting than talking often don't realize how fast they speak.

If Mr. Joseph has to give a presentation or speech, he writes it out and rehearses it for hours. "We don't realize how much work it takes to be natural in public," says Mr. Joseph, who once spent more than 100 hours rehearsing an important 22-minute speech with a client.

Mr. Joseph marks up a paper copy of his speech, underlining words he wants to stress and circling periods at the end of points he's putting across. That "helps the storytelling," he says--ensuring he emphasizes key points, for instance. He likes to underline the last word of a sentence, reminding him to end strongly. A common problem: "rushing to the end of our thoughts--thus rushing our breathing, losing the message and disconnecting from our audience," he says.

Next, Mr. Joseph practices in front of a mirror, paying close attention to how he looks as he speaks. He makes sure his posture is straight and allows him to breathe freely. He also thinks about making eye contact with listeners. If he finds himself using "um" and other tics, "I stop and start all over again," he says.

He rehearses a presentation until it feels natural. When people are too focused on trying to remember what they want to say, "they can't embody the storyteller in the moment," he says.

Mr. Joseph is careful about warming up his voice. "There isn't an athlete or dancer who doesn't stretch their body before a performance," he says. He typically starts his day with a warm-up: He sits up straight and opens his mouth wide, making a sound that starts as a loud yawn and ends as a sigh as he gradually closes it, repeating this for seven minutes. This can bring your voice to your "optimal pitch," he says, often making the tone a little deeper and richer.

Right before he goes on stage or enters a room, he finds a quiet spot where he can do a 10-second voice warm-up. Before walking in, he says, "it's important to take that moment to focus."

Write to Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan at

A version of this article appeared Mar. 15, 2012, on page D3 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Style Asset: a Great Voice.

Arthur Joseph

Founder, Vocal Awareness Institute Inc.
Has been coaching voice and performance for more than 40 years.
Clients have included football player Emmitt Smith and actor Pierce Brosnan.
Author of "Vocal Power: Harnessing the Power Within," "The Sound of the Soul: Discovering the Power of Your Voice," and other CDs and DVDs.

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