Snap judgment

Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books?

Gosh, I used to love those!

(Even though I never ever managed to make it safely to the end—what’s with the giant spiders!?)

To best address this week’s blog topic I’ve created one of my own adventures for you.

(And bonus: no spiders!)



It’s the night before a big presentation/proposal/pitch/speech. You …

A) Make peace with the fact that it might be an all-nighter, your main goal editing and re-editing—words matter. You’re going to craft this baby to pack a punch, the best speech ever, no matter if it takes all night. Two or three cups of morning coffee will nicely combat the two or three hours of tossing-and-turning — no problem there. And after way too much “snoozing”, you’ll rush out the door ready to slay ‘em. (turn to page 5)

B) Give your speech a once-over edit, highlighting the important bits, reading it out loud a few times. Then it’s self-care: to bed at a reasonable hour, up at a reasonable hour (no rushing), downing a sizable glass of water in the morning, maybe a cup of coffee, leaving the house with plenty of time to spare. In the car, you do some deep breathing followed by a few vocal warm-ups. You’re centered, warmed up and ready to shine. (turn to page 7)


For a lot of years, I was a page-5 person.

A LOT of years.

However, the other day while I was reading (I’m always reading) I came across the following quote that will forever convert me to a page-7 kinda gal, if I wasn’t already.

Are you sitting down? Okay, here it is:

“Although we live in a content-based society, the actual words you use count for less than 7 percent of whether anyone actually believes anything that you have to say. Tonality, or the sound your voice makes, counts for 38 percent. The rest is physiology, which is what you’re doing with your hands, your body and also internally, such as breathing. They say that it takes less than a second for people to decide whether they like you enough to listen to what you have to say. […] The truth is, before people are able to care even the slightest about your content, they must decide they like you enough to listen to you.” 

~ Roger Love, celebrity vocal coach

Let me repeat that: 7% words, 38% tonality, 55% physiology (body language).

Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

The power of body language is a well documented concept. But vocal sound quality/tone scoring higher than words? That’s a new one.

In fact, tone trumps words by an whopping 31%.

(Are you a page-7 convert yet?)

So what does this mean: sound quality? tone?

For the sake of this blog post, allow me to oversimplify by saying this: tone is the character or quality of the sound. And it is ideally the reason we can distinguish between voices.

(For those of you fellow learning junkies out there, let me add that tone is a combination of anatomy/DNA & technique/habits/health.)

To get the full spectrum, let’s compare. Think Larry King vs Jack Nicholson, Barbara Walters vs Michelle Obama, Adele vs Norah Jones. You don’t necessarily need to see the person to know who is talking, or singing.

What’s your tone like? Are you warm and rich (Morgan Freeman, Kate Blanchett), or nasal and shrill (Janis from Friends)? Do you have color in your voice (speaking on different notes, up and down the scale) or are you more monotone (staying on one or two notes like Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)? Are you bright (Cindy Lauper) or dark and dopey (Miss Piggy)?

And all of these iconic voices are subject to off-days: days when the cold/flu comes a knockin’, or days when bad habits trump the good ones.

Let’s continue our “Choose Your Own Adventure” example to see what I mean (cuz, well … it’s fun!).


You chose page 5: You arrive at your big gig tired, dehydrated, stressed from rushing, and likely deliver your speech with “morning voice”—all no-nos to prime vocal performance. Not ideal.  

You chose page 7: You arrive at the big gig well-rested, hydrated, relaxed, and vocally warmed up. Dazzling, darling!


By now it’s clear who earned the most points for “tone” in our adventure, the very person who also had a 38%-better chance of nailing their pitch right off the hop. But as playful as our example is, it serves as a good reminder to check in with your speaking voice. Don’t let it lag in comparison to your singing voice. Record yourself, listen (objectively!), and adjust.

And the really cool part? As singers, applying your knowledge of tone to your speaking voice is just a hop and a skip away; singing exercises are transferable to the speaking voice—and vice versa. (see Blog Post on Speaking voice).

Happy practicing, singers!

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