Take your thumb and index finger. Pinch your nostrils. Now say “Welcome to the Staten Island ferry.” That’s the voice commuters hear every day over the PA system as the ferry leaves the dock. And that’s a Voiceover!!! Really? Yes, somebody paid for that nasal voice that sounds like a cat in heat.
Have you noticed a trend toward nasal voice quality? I hear it more often in the vocal quality of young women but nasality is not gender specific. It’s perpetuated on American television mostly by young actresses in sitcoms. A perfect example of this preferred television voice can be heard on the show Two Broke Girls.
A nasal voice sounds whiny and pleading - not exactly a power voice. And when paired with a high pitch, it can be irritating to the listeners.
There are two types of nasality: hyponasal and hypernasal. The hyponasal voice is the absence of nasality. It sounds like your nose is stuffed up as if you have a cold. The hypernasal voice has an excess of nasality and is the sound that emerges when you pinch your nostrils. The sound is coming through the nose instead of the mouth.
Why do people sound nasal?
A nasal voice can be a result of modeling. If your family members speak with excessive nasality, you may, too; or it may sound cool to mimic popular television voices.
It can also happen when the soft palate (back of the throat) doesn’t close properly. Instead of sealing off the nasal cavity, it allows air to flow through the nose. The reason may be sluggishness of the muscles or it can be anatomical.
How do you know if you’re voice is too nasal?
Ask friends for feedback. Has anybody said you sound whiny?
Record your voice. Compare it to professional voices that you hear on the news.
Place a mirror beneath your nose when you speak when saying vowels. Does the mirror fog up?
If you determine that your voice is too nasal what can you do?
Practice speech drills on your own. Pinch your nostrils and say a sentence. Now say the same sentence without pinching your nostrils. Listen for contrast.
Say vowel sounds (a e i o u). Place your index finger against the side of your nose. If you feel vibration there is too much nasality.
Make an appointment with a speech therapist who can evaluate and provide exercises to reduce nasality in the voice.
We all have some nasality. When it’s excessive it can be irritating to hear, it can have a negative effect on how you’re perceived, and it can distract the audience from your message it they are focusing on your voice.
Fran Dresher, the television actress and star of the 1990s sitcom The Nanny, made her nasal voice her trademark. For the rest of us public speakers it’s best to avoid negative speech habits and not let nasality cloud the message.