There are very few things more traumatizing in life than hearing your recorded voice for the first time. The only thing worse is seeing yourself on television for the first time (more on that later as there are complicating factors).
The first time I remember hearing my voice was, I believe, in the third grade. I don’t remember why my voice had been recorded but the squeaky nasal thing that came out of the cassette player still gives me the creeps. Although hearing your own voice is traumatizing in general, I think it’s especially bad for young boys as we suddenly realize that we sound like our mothers and not our fathers.
My squeaky nasal thing lasted well into university and I remember one instance where I was on the phone with the university or some business and the voice on the other end kept calling me “miss”. When I finally said and spelled out my name there was a quick “oh” followed by a moment of silence and then I became “sir”.
Somewhere along the way I started to take acting classes and part of that involved vocal training. My teacher, Melissa Riggs, told me to read the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy from Macbeth with the deepest most exaggerated “Shakespearean” accent I could muster. I thought I sounded ridiculous but everyone else thought I sounded good (please note: this meant my voice sounded good not that I wasn’t ridiculous or that I’m not an idiot telling a tale full of sound and fury).
Over the years I think I’ve managed to work my voice into something respectable. It helps that I live overseas and teach English, a combination, as I’ve said before, that typically steals accents. Also, since we write and record our own listening tests, I get to hear my voice over loudspeakers quite frequently. (In fact, I did that very thing just today which inspired this post.)
The other traumatizing thing is seeing yourself on television for the first time. This is different than seeing yourself in a video–although that’s pretty bad–because lots of strangers are seeing you on TV.
Oddly, although I’m not particularly photogenic, I am somewhat telegenic (some day I will prove that in one of these posts) as I’m not required to hold a smile. I can just relax and talk.
Unfortunately, several hundred years ago, give or take, when I worked in Kansas City, Kansas for the summer as part of a Peace Corps-style project, I was interviewed for local television.
Now, as a warning to you, when you’re on television for the first time, the better you think you sound, the worse you actually are. I thought I said something profound in a profound manner and that viewers would be moved to tears. However, when I finally saw the segment, my nasal voice was back. Also, because I was taller than the cameraman, the camera angle put me in a “talking down my nose” position that looked snobbish. To top it off, everything I said sounded trite and superficial. (The memory still gives me a case of the third grade creeps.)
I’ve therefore done my best to avoid TV cameras since then and let other people make the official statements. It’s for the best.