Tone and Meaning


Webster's Dictionary
1 a: the thing one intends to convey especially by language : PURPORT: Do not mistake my meaning.
b: the thing that is conveyed especially by language

IMPORT: Many words have more than one meaning.
2: something meant or intended : AIM a mischievous meaning was apparent
3: significant quality especially : implication of a hidden or special significance
    a glance full of meaning
4: a: the logical connotation of a word or phrase
    b: the logical denotation or extension of a word or phrase

Habits of Speech

The tone of your voice carries the meaning of your message as much, if not more, than your words and sentence structure. Your voice tone expresses the, “subtext,”an implied meaning that imbues your words with layers of subtle message.

Stuck in your Schtick?*  *Overused actions or behavior.

Sometimes we project attitudes that we may not intend or "mean," only because of unconscious voice and gesture habits. For instance, I know a man who sounds like a crusty old pirate with gruff tones. His voice uncomfortable to his listeners, and he feels limited in his ability to speak in more gentle, nuanced tones...

Sometimes we project attitudes that we may not intend, only because of unconscious vocal habits. For instance, I know a man who sounds like a crusty old pirate with gruff tones. His voice uncomfortable to his listeners, and he feels limited in his ability to speak in more gentle, nuanced tones...

Another student adopted a cynical speaking manner in his teen years in response to his brothers and their family culture. Now, as a business team leader, he finds that people reject his helpful suggestions because he is stuck in the old, well-worn cynical voice tone. He wants to more inclusive and supportive of team members and truly enjoys their ideas, but they perceive him as haughty even though he is thrilled to work with them.

A common female voice pattern is to pull the voice down to a low, gravely, husky pitch in order to project more authority. When the voice is forced into this unnatural position, there is less flexibility and the nuances of the message are limited.

Unhealthy, unpleasant voice tones are a poor choice to deliver your innermost thoughts and feelings.

Instead, a resonant, clear healthy voice tone, projects confidence and your audience is drawn to your message. Your tone, speed and message invites your listener into the conversation. Your gestures should be fluid and support the intention and meaning of your message.

Authenticity and Vocal Change

FEAR of change is the one of the most common obstacles to voice improvement. Students feel that new voices are not authentic, that they are, "Putting on an act."  Please don’t let this hold you back. Your voice has been held in place by habit, that is all. We all have a wide range of voice tones that require new vocal techniques and mental shifts.

This is the nature of personal growth. And, any new action feels uncomfortable at first, but with mindful repetition, your new voice and gesture patterns become part of your expanded repertoire of options for expression

Rings true!

When your voice tone matches your feelings, it is considered authentic, even if the voice you use is new to you. If something is true, it’s true. It has the, “ring of truth” to it.

Your voice changes may not feel comfortable at first, but as long as you are speaking from your true feelings and thoughts, you will grow more confident. And your voice will increase in power and expressivity.

The ringing tone of truth is the core of authenticity, integrity, coherence, rationality and honesty. 

Tone and Meaning

The best way to break these well-ingrained habits is to expand your expressive range and experiment with new voice tones and emotions.

Let’s start with one thing you KNOW is true, like your name.  
Say, “My name is ______.”
Now, if someone were to respond, “No, it’s not,” your likely response would be, emphatically,
“Excuse me, but my name is ________.”
You know your own name. You don’t have to change your voice to make your name any more true. Your voice conveys a strength of truth and knowing.

If what you say is true, it rings with truth.

Exercise #1 - Attitude game

Link: 101 Day Fifteen - Attitude game.m4v

Repeat a phrase in many ways.

Choose a short phrase from below:
 My name is _______.
2 + 2 = 4
 What do you mean by that?
 I love apples.
 What a beautiful day.
 Repeat this phrase with the emotion/feeling states here.

Vocal Fry

Often people will use a gravelly tone and press inwards on the larynx and throat to convey authority. This gruff, gravelly tone is known as, “Vocal Fry,” can cause vocal damage, is not at all pleasant to listen to, and does not amplify your message. It is important for you to detect when you employ this unhealthy habit and choose a different voice tone.

When do you press inward?
When you find yourself pressing inward, simply repeat the phrase at a low volume until you can feel a smooth, throat/larynx. At first, you may not be able to speak at a loud volume, but with a clear center core tone, the sound will amplify on its own. Your inner observer is always checking for tension and considering alternatives.

Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there tension in the larynx? Head? Tummy? Neck? 

- On which emotions do you press inward on your larynx or throat?
- Does the tone carry more meaning when it is pressed?
- Is the statement or meaning more or less true if you press upon the tone?

Your Goal: Clear vocal tone without tension

You can have emotions without also disrupting your vocal core. The first step is to become aware of how you unconsciously move your vocal body, especially the larynx, with emotions.

When you find yourself using vocal fry to emphasize a point, simply experiment with various attitudes and vocal tonality that fits your underlying message and intention. Ask yourself, 

“How can I change my underlying subtext and attitude to match a clear, and more authentic tone?"


  • What voice and gesture patterns would you like to discard?
  • What voice and gesture patterns or qualities would you like to convey?


  • INFLECTION - A modulation of the voice; change in pitch or tone of voice.
  • MEANING - The thing one intends to convey especially by language  
  • SUBTEXT-  Content which is not announced explicitly by the speaker, but is implicit or becomes something understood by the listener.
  • VOCAL FRY - A common term for a pressed voice; when you press inward on the larynx and throat for emphasis. When used too often, it can damage, or “fry” your vocal cords/folds. It is most noticeable as a gruff or hoarse vocal sound, especially at the end of sentences.  
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