According to researcher and vocal expert Torb Pedersen ’91, your voice alone can speak volumes to your innermost emotions and personality. Without even knowing it, we each emit vocal cues that can communicate our deepest insecurities, fears and stressors.

An innovator in the field of vocal science, Pedersen’s work with vocal production components and methods to safely manipulate them for a desired effect, has led to enhanced vocal health and compelling communications for his clients. Over the past 20 years, he has worked with world leaders, CEO’s, members of The White House Press Corps, major record labels and Grammy Award-winning artists, such as Gloria Estefan.

“I started a research program with some of the major recording artists at Capital Records to test the reaction of different stimuli on the functioning of the vocal chords,” says Pedersen. Through his work at the Torb Pedersen Institute (TPI), he was able to identify and isolate sources of aberrant muscular contractions and develop techniques to rehabilitate the vocal cords and neutralize the behavior. 

While analyzing the raw data from this research, he noted that different muscular contractions seemed to correlate with people’s emotional dispositions, thereby resulting in changes to pitch, pace, quality, volume or articulation, to name a few.  Unbeknownst to the speaker, these vocal cues can contradict or distract from their message and instead relay underlying negative thoughts.

“I worked with a corporate attorney who always ended his statements in a high pitch. Though his words were strong, his insecurity was coming out through his unconscious desire to ask a question through his vocal tone. As his voice rose, what he was really saying was ‘Do you approve of this? Is this OK? Do you like this program and even, do you like me?’  And subconsciously as we listen, we realize he is insecure, so we don’t really trust him, even if we don't know why” says Pedersen.

Unlike other non-verbal forms of communication—facial expressions, eye contact or body language—vocal cues can be difficult to identify and manage. “During a five minute conversation where we might see one to two variations in body language, we might hear as many as 20 to 30 neuro-mechanical reactions to stress or vocal cues,” says Pedersen.
TPI has catalogued over 1,200 separate neuromuscular reactions to stress, or vocal cues, so when you speak, here are just a few basic things to remember:

  • Only end a sentence in a high pitch when you intend to ask for something
  • Don’t speak in a combination of high and soft tones as it makes you seem guarded
  • Eliminate all signs of need from your communication - think more about your listener than yourself
  • Take the right number of breaths per minute - too many shows anxiety, too few shows aggression

As Pedersen continues his work with speakers and performers around the world, he is also investigating how vocal control may reduce stress. “Clients are telling us that they are not only feeling relief from vocal strain, but from their overall stress as well. This makes us wonder if we have stumbled across a link between someone’s voice and the ability to remove things like negative emotion,” says Pedersen. “Instead of prescribing medication, it may be possible to negate stress with targeted vocal actions.”

Pedersen earned a bachelor’s degree with individual concentration in arts administration from UMass Amherst.  He and his staff advise entertainers, entrepreneurs, corporate and government leaders on all vocal conditions, considerations and situations including: asset enhancement, performance profiling, subliminal motives, and concealed information identification and analysis. To learn more, listen to his recent TEDx presentation in Melbourne, Australia, 1200 Sounds that Prove You’re a Liar.

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By Elena Lamontagne