John, head of training at a US State prison, hired me to train the voices of the new guard recruits. “Your objective is to train the guards to speak with the type of authority that commands respect from the inmates," he said.
He told me that many of the guard’s voices either go up in pitch or often sound excessively harsh when they feel unsure of a situation, feel threatened or get excited. “I want them to speak calmly and with authority." Tell me more John and let’s see what we all can do.
The prison warden has taken voice training and feels that the effective use of the guard’s voices in a prison environment could, over time, create a strong, authoritative, confident, self-assured team of guards that would build an atmosphere of respect for authority without tapping into any inmate’s negative feelings of low self-esteem, mistrust, manipulation, anger, and/or fear.
I began by assessing each guard’s speaking voice; pitch range, tone, enunciation, projection, speaking rate, language skills, use of slang. The men were in excellent physical condition, however, they knew very little about projection and the benefits of breathing to support and control their voice tone.
I explained to the men that breathing properly from the diaphragm is what gives their voices the energy, the fullness, resonance and power needed to sound authoritative without sounding overly aggressive and angry. “It takes the emotional edge out of your voice, if you do it correctly."
Sounding powerful, strong and authoritative on a consistent basis, I feel, will be an effective way to communicate with inmates. As soon as you let your emotions dictate your tone of voice you often don’t have as much control over the situation.
As the men became skilled at using the breath to speak and project, they experienced both in class and in real time, that it was true. They had much more power and control when communicating. Phil was amazed at how he could command a person to follow an order, just by using his voice. No more yelling and letting his voice get loud and strained which can be perceived in any number of negative ways.
Projection is the art of throwing your voice in a focused way with a specific intention. When one projects, you are always in control of your tone of voice and the intention it carries. Again, the goal is to sound powerful, authoritative, and confident. If you decide to change the intention to sound more direct and/or aggressive, you are in control of that decision.
Having this kind of voice control was a powerful tool for the guards. It gave each individual more confidence in communicating with the inmates and also with each other. With breathing and projection as a solid foundation, they practiced exercises for loudness control, better pronunciation, proper rate of speech, and pacing and phrasing.
Jeff, who was an expert in martial arts, compared his voice control to the type of self-control one gains from martial arts. “ Be aware of what is going on around you, and use your voice to be present, to be strong."
It sounds like a great comparison!