Your voice and your identity

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Dec 08 2016 by Janet Howd Print This Article

A couple of months ago BBC News announced the death of singer Marni Nixon whose voice “became” that of Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn whenever they burst into song in the film versions of ‘The King and I’, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘My Fair Lady’.

Marni’s job - which she was extremely good at - was to lip synch and fit her singing voice to each of those very different women’s facial and externally visual laryngeal movement. But, she was no ventriloquist, as snatches of songs from each film when played in quick succession on the same BBC News item clearly showed, because the singing voice of those three women could clearly be heard as being one and the same.

It helped that the three films in question were released several years apart (The King and I in 1956, West Side Story in 1961 and My Fair Lady in 1964). So seeing three very different Stars apparently ‘singing’ on screen, was enough to fool viewers into believing that each singing voice was as unique as the characters they were watching.

But in each human being the voice that sings is the voice that shouts, is the voice that croaks, is the voice that whispers, is the voice that mumbles and the voice that speaks clearly. Also - and most importantly - the voice print of any one person is absolutely distinct, with hundreds of variables within each individual voice. Despite that, recent technological advances have made it possible to isolate, analyse and identify each one of them, which means that any voice can now be identified with almost absolute certainty within three seconds (perhaps with the exception of an immensely gifted ventriloquist).

There are many practical applications for this technology. Take customer service interactions. Until now, ringing a call centre usually involves jumping through hoops to prove our identity. Even if we have all the special dates, places or names needed to get through security immediately to hand, it takes an average of 45 seconds to confirm our identity.

That may not seem very long, but cut that identification time down to three seconds and organizations are looking at major savings in terms of time, money and efficiency, some of which might be passed onto customers (i.e. you and me).

Every day seems to see a new story about cyber security, identities being stolen and technology being hacked. However, the decision about when to speak to whom and about what is totally within our own control. And if call centre workers are going to lose money or their jobs anyway because of the shorter time they are required to function when we talk with them, maybe we should call their employers’ bluff and stop using that method of information gathering altogether. For though a voice - if it is recorded - can now be clearly identified within three seconds, in real time, it can be easily forgotten within three seconds too.

Your voice is a tool that belongs to you and no one else. Control its trajectory by oiling it with judicious words and it will give you a life time of satisfactory service.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.