Does your voice ever sound gravelly or too low, trailing off at the end of a sentence? It’s a phenomenon called vocal fry. When you hold your breath while speaking, constricting the air through your vocal chords, you create vocal fry.

Watch the video below for an example:

Vocal fry is damaging in two ways: First, it’s physically damaging to your vocal chords when you do it consistently. Second, it’s damaging to your credibility because it reduces your authority when speaking with others. Consider this 2014 article in The Atlantic suggesting that the use of vocal fry is particularly damaging for women’s job prospects. In my workshops and executive coaching sessions, I hear both men and women use it and recommend that everybody avoid it – it hurts all of us!

Why do people use vocal fry? Most people don’t realize they are doing it. Maybe they picked it up from their friends (or by watching TV, as this article referencing the Kardashians discusses). It’s common for us to pick up accents, slang, and filler words from the people around us – a colleague of mine calls it “linguistic contagion”. Smoking and other bad habits that cause damage to the vocal chords can also affect the sound and quality of your voice.

How can you speak with power and resonance, instead of vocal fry? It all comes down to breathing. When you breathe deeply and then exhale while speaking on the breath, you’re able to produce a richer and fuller sound. Click here for breathing tips from my article in the Harvard Business Review.

Try these steps to speak with power and reduce vocal fry: 

  1. Take your smart phone and open the memo recorder.
  2. Record yourself normally saying, “Good morning, I’m happy to be here today.”
  3. Then take a deep breath and slowly exhale while speaking on the breath, as if the breath were projecting (not pushing) your words forward, while repeating the same sentence above.
  4. Listen to both recordings and see if you can hear the difference.
  5. Every time you speak – especially when you introduce yourself, when people form their first impressions of you – imagine speaking on the breath so that you support the words and don’t let them drop into your throat.

Reducing vocal fry takes practice and effort, but the effect will liberate your voice so you can speak with power and impact.