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Jessica Hansen: Finding, Owning, and Loving Your Voice

Daniel ScrivnerLast Updated: September 24, 2020

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“It’s not just how you sound. It’s your voice. It’s who you are. It’s what you want to say. And if you have a tool that can help you express yourself, isn’t that better?” — Jessica Hansen

In this episode of Outliers, I’m talking with Jessica Hansen (@JessActs), about the importance of having a strong voice in both a professional and personal setting, techniques to hone your voice, and finding the “ideal voice” (hint: it’s your own!).

Jessica Hansen is the voice of NPR’s funding credits, as well as the in-house voice coach at NPR headquarters. She has held roles on several television shows and has performed in commercials and films. After earning her MFA at Brandeis University, Jessica went on to co-found Lean & Hungry Theater, which creates a podcast and audio adaptations of classic literature for classrooms. In addition to her work at NPR, Jessica provides vocal coaching and voice-over services. 

Topics Discussed

  • 00:01:30 – How Jessica became interested in voice through theater
  • 00:04:29 – Jessica’s work at NPR
  • 00:06:35 – Working with journalists, and the importance of their performance levels
  • 00:09:13 – On finding and honing the perfect NPR voice
  • 00:16:51 – The difference between working with men’s and women’s voices
  • 00:21:55 – Jessica shares techniques on controlling your nerves before speaking, including breathwork
  • 00:26:47 – The building blocks of voice
  • 00:30:02 –  Jessica’s voice coaching process, from beginner to advanced levels
  • 00:38:47 – Simple but effective tips for finding your best voice
  • 00:45:05 – Voices that Jessica finds fascinating
  • 00:47:58 – Exercises for practicing with your voice
  • 00:51:02 – Recommendations for resources on the voice

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode. Transcripts for all episodes can be found here.

Links from the Episode

Voice methods, techniques, and tools mentioned:

Memorable voices mentioned:

Key Insight

The key to finding and being confident in your best voice is mindfulness. Being aware of your breath, your posture, and your habits can open the door to accessing your whole voice.

Actionable Ideas

  • Women can focus on integrating deeper tones in their voices: “I actually spend a lot more time with women than with men saying, ‘It’s not about lowering the pitch of your voice, and it’s not about speaking in the very bottom of your range. It’s about integrating the bottom of your voice with the rest of your voice.’ So you have all of that warm, lower, deep resonance, but you also have your overtones and your brightness, and we want to marry those so that you’re using your whole voice all the time.”
  • “Really, the basics of my work are creating mindfulness. What are you aware of? Can you notice where you’re breathing? Can you notice how you’re breathing? And once you have the awareness of what you’re doing, then you can shift that and we can play with, ‘Oh, well, what happens if you breathe into this place instead?’ or ‘How can you navigate this tricky situation, whether it’s nerves or a hot flash or whatever? How can we navigate this? How can we be mindful of knowing how your body and your voice work to get you through this smoothly?’”
  • “There are myriad breathing techniques for how to calm your nervous system and how to override that fight-or-flight or freeze response. You can find them in meditation, you can find them in yoga, you can find them in voicework, you can find them in singing work. The one that I love… is the four, seven, eight breath. It’s super easy… You breathe in for four, suspend the breath for seven, exhale for eight.”
  • “Before even thinking about how you’re structuring the delivery, step one is to get your voice warm. Don’t go into it cold. Shake it out. Do some lift trills, do some howling, do some humming, do some yawning and sighing, and get your voice moving. You can’t just in your brain say, ‘I’m going to move my voice around.’ You have to open it up. No NBA player goes into a game cold. You don’t park in the parking lot, go into the locker room, put on your uniform and start the game. You do the drills, you’re with the team, you’re passing, you’re shooting. This is the same. Why would you not warm up your voice? Your voice is your instrument and you are a professional voice user.”

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they’ve mastered and what they’ve learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

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