Voice Awareness and Empathic Listening Workshop Notes by Tim Noonan

“The human voice allows us to literally Touch others from a distance; but the quality of that touching relies on the quality of our intention and our under-lying emotions” – Tim Noonan

“In less than 30 seconds a caller will have decided (at least on a subconscious level, if they feel comfortable with the worker’s voice and tone” – Telephone Counselling by Maxine Rosenfield

Updated to include interesting article and interview on listening skills of introverts and extraverts.


These course notes have been prepared for attendees of my Vocal Awareness and Empathic Listening workshops for the NSW Domestic Violence Line, FACS and other telephone-based service providers.

Please call me +61 419 779 669 or email me tim@timnoonan.com.au to inquire about tailored voice workshops and presentations for your organisation.

Selected Quotes from Workshop

every workplace communication we are engaged in is a client connection requiring our respect.

When we are speaking on the phone, both the speaker and listener are effectively blind. the sound of our voice, our choice of words and our conversational manner have to tell the whole story.

You are responsible for monitoring and maximising the clarity of your communications

I can’t put it any other way, voice work is work on the self.

We all need to bring kindness to this work – kindness to others, but even more-so, kindness to ourself.

Workshop Outcomes

  • Learn how to use your own voice to create more meaningful and trusting client connections over the phone and face to face

  • Learn strategies and techniques which promote vocal understanding; foster expressive speaking and nurture insightful listening.

  • Learn a range of strategies and practical techniques for speaking with more clarity, confidence and compassion, and skills for listening to others with greater recall, depth and understanding.

  • Exploration of the inevitable and essential relationships that exist between Voice and Likability; Voice and Authenticity; and most important of all, Voice and Trust.

“The voice emerges literally from the body as a representation of our inner world. It carries our experience from the past, our hopes and fears for the future, and the emotional resonance of the moment. If it carries none of these, it must be a masked voice, and having muted the voice, anyone listening knows intuitively we are not all there.” – David Whyte, The Heart Aroused

Key Vocal Awareness and Empathic Listening Strategies

Try out the following practical approaches to enhance the effectiveness of your speaking and listening.

  1. Utilise the Descending Ahhh voice technique to move your voice out of your head and into your body. This technique reduces stress and allows us to be more open to empathy and compassion.

  2. Record a few personal and professional phone calls, just your side is sufficient. Review them with eyes closed.

    (Of course, work within ethical guidelines of your workplace and if you are recording a party in addition to yourself, gain their permission first!)

  3. Make notes after work calls including reflections on tone of voice and difference between words and tone of voice

  4. When alone, record yourself speaking about different topics – with eyes closed, review and then re-record your voice multiple times to become more familiar and friendly with the sound of your voice.

    Remember that the anatomical aspects of your voice are separate from your vocal expressiveness. all of us can bring forth more from our voice, with intention and practice.

  5. Bring kindness and gentle observation to your voice and your sound. Most of us hold various negative beliefs about our voice. Judgement and self criticism only gets in the way of comfortable and open vocal expression.

  6. Balance your thinking with your heart-centred feeling

  7. Allow energy to flow in and flow out from you as you converse – as does the natural and necessary act of breathing.

  8. When ever possible, close your eyes when taking an important call, so you can attune with and focus more fully on the sound of the other person.

    be still and listen, feel and be with the caller

    When listening, just listen, don’t type, don’t write, don’t interrupt

Some themes covered in this talk include

Humming, Ahhhhhh (Vocal Valium) and Eeeeeeeee (Sonic Caffeine)

Vocal Toning – using the voice to produce sustained sound and elongated vowels – can rapidly shift our emotional state, release stress or even raise our level of alertness.

  • Quiet humming is a great way to wake and warm up your voice, and prepare for an upcoming conversation. Humming brings you more into present moment and out of your head.

  • The descending Ahhhhhhh sound, in addition to releasing tension, can also bring your voice down from your head into your chest, leading to increased vocal warmth and emotional connection with others. I call this Vocal Valium

  • A minute or two of producing prolonged Eeeeeeee sounds – sounded at a mid note, a mid-high note and a high note – will wake up your intellect and prepare you for the day or task ahead. Don Campbell calls this Sonic Caffeine.

5 Qualities of a Vocally Conscious (Authentic) Voice

If you start applying some or all of the following V-O-I-C-E techniques, you will be more effective as a communicator, more interesting to engage with, and your like-ability factor will almost certainly increase.

  • V – Vibrant
  • O – Open
  • I – Intentional
  • C – Conversational
  • E – Emotionally Expressive

You can read the full V-O-I-C-E article here.

The Intrinsic Relationship between Voice and Trust

You can hear me talk in more depth about this topic in my Voice, Relationships and Trust Video.

Trust can be assessed in the following ways:

  • Being open to the possibility that human speech and human hearing/listening can read the emotions and assess the trust of another within a specific context;
  • Rich speech which isn’t missing key emotional and personal information – I call head speaking empty speech;
  • The congruency of our words and of our sound and body language is the key to trust;
  • Deeper listening which involves dimming our visual processing (such as closing your eyes at the start of a telephone call);
  • Allowing a voice to resonate inside us, to feel how it makes us feel, rather than limiting our focus to just the words;
  • When questions or doubts arise, probing or seeking more information.

The Three V’s of Communication

We often examine human communication by looking at its three key channels: – Visual, Verbal and Vocal.

It is the sum of these channels that make up complete communication between speaker and listener.

  • Visual – covers body language, facial expressions/micro expressions and eye contact. In face-to-face communication visual is considered the largest component.
  • Verbal – the actual words we use. When it comes down to trust and confidence, people give less weight to the words than how we convey them.
  • Vocal – our tone of voice, speed, volume, excitement etc. including breathing and vocal sounds that are not actual words.

Of course, when we speak on the telephone we don’t have the visual component and this makes the verbal messages even more significant to the listener.

Empty speech is speech where the speaker provides limited visual and vocal messaging, just conveying the words. In these situations the listener misses the extra information, undermining trust and confidence in the speaker and what they are saying.

When a person’s words and tone of voice don’t match, or when there is dissonance between body language and words, we consciously (and unconsciously) become uncomfortable and even suspicious of the speaker.

Trust comes when all communications channels are coherent with each other.

Voice, Relationship and Speaker Attitude

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!” – Maya Angelou

“In less than 30 seconds a caller will have decided (at least on a subconscious level, if they feel comfortable with the worker’s voice and tone” – Telephone Counselling by Maxine Rosenfield

Whenever we hear someone speak we automatically make an assessment of their attitude to us and to what they’re talking about. I talk about this more in my Voice is All About Relationship post.

Resonance and Entrainment

I discussed the importance of entrainment for managing call speed and energy. You can read more about the principle of entrainment here.

Deeper More Insightful Listening

Research has found that closing the eyes can lead to the listener hearing more detail in sounds. In yoga we sometimes say Close the eyes; open the heart. When we close our eyes we increase the amount of cognitive processing available to interpret and understand what we hear, such as the emotional state of the speaker.

One way to refresh and recalibrate our hearing is to focus our listening on to the sounds of nature or on to a single sound such as a singing bowl.

Sit quietly with your eyes closed and listen to the sound as it slowly changes and fades, following the sound into silence. You’ll probably notice that afterwards you are aware of much more of the ambient sound around you or even the sound of your body breathing.

Recording of my clear quartz crystal singing bowl in F#

We can learn strategies from Introverts who listen differently to extraverts. See This article and interview on listening

“As communication and service industries displace manufacturing ones,and social mobility increases, along with the number of divorced parents whose main contact with their children is by phone, the ability to interpret voices becomes an increasingly prized skill – too often unacknowledged. It atrophies with disuse, but can be regained with practice. A mixture of concentration and relaxation is involved: You have to direct and focus the ear while allowing it to remain loose and receptive.” – Anne Karpf

The Likability Factor

Tim Sanders has written an entire book and recorded a great lecture on The Likability Factor – Our level of Emotional Attractiveness.

“Your likability factor reflects your personal capacity to consistently produce positive emotional experiences in other people. You have this capacity in good and bad times. You are natural and authentic, smart when it comes to your emotions and more importantly, the emotions of other people.

We’ve learned that in the case of humans, you can make a bet on the “law of reciprocity”. This law states that people will reciprocate emotional experiences. Sometimes they reciprocate in a direct reflection (back at you) and other times they reciprocate in an indirect direction (at the next Customer, a coworker or family member). ” – Tim Sanders

Vocal Generosity

Vocal generosity is a wonderful way to contribute to your community as well as helping yourself in the process.

Research now proves that altruism and Kindness benefits the recipient, the giver and even people observing the interaction.

“In social situations we reward helpful people with kindness and generosity and punish the unhelpful ones – even when the punishment incurs some cost to ourselves.” – Words Can Change Your Brain

Listen to a short recording of me speaking about the process and benefits of vocal generosity

The Twelve Steps of Compassionate Communication

from Words Can Change Your Brain by Andrew B. Newberg

These guidelines make more sense after reviewing the book, but I’ve listed them here for your contemplation..

**Before embarking on an important conversation**
  1. relax
  2. stay present
  3. cultivate inner silence
  4. increase positivity
  5. reflect on your deepest values
  6. access a pleasant memory.

    When Communicating

  7. observe non-verbal clues

  8. express appreciation
  9. speak warmly
  10. speak slowly
  11. speak briefly
  12. listen deeply


Our voices have the power to unite or divide, Inform or deceive, heal or harm, give or take.

It is up to each and every one of us, every day, to make a conscious choice of what we say and most of all how we wish to say it.

For important communication – * think about what you want to say,
* feel the emotion you wish to convey
* and then, say it with feeling!

Other References and Resources

“Telephone Counselling: A Handbook for Practitioners” by Maxine Rosenfield.
This book is relevant and interesting to the topic of vocal awareness for any telephone service where staff are called upon to offer counselling services. Its available in the Kindle store and the Google Play Store.

“Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy” by Andrew B. Newberg
This resource is quite comprehensive, well researched and covers all aspects of what the author’s term Compassionate Communication. It has sections on tone of voice and strategies for increasing empathy.
Of particular interest are chapters 5 and 8.

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage. Audio program by Brene Brown.
On The Power of Vulnerability, Dr. Brown offers an invitation and a promise—that when we dare to drop the armor that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives. Here she dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and reveals that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.
This program is available from soundstrue.com or from audible.com

Presence by Patsy Rodenburg
Learning to become Present – Patsy Rodenburg’s Youtube presentation on Presence – 2nd Circle
If you are drawn to this approach, Patsy also has a book on the topic that goes into great detail on how to achieve presence in our lives.

Healing Yourself With Your own Voice by Don Campbell
This extraordinary audio program is available from SoundsTrue.com and is a true classic on voice awareness and engaging the voice for balance and healing.

The Human Voice: How This Extraordinary Instrument Reveals Essential Clues About Who We Are by Anne Karpf
If you are interested in learning more about the human voice in society, extraordinary details of the mother-child voice bond, this is an excellent and fascinating resource.

Free eBook and Vocal Essence Newsletter

During this talk I mention my presentation skills eBook ‘Your Voice is Your Business: Seven Voice Strategies for Vocal Brilliance’. Read or download my Your Voice is Your Business eBook.

You may also wish to subscribe to Vocal Essence our occasional Voice and Communication Newsletter.

IVR Standards, ACd, On-Hold messaging and Voice User Interface Design

Tim Noonan was a principal researcher and contributing author for all of the Standards mentioned below.

All IVR and ACD systems in Australia should comply with the Australian IVR Standard – AS/NZS 4263 Interactive voice response systems – User-interface – Dual tone multi frequency (DTMF) signalling.

Banks and other financial service providers should additionally comply with the Accessible Telephone Banking Industry Standard published by the Australian Bankers’ Association.

If your telephone service incorporates speech recognition the user experience may be improved by consulting the Australian Standard – (AS 5061-2008) Interactive voice response systems user interface – speech recognition

These Standards represent world’s best practice in customer centred and consistent telephony design.

You may also wish to read a paper I wrote sometime back, but is still relevant today, Designing User Friendly Voice Systems which is a great primer on good IVR design.

About Tim Noonan

Tim Noonan is a voice consultant and lecturer, human factors & voice user interface designer, inspirational conference speaker communications coach and and voice counsellor.

Tim has been designing, scripting and enhancing IVRs for nearly two decades and is one of the principal authors of the Australian IVR Standard as well as authoring the Australian Telephone Banking Standard and the Australian Telephone Voting Standard.

Tim has a degree in Cognitive Psychology and Education, with a particular focus on how people process and comprehend auditory information. A lifelong student, his formal studies also include a Diploma of Remedial Massage Therapy, a Certificate in Relaxation Hypnosis and extensive studies in energetic & sound healing.

Over the last 20 years he has blended his interests in technology and speech, to bring printed and online information to life for people who are blind or print disabled. Tim also works as an auditory user interface consultant, designing and enhancing automated telephone services and directing voice-over artists in the studio.

Tim Noonan is a professional listener and the creator of the Vocal Consciousness approach – strategies and techniques which promote vocal understanding; foster expressive speaking and nurture insightful listening. As a person blind from birth, Tim has learnt to listen for countless vocal cues that reveal so much more than the casual listener is aware of; and once enlightened, your way of speaking and listening will change forever.

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