We’re getting down to the wire on our World Voice Day 2014 competition. What started as an enormous list of possible voices has grown smaller and smaller over the past several days, and we’re close to having a winner. As our corporate communications team sat together several weeks ago and talked about who the greatest voices of all time could potentially be, it seemed impossible to even narrow down our initial list to the 32 contenders for the purposes of this competition. When you bring together a group of people that span various ages, genders, regions, and experiences, how do you find a common thread? Is there a group of voices that can evoke a similarly meaningful and emotional response across such a varied group of people? When you consider that it’s not only the voice that we are thinking about and connecting with, but also their personalities, histories, backgrounds, and the memories that these people conjure up when they speak – it makes it all the more difficult to settle on a group of voices that are going to elicit the same level of meaningful reaction and response across a broad group.
One thing held true for all of us, regardless of who we were. Each of us did identify strongly with quite a few voices, albeit for different reasons. And we all fought hard for those that were meaningful to us. We felt the memories that those voices evoked. Through these voices, we were each brought back to a moment, a movie, a point in time, an accomplishment – something or someone that moved us. We connected with these voices, and, to some extent, the people who own them and who bring them to life, and we fought to prove that they deserved to be in the running for the title “Greatest Voice of All Time.” The tones, the inflections, the imperfections of these voices resonated in different ways for and through each of us as we made our lists, told our stories, and pleaded our cases. Morgan Freeman meant something to me because he was my “Easy Reader” when I was a kid, but Beyoncé was very important to someone else because she’s been a powerful soundtrack throughout her life. Vincent Price brought me back to the first time I saw the Thriller video and to late-night horror movies, while James Earl Jones had me smelling the popcorn again as I settled back in my seat to watch ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in the theatre as a kid.
We all know the power of smell; it’s said to be the strongest sense. But I was completely surprised as we went through this process by the power of voice when it comes to evoking strong emotion, and rekindling memories. Subtle elements – volume, tone, inflection, cadence – they all come into play as we absorb the human voice and form our opinions and make our connections. Voice can truly stir strong emotions (and can even spark pretty heated debates) as our team learned fairly quickly. (In some cases, emphasis on particular syllables in words can even determine whether folks will get along or not!)
From a purely practical standpoint, it struck me that this must be quite similar to the struggle that some of our customers face when they’re making decisions about how their brand will be perceived as they choose voices for their phone, mobile and web channels. How do you choose an appropriate representation that captures your essence and evokes the appropriate feeling with a broad group of people? Knowing that voice can stir so many emotions, the decision becomes much more complex. (Fortunately, we have teams at Nuance focused on this!)
If you haven’t voted for your favorite voices in the “Greatest Voice” competition yet, I challenge you to give it a try. It might not be as easy as you think.