Screech and Shrill! Why Your Voice May Irritate your Viewer on Video

Bianca’s note: These are some of the topics I cover in my new book – How to Present on Video. Also, I am experimenting with a different format – let me know if you want more short-form tips like these.


Your viewers will tolerate poor visuals in a video but they will click away in an instant if your audio is irritating and yes, this includes your speaking voice.

It’s all about that Bass

There is no point having a great face, good posture and compelling video message, only to undermine it with a shrill, screechy-sounding voice.

Screechy voices, distortion, and scraping sounds trigger a stress or irritation response in the human brain (a pre-wired evolutionary survival mechanism). These can also create an unconscious negative feeling or association with you, your brand and your messaging.


The Power of a Voice

Think of the speaking voices of Morgan Freeman, Dame Judy Dench, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons – how do they make you feel when you hear them speak? That is the power of a voice. Used well, the voice can be a fine instrument. It can move and inspire people. It can create massive change.

The same can be said for trained singers vs those with poorly trained voices – which ones are more enjoyable to listen to?


Genetic Survival

As part of our genetic survival mechanism, we are unconsciously programmed to react negatively to unpleasant sounds like the screeching because we associate this with warning calls from animals to alert us when a lion is nearby.

Think of a voice that is shrill, screechy, or jarring. How does it make you feel? Most of us will feel irritated, instinctively turning our heads away trying to mentally tune them out and get away. That is your brain’s pre-wired evolutionary survival mechanism kicking in.

When presenting on video, our vocal quality can help or hinder our message. The impact of our message may “fall on deaf ears” simply because they find some element of your voice irritating to listen to. If your viewers comprise mainly introverts, they will be even more sensitive to irritating noises.

Over time, these viewers may unconsciously associate you or your brand with pain or annoyance.


Take the Test 

With that in mind, I have made this video your listening pleasure. Wear headphones and listen to it with the volume up.

Let me know how it felt and how many times you heard the word “cakey face” in the video (that’s my voice by-the-way and a test to see whether you can endure the whole video). Hit play on the video and skip to timecode: 0.47. Enjoy!


Psychological Manipulation

Horror genre filmmakers use these screechy sounds to great effect aka “the jump-scare”. This is typically combined with a visual cue of something jumping out at the character on screen. This is how filmmakers manipulate the audience to them on the edge of their seats, ready to flee. They are triggering your freeze-fight-flight survival mechanism, and priming you remain in a state of fear or low-level anxiety for the duration of the movie.

This is the beauty of psychological manipulation in filmmaking. If the filmmaker is successful, the chosen sounds will trigger your primitive Moro startle reflex. An inborn reflex that causes our head and shoulders to flinch, or startle backward, in a response to fright or to an unexpected noise or sound. This primitive reflex is hardwired into our DNA to help protect us from a threat. The very same one that kept your ancestors alive while navigating the perils of life and predators on the African planes.

Remember that you can Book a time with me to troubleshoot your video creation or a production challenge. See below for details.

Keep creating and putting your best out into the world.






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