I ask Nancy Daniels, a.k.a. the Voice Lady, to give me a listen.
Suddenly nervous, I find myself hoping she'll notice those echoes of New England I've been told are rather charming, or the mellifluousness I like to think of as mesmerizing.
"I just want to get you out of your nose," she declares. "Learn to breathe. If you use your chest to power your voice, a multitude of problems will be gone."
The new film The King's Speech, the gossip about the posh accent of future Princess Kate Middleton, and the indescribable/indecipherable utterings of our own Snooki suggest that improving how we talk can't possibly be as simple as breathing.
But Daniels' reassurances are nothing if not persuasive. If a warm blanket could talk, it would sound just like . . . Daniels, a trained singer who's helped people polish their speaking voices for more than 20 years (www.thevoicelady.com).
"I love what I do," she says, her voice as gracious as the home she shares with her husband, Phil, in Somerdale. "I'm not a speech therapist or an acting teacher. . . . I help you find the voice you don't know you have."
"When you find your real voice," she adds, "it's like the cogs and the gears falling into place."
Daniels has no discernible accent - no trace of Maple Shade, where she grew up, or the years she spent in Canada. She calls herself a voice coach, but "proper breathing proponent" is more like it.
Bad breathing is to blame for all sorts of failures to communicate. It can lead people to tense up and raise the pitch and volume of their voices, with results that are hardly easy on throats or ears.
"All of us were born breathing properly," Daniels declares. "But then we start doing this."
She makes an unpleasantly short, shallow, and staccato sound of the upper chest abruptly inflating, in dramatic contrast to the demonstration of "diaphragmatic breathing" that follows. Clunky name aside, this deep-inhalation technique imparts a calming sonorousness to the taking in of oxygen and provides ballast for the voice, too.
"It feels right," Daniels says. "It sounds right."
Widespread poor breathing/speaking habits are made worse by the sheer din of the soundtrack of our lives, with or without earbuds.
"People are talking more loudly just to be heard," Daniels says. "And they're abusing their voices."
This sort of unnecessary wear and tear can create chronic hoarseness and also can accentuate the quavering quality often audible in elderly voices.
So perhaps it's no surprise that many of Daniels' clients are baby boomers.
Although they (we, I) may be eager to retain lustrous youthful tones, typical clients also include grown-ups who sound like children; mumblers ("usually men, and often very tall men"); and soft-spoken souls who are barely audible.
Others face a job interview or a public-speaking event, which explains the video camera and lectern Daniels uses during her sessions. Job-seekers or public speakers often need to brush up their diction, which may sound a tad old-fashioned (see: elocution), but is actually quite cutting-edge.
Texting and other virtual communications notwithstanding, verbal still rules in the marketplace, globally and otherwise. Failing to make one's words (and their meaning) clear can prematurely end a conversation, as well as a chance to make a sale.
"No matter what your line of work is, you're selling," Daniels says. "And your voice is a sales tool."
That goes for the meet market, too. "Many of my clients are single young men," Daniels says. "They know that a great voice is very attractive, more so than looks. Let's face it, [the late, great singer] Barry White was not a looker."
Daniels will work with a person who wants to lose his, say, Boston accent, but she's not interested in scrubbing the character or uniqueness out of a voice.
"I like accents," she says. "The problem is, there are people who are not understandable."
Happily, such problems also can be addressed by, you guessed it, proper breathing - which I simply must master if I am to bring my voice back from its nasal wilderness.
But there's hope.
"Your diction," Daniels says in that wonderful voice of hers, "is fine."