Using your Voice for Effective Speaking.
A practical guide to developing and using your voice better
Dr Brian Monger
We are all capable of speaking effectively to an audience large or small but some of us have never had any practice, many of us are woefully out of practice and the vast majority have had no tuition in the skills involved.
This topic provides a practical and basic introduction for the busy manager who has to talk to a group of people.
The word ‘talk’ has been used throughout and is intended to cover presentation, speech, address, lecture and synonymous expressions. The word ‘audience’ is used to include listeners, conference, meeting, assembly and similar expressions.
The voice is our main and easiest means of communication. It can also be the most effective. But we must learn how best to use it, and to keep it in trim.
Athletes, singers, boxers, golfers, rugger and tennis players and people in many other professions practise daily. So should we if we have a professional approach.
The Spoken Word
Once, “rhetoric” was a key part of a learned persons learning, but the art of speaking has been badly neglected over the past few decades. Few schools teach it. But, those that have the skills will get the attention and have their ideas listened to, moreso than those who cannot.
Charisma is more effectively deployed with an engaging voice presentation
Because of the neglect in learning to speak in public, confidence is lacking. The results in many cases may be disastrous. With effort and practice much can be achieved. Knowledge, preparation and practice are essential factors in successful speaking.
These days not all ‘effective speaking’ is the old fashioned idea of ‘public speaking’. The latter suggests a formal gathering with a platform and a large audience. Much work today is done in an informal situation and with an audience of only three to eight.
Whatever the audience size, one must be effective. Do not underestimate the amount of effort required to talk to a small group. The world is full of mutterers, “ummers” and “ahhers”. Do not be one of these. If you are to sound enthusiastic and convincing, vocal vitality is essential.
Whether you talk to 3, 30 or 300 the basic approach is the same. You need a style that appears confident and conversational. To do larger audiences, your voice need enlarging and having the ability to project
The number one rule of all effective communication – including speaking is KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
Your presentation needs to be tailored to who your audience is and what they want.
Lord Curzon (1859-1925) was recognised as one of the finest orators of his time. He made a perceptive statement about talking to audiences. He said that the three most important things to remember, in their order of importance, are:
· who you are
· how you say it
· what you say.
At first sight the second and third statements may appear to be the wrong way round. But no matter how excellent your material, if you cannot present it in an interesting and entertaining way, if you cannot make it interesting and the ideas palatable, then you might as well not bother.
Who you are is your personality, relevant knowledge and experience. You must engage the whole of yourself – voice, eyes, face, hands, arms – the whole of your physical self to assist communication.
If you are extrovert then discipline yourself as necessary; do not completely overwhelm the audience. If you are a quiet and shy person, use these attributes to draw your audience towards you. Shyness does not prevent voice projection or vitality.
Don’t be over-modest. Use relevant experience whenever you can. Anecdotes always stick in the mind.
How you say it demands the best use of your voice, the best possible presentation of your whole self and of the material.
Every effort should be made to increase and enlarge the vocal range and to keep the voice in trim with constant exercising.
You must create the right atmosphere. Jargon and technical terms must be avoided if they will not be readily understood by your audience.
What you say requires careful selection and ordering. Everything must be relevant to the particular occasion,
You will be effective only if you are willing to disclose your personality. The actor develops, not hides behind the character he or she portrays. You must be yourself. You must be prepared to put yourself at risk.
A presentation that is without personality will be arid and lacking in audience interest
The element of risk causes nervous tension which will inhibit your performance. Relaxation will prevent this. Until you are relaxed you will never give of your best.
To learn relaxation takes some practice. But it can be done. Once relaxed you will enjoy the experience of talking to audiences.
How to make the Best Use of Oneself
Speakers sometimes fancy that if they take refuge behind a lectern or projector or some sophisticated aid, their lack of skills or nervous tension will go unnoticed. It is not so. In fact the more sophisticated the aids the more the weaknesses of a poor speaker are highlighted. A multiple projector presentation has often been followed by a disastrous question time because the speaker was tense, looked desperate and mumbled the answers. And this is what the audience remembered.
Relaxation will solve all the problems caused by tension. Practice will improve the speaker’s performance.
Nerves and tension
Many people say they would prefer death before speaking in public. Others have learned to enjoy it and the benefits it provides.
It is important to distinguish between nerves and tension. Nerves are essential to set the adrenalin flowing into the blood stream. This has a stimulating effect on the system and gives the necessary ‘edge’ to our performance.
Some think, quite incorrectly, that eventually a person ‘grows out’ of nerves with the benefit of experience. This is not so. The time to worry is when you don’t feel nervous! Watch actors pacing, coughing and fidgeting backstage before a first entrance. See the effect of the red light in a TV studio on the most experienced actors. However, they have learned to control their nerves and so prevent the assault of tension.
Tension is a wrecker. It constricts the voice, prevents breath control, causes the speaker to look anywhere but at the audience. Clinging to a lectern or a piece of furniture, swaying, fidgeting and other distracting mannerisms are further manifestations.
Controlling nerves and eliminating tension
Useful exercises practised for a few minutes each day will eventually enable a person to relax at will. It is simply a question of mind over matter. Once relaxation is achieved speaking engagements become a positive pleasure. The speaker knows that self-control through relaxation will give an appearance of relaxed authority.
Some exercises for relaxation
These are exercises commonly used by actors and professional performers
1 On tiptoe, stretch arms upwards, fully extended; stretch fingers on hands. Stretch calves and thighs. Stretch the abdomen. Imagine yourself on a vertical rack with toes nailed to the floor and fingers pulled by unseen wires towards the ceiling. Feel the discomfort of it. Hold the position for a few moments and then relax. Feel the pleasure of relaxation. Repeat this exercise three times.
2 Tense the arms from shoulders to fingertips. Feel the discomfort. Relax and feel the pleasure of relaxation. Repeat three times.
3 Keeping the soles of the feet on the floor, stretch the legs from thighs to tips of toes. (Keep the arms relaxed during this exercise.) Feel the discomfort. Relax and feel the pleasure of relaxation. When you relax keep both knees braced but not rigid. Repeat three times.
4 Stretch arms and legs together (as in 2 and 3). Feel the discomfort. Relax and feel the pleasure of relaxation. Repeat three times.
The shoulders and neck are most prone to tension. Breathing becomes difficult, the voice is stifled in the throat and the speaker is extraordinarily aware of hands and arms.
The following exercises are designed to help remove tension from these vital areas.
5. Shake the fingers loose on limp wrists and try to throw them on to the floor. Next shake the fingers and lower arms from the elbows.
Finally throw the arms from the shoulders. Feel all tension in the arms being flung out of the fingertips.
6 Roll the right shoulder forwards and then backwards several times in vigorous circles. Repeat with the left shoulder. Then exercise both shoulders together.
7 Relax the muscles in the neck and allow the head to fall forward. Roll the head round slowly three times, (if it falls off, stop 🙂 )bending from the waist so that the weight of the head takes it round. Stop and rotate slowly in the opposite direction three times. Stop with the chin resting on the chest. Lift the head level.
Creating a Feeling of Confidence
Standing or sitting well creates a feeling of confidence in both speaker and audience.
For the speaker it aids relaxation, enables ease of movement, assists breath control and helps to free the voice.
The audience see someone authoritative, knowledgeable, confident and delighted to talk to them.
The feet should be slightly apart. This gives a good grip on the floor. Never stand with your feet together. Brace both knees firmly but without tension. Bring the stomach wall under control so that it is firmly held but not pulled in.
Hold the chest freely without pushing it forward and settle the shoulders on the chest with two or three easy movements up and down. They should be very slightly braced.
Look comfortably straight ahead. The position should be ‘head in the air’ and not ‘nose (or chin) in the air’.
Have the weight of the body on the front of the feet and not the heels. If you stand on your heels the blood flow is restricted and this will make you tense and tired. You should be able to stand on tiptoe without toppling forward. Raise and lower yourself on your toes several times.
Keep the feet anchored and swing the trunk left to the back and then right to the back. This will prevent any stiffness creeping in.
Choose a chair in which the seat and the back form a right angle. Place your bottom as far back as possible. When you sit up the back of the chair supports you. You can both sit comfortably and in a position which allows maximum freedom for movement from the waist upwards. It also allows freedom for breath control and voice projection.
If you are condemned to a badly designed chair sit forward on the seat and lean very slightly forward as well.
Standing or sitting well enables an ease of eye contact with the audience. The top half of the body can move freely and, so long as the neck muscles are relaxed, the head will turn freely in every direction.
Eye contact with a large group is easier than with a small one.
When talking to an audience of less than 20 people the speaker’s eye must light occasionally on each person. But don’t ‘searchlight’ the group from side to side. This can be very wearisome all round!
With a large group the speaker should look for the most part about two-thirds of the way back. Occasional glances should be made to left and right of the front rows.
Good gesture helps to underline what is said. All movement of the arm should be hinged at the shoulder and not the elbow.
The elbows give strength to gesture, the wrists enable precision and the hands contain power and control.
Bad gesture distracts. Twitches, fidgets and repetitious movements are fatal. The audience spots them and attention is diverted from what is said.
Extending your Vocal Range
The human voice is a unique instrument. Unless physically impaired we each possess the necessary equipment and may do wonderful things with the voice. But we must learn to use it properly and to realise its full range. Relaxation and good posture help to free the voice.
Correct breathing assists projection, helps avoid strain, gives the voice the necessary vitality and helps the speaker to sound enthusiastic.
For any form of speaking to groups we need to inhale quickly and deeply. In normal conversation we breathe through a slightly open mouth. This enables speedy and silent inhalation.
To breathe more deeply we must learn to expand the chest cavity. In normal breathing the rib cage moves upwards and outwards, and the diaphragm (a powerful muscle separating the chest from the abdomen) contracts and descends. These movements increase the volume of the chest cavity, a partial vacuum is created and air is sucked into the lungs.
The more movement of the ribs and diaphragm the more air is drawn into the lungs. The more air in the lungs the better our voice control.
The thick black line indicates the position of the diaphragm before inhalation.
Exercises for expansion and control
These exercises are best done near an open window or in a room with plenty of fresh air.
Spend only two or three minutes at a time on breathing exercises. Should you feel dizzy then stop immediately. Overdoing things may result in hyperventilation.
1 Practise heavy sighs. This is a natural way of relieving tension. Sigh heavily and feel the rib cage collapse. Sigh several times. As you draw breath before the sigh feel the upward and outward expansion of the rib cage.
Note that the shoulders play no part in breathing. They should be slightly braced (as for good stance), relaxed and still. On no account should they hunch at the time of inhalation.
2 Stand at one end of a large room. Inhale deeply and whisper ‘One, two, three, four, five’ using all the breath. Send the whisper on the stream of breath to the far end of the room
3 Hum quietly. On the same note intone (or chant) ‘One’.
4 Fill the lungs and intone ‘One, two. three, four, five’. Repeat two or three times.
5 Once able to complete exercise 4 with ease and with ‘five’ fully projected repeat the exercise to ‘ten’.
6 When you can complete exercise with ease gradually extend the counting to ‘fifteen’. The final number intoned should always sound as resonant as the first. When you run out of sufficient breath then stop.
7 When ‘fifteen’ is accomplished extend the counting to ‘twenty’.
The exercises are to employ the rib cage and diaphragm so that they may work fully and easily: they are not voice exercises. Constant practice (a little at a time) will help to ensure an ease of deep breathing.
Resonance or the human amplification system
We should strive to make the best use of our vocal tone by ensuring that we are fully resonant.
All hollow chambers above the voice box (larynx) act as resonators. These are the pharynx (the back of the throat), the nose and all the cavities and chambers connected to it, and the mouth.
The key exercise is humming.
1 Moisten the lips with the tongue and hum gently on an ‘m’ sound. The lips should be lightly together and the teeth slightly apart. When you hum a tingling sensation should be felt on the lips.
If no sensation is felt part the lips slightly and make a sound like a foghorn by blowing through them. Repeat this but after three seconds bring the lips together for the hum.
The tingling should resemble that when playing the comb and tissue paper. Quality of humming is more important than volume.
2 Hum, feel the tingle, open the mouth slowly and as wide as possible and sing ‘ah’.
3 Intone ‘Mary had a little lamb’ feeling the tingle at the beginning and end of the line.
4 Speak this sentence with conviction, ‘I must keep my voice in the front of my mouth’.
5. Do 3 and 4 together. Attempt to speak the words of 4 in the same place that you intoned 3.
6 Hum up and down the scale with a slow, smooth beat. Think and feel the sound on the mask of the face.
7 Hum any tune you know and keep the sound forward.
These exercises help to produce a forward voice and a well balanced resonant tone.
Good articulation helps to make speech clear and distinct. The key instruments are the tongue, the teeth and the lips.
1 Say ‘Articulation is a form of gymnastics between the tip of the tongue, the teeth and the lips’.
2 Say ‘the tip of the tongue, the teeth and the lips’ three times as nimbly as you can but without gabbling. The letter ‘t’ is made by the explosion of teeth and lips parting.
3 Say ttt ttt ttt ttt (don’t say tee tee tee).
4 Practise ‘t-say’, ‘t-sow’, ‘t-sigh’ and then try ‘t-snake’ ‘t-slave’ ‘t-star’.
Practise precision of consonants:
ppp ppp ppp ppp (lips)
bbb bbb bbb bbb (lips)
ttt ttt ttt ttt (teeth and tongue) ddd ddd ddd ddd (teeth and tongue) kkk kkk kkk kkk (body of tongue and soft palate) ggg ggg ggg ggg (body of tongue and soft palate)
6 Practise tongue twisters.
To modulate means to vary or to change. Vocal modulation helps to highlight important words and phrases and makes it easier for the listener to comprehend the meaning.
The communication of technical information is particularly dependent on a well modulated voice.
Vocal modulation depends on inflexion (glides or kicks up or down on one word), changes of pitch (usually on a phrase), the use of pause and pace (here defined as a slight speeding up or slowing down of the rate of speech in reaction to the matter). A voice that is not modulated is monotonous.
1 Use inflexion to change the meaning of the following words:
hello; goodbye; yes; what.
(e.g. ‘Hello’ when you are delighted to meet someone has a different inflexion than when it is said with suspicion.)
2 Change the meaning of the following groups of words by changing pitch (steps up or down) and using inflexion:
what is that; if I must; why me; yes sir.
3 Using inflexion, pitch, pause and pace, how many ways can you say: You are coming home with me tonight.
A phrase is a group of words which makes sense. Phrasing is the grouping of words in a way which is calculated to bring out the meaning. All words forming a phrase belong closely together and nothing should spoil or break this sequence. A phrase therefore should be spoken on one breath.
Exercise: Practise reading aloud from good prose.
Dr. Brian Monger is the Executive Director of MAANZ International and a Principal Consultant with The Centre for Market Development. He is an internationally well known speaker/presenter.
He is available for consulting tasks and speaking engagements
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