You don’t have to be nervous to have a voice wobble when speaking to an audience; excitement, too, can affect your voice. Also, lack of proper vocal control can lead to a less than confident-sounding voice when pitching to a client. Strength and endurance training can make the world of difference in the business world.
Every morning, start out with a few simple exercises to get you speech ready. Stand in front of the mirror while you do these exercises: when you breathe in, your shoulders should not come out, but your belly should. Many of us shallow breathe and waste our potential lung capacity. Focusing on filling the lungs with air starting by expanding the abdomen, then stomach, then chest regions, finishing in the throat will help you to breathe deeply and take advantage of all that useful extra oxygen.
If you find your shoulders are still coming up when you inhale, start even gentler. Stay in bed, lie on your back and put your hands on your belly. Feel it rise as you inhale; the prone position will stop your shoulders from coming up. This can also be a great exercise to relax you before going to sleep at night.
– Inhale deeply from the diaphragm for a slow count of 5, and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this 5 to 10 times.
– As before, inhale deeply from the diaphragm for a slow count of 5, and when you exhale, make a ‘hsss’ sound through your teeth, like a balloon slowly deflating. This helps you to control your airflow with your diaphragm and abdominal muscles, and when you are speaking to someone it will enable you to have greater control over your voice and make you sound more confident. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.
– Do the same exercise as above, but this time with an ‘mm’ sound, and then a ‘maaa’ sound. Repeat as above. When you do the ‘mm’ sound, you want to feel the vibration in your face, behind your nose and mouth. This is what we voice coaches call ‘mask resonance’, and it gives you a clearer and richer sound.
– Now for the sirens! Like a police car, siren up and down with your voice, either on an ‘mm’ or (my preferred sound) on a lip trill. A lip trill is produced by mm-ing through closed, relaxed lips, so they wobble in a very unbecoming way. Babies and horses are great at it. The lip trill helps you focus on mask resonance and warms up your mouth muscles. When you are speaking, you want to be as relaxed as possible, with no tightness in your mouth or face.
– Speaking of horses, let’s ‘neigh’. The ‘ney-ney-ney sound also helps put your voice into your mask. While you may be a public speaker and not a singer, you can sing a little now. Remember the notes to Doh-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol? Do a ‘ney’ on each one going up and then coming down again. If you are not sure of the notes, find ‘Doh-Re-Mi’ from the Sound Of Music on YouTube and join in. You can sing your Doh anywhere in your range (females will be more comfortable starting higher than males) and just keep the tune the same.
– Onto the face – surprised yawns! (Don’t worry, you can do these exercises in the privacy of your bathroom). Open your mouth wide as though you are yawning, and simultaneously raise your eyebrows and open your eyes in surprise. This silly-looking exercise warms up the facial muscles. You may find yourself actually yawning as a reflex.
– Now you can speak. Find some tongue twisters and say them several times. First, speak slowly in R.P. a la Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. Roll the syllables around your mouth. Then get faster and faster to exercise the tongue.
Now, if you have prepared a speech or have a rehearsed pitch, practice it in front of the mirror, taking note of any oddities you do; in fact, it is better to record yourself on a smartphone or other video recording device. If you have a pet or willing partner or children, ask them to be your audience while you rehearse. It can be nerve-wracking speaking to an audience; the more practice you get, the better.
How do you stand? Do you look relaxed? Do you exhibit any tics or gestures that could be toned down? Are your eyes open and focused or do they dart about shiftily? How is your posture? Are your shoulders aligned and is your back straight. Improper posture can lead to tension in the body and voice, and make you feel sluggish.
I’m not going to give you a series of gestures and postures to adopt, as you won’t be authentic then. Work with who you are and better it; don’t become someone else.
If your job involves regularly using your voice, consider getting a voice coach to regularly work with. Teachers especially need to take care of their voices, and people working in noisy environments.
For more information or to book a one-to-one voice coaching session with me in Palma de Mallorca or London (Autumn & Winter dates TBC), please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also available for Skype sessions (Mon-Thurs).
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Happy speaking and singing,