The voice is responsive to emotions and sometimes gets ‘blocked’, which can prevent or hinder the expression of a range of feelings. However, it is possible to use physical exercise to help produce a more flexible voice, in the same way that people who use vocal sounds professionally take lessons, to ensure that their voices are kept in a versatile condition and ready to vocalise a range of sounds.
When under stress an individual’s breathing pattern will change. When your muscles are tense you cannot use your lungs to their full capacity, when a person is frightened or nervous, a common symptom is tension in the neck and shoulders. This occurs because, when under pressure, over-breathing tends to occur. Plenty of air is inhaled, but with fast breathing there is not enough time to exhale and relax.
Good breathing is essential for two reasons:
Depending on how you feel after several days of doing this exercise, extend the count of the out-going breath from three to four, five and six gradually building up to ten before you need to take another breath. Then count out loud on the out-going breath from one to ten. Repeat five times.
By building up your control of out-going breath, you will never sound ‘breathy’ or feel you are ‘running out of breath’ when you speak to a group or a meeting.
See our Relaxation Techniques section for more on breathing and relaxing.
The following three core elements of vocal production need to be understood for anyone wishing to become an effective speaker:
This is not a question of treating the voice like the volume control on the TV remote. Some people have naturally soft voices and physically cannot bellow. Additionally, if the voice is raised too much, tonal quality is lost. Instead of raising the voice it should be ‘projected out‘. Support the voice with lots of breath – the further you want to project the voice out, the more breath you need.
When talking to a group or meeting, it is important to never aim your talk to the front row or just to the people nearest you, but to consciously project what you have to say to those furthest away. By developing a strong voice, as opposed to a loud voice, you will be seen as someone positive.
Some people tend to speak through clenched teeth and with little movement of their lips. It is this inability to open mouths and failure to make speech sounds with precision that is the root cause of inaudibility. The sound is locked into the mouth and not let out. To have good articulation it is important to unclench the jaw, open the mouth and give full benefit to each sound you make, paying particular attention to the ends of words. This will also help your audience as a certain amount of lip-reading will be possible.
To make speech effective and interesting, certain techniques can be applied. However, it is important not to sound false or as if you are giving a performance. Whilst words convey meaning, how they are said reflects feelings and emotions. Vocal variety can be achieved by variations in:
Before any important speaking situation, whether it is an appointment, meeting or talk, it is beneficial to have a voice warm-up.
The voice is an instrument – no musician arrives at a concert hall and launches into Beethoven without first tuning up. The length of time and frequency of a warm-up is up to you and will depend on how much speaking you need to do.