Good solid information for public speaking! Thank you for this!
In the first how-to article, we explored the speaking sensation in your throat, mouth and sinuses. If you followed along, you discovered that you possess the ability to make sounds various ways; high and low, deep or heady. Having options about where you resonate can help you modulate the tone of your voice for effect when making a point, telling a business story, or keeping your audience attentive and engaged. The second practical article provided vocal and physical exercises for freeing body tension, and for warming up the muscles that support your breath and allow you to express yourself through facial expressions and clear diction.
Now that you’re better acquainted with the structure and mechanics of your voice, let’s move into the realm of putting that voice across. What do you want to achieve? Some of the vocal and speech traits you may want to work on could be to:
All these aspects of speech tie in to how you manage your body and your breath. Several basic strategies will serve you well, whether giving a short elevator speech or making a longer presentation such as a business workshop. If you practice these skills before you actually speak in public, the great new habit you’re forming now that will feel more intuitive. You’ll be free to focus on content rather than form. So, imagine that you’re in front of a group right now!
While there are many elements to good posture, the main idea is to hold your body in a way that allows air to flow freely while your muscles stay engaged. If you reflect on it, this is a state of anticipation and readiness for action—for showtime.
Breathe Fully: Now that your body is open and ready to receive breath – take one!
Speak with support:
Having support while you speak is critical to vocal health. Once in place, it produces a dramatic improvement in projection, tone and diction. Support is actually a two point system, like a scale with arms that need to balance. One arm of your support is the muscles involved in inhaling, and includes the intercostals (muscles just below the rib cage) and the back. It's not necessary to rigorously hold these when you speak. Being even modestly aware of their use is enough attention to engage them while you speak.
The other arm of the scale is your pronunciation muscles–also known as your lips. Remember the Dry Bones song, “the toe bone connected to the foot bone...” Well, the muscles around your lips support your tongue. The flexing and contracting of your tongue supports the movement of the larynx, which opens and closes to make sound. So, engaging your lips while you talk provides a firm hold on the vocal folds. A stronger hold in your larynx, coupled with a full, open, supported breath will allow you to speak up without vocal strain.
Tune up your vocal quality:
Speaking with good posture, and providing the support that comes on the heels of a full and open breath, will improve your vocal quality because your throat will be more open and relaxed. You can improve it further by turning your attention to how you resonate your voice. Say the word, “gaga” and feel where the back of your tongue hits the roof of your mouth. This area, as I described in the first article exploring resonance, is back by the soft palate and known as the pharynx.
The pharynx allows passage of air and fluids from your sinuses to your throat. It's also a passageway for resonance. Sounds made in this region take advantage of all the resonating spaces: above the larynx, in the mouth, and in the sinuses. It is the optimum space for making a warm, full tone.
Practice speaking in the pharynx by playing around with nonsense syllables, starting with “gaga” and then branching out to other sounds, keeping the sensation to this back part of your throat. You'll find that raising the lips slightly off the teeth is an aid to resonating in the pharynx.
But wait, there’s more!
Understanding all of the systems and processes described in this article series will be helpful in turning your voice from soft to sassy, but even a good thing can be improved with feedback. Give yourself more information about how you sound and appear when you speak by recording or videotaping yourself.
Read your elevator speech, and record your voice while experimenting with sounds and resonation. Then play it back and try again. Be sure to stretch first, and try out the vocal exercises I suggested in the last article. Remember to breath and use your supporting muscles while you speak.
Alternatively, videotape yourself and notice how you stand, and whether you are holding tension in your arms or neck. If you tape yourself standing in the way I recommend, be the judge of how this will look to others. Attend to your breath when you inhale between words or sentences, and try to notice whether or not you take a full breath when you have the chance. Also, use this time to pay attention to diction. Can others understand your words? Try using your lip muscles more to control your pronunciation.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be offering an opportunity to work with me in a free workshop. Watch for this event to be posted, and in the meantime prepare a short speech. I’ll work with you to help you stand tall, breathe fully, enunciate, and resonate with strength and control. Wow, that voice is getting as sassy as the saxophone in the marching band!
Learn more about the author, Malya Muth.