If your voice is a pleasure to listen to you are already ahead of the game when it comes to sharing your message and getting a positive response to your presentation (or indeed any other communication) – says Andrew P.Bennett from Toastmasters International.
Unfortunately, most of us fall into habits of speaking that make our voice sound a bit dull, even monotonous.
If we want to develop our vocal variety to hold an audience’s attention we need to discover our vocal potential.
Here are Andrew’s tips for enhancing your vocal delivery:
1. Stand relaxed and tall
Find a comfortable, flexible body alignment. Your body is like a column with the feet supporting the column – just slightly apart or one foot a little in front of the other. No wide apart stance or crossed ankles.
Release tension by gently, slowly allowing your head to drop forwards, then your shoulders and torso, arms nice and floppy, no need to touch your toes, just as far as is comfortable. As you do this breathe out.
Then slowly uncurl yourself bringing the head up last as it is the heaviest part of the body. As you uncurl breathe in calmly and then once upright gently breathe out.
Your head is now crowning the column of your body. This means you can breathe freely and your voice can travel easily.
2. Use your breath to carry your voice
Our voice starts with the breath that comes up from our lungs and travels through our voice box and mouth into the big wide world. We also breathe calmly during an expressive pause in our speech.
We need to train ourselves to move away from a stressful, shallow, high-in-the-chest breath which often accompanies nervousness. In its place, we want to breathe using our full lung capacity so that our breath is anchored lower in the body and brings poise. This is the kind of breathing that opens the door to vocal range and variety.
Remember you need your breath to be free to carry your voice to the back of the room. Good breathing and good posture will go a long way to achieving this.
3. Keep hydrated
Your voice needs humidity to work well. Take regular sips of water during warm up and always have some with you during your presentation.
4. Play with sound
One way to play with sound is to read aloud.
If you practised 10 minutes of reading aloud a day following your vocal warm up you’ll soon find an improvement in your voice. Here’s how:
Read the passage silently to yourself. Look for the meaning of the words.
Read the passage aloud - aim to express the meaning behind the words. Is the writer happy, frustrated, sad, ironic, humorous?
Take a rest and read the passage silently again two times. Note any key words or phrases the writer uses to construct the message. You are allowing the words to play on your imagination and open the door to expression.
Read the passage aloud again. If you do not mind listening to your own voice you could record and listen for the differences between your very first and later attempts. In this way you will begin to train your ear to experience new sounds. You will undoubtedly hear improvements in your vocal variety.
5. Practise, practise, practise
Make sure that you find time to practise your own words and speeches to integrate your new skills – so you are able to share your message with your audience.
There is no quick fix to finding vocal variety. Each of us has to practise a little and often to extend our abilities, which is so much more effective than long, irregular session of practice.
The path to vocal freedom and expression is an exhilarating one to take. Get it right and your audiences will thank you and you’ll find you are in demand as a speaker and presenter.