Top Up: Improving Your Speaking Voice
Do you like your speaking voice? Is your voice clear and forward or does it have a swallowed or strangled feeling? Are you often hoarse after speaking for a prolonged period of time? Are you enunciating when you speak? Are you speaking to the best of your ability?
Following are a few techniques that you can practice on your own to improve your voice quality. Before getting into the details it’s worth mentioning that if you find that these tips make you too self-conscious to make sufficient progress in your public speaking, especially for those of you who are more on the shy side, you can always put these aside until such a time when you feel more comfortable. Or you could focus more on these tips when you’re in a non-public setting, while not being too distracted by them when you’re trying to be more bold in a public setting. Now, on to the tips to improve the quality of your voice:
1. Record and listen to your natural talking voice on either a Dictaphone or voicemail system. Keep repeating the same message until you are satisfied that you sound like a confident and pleasant person.
2. While listening to your voice, search for common voice problems such as a monotonous tone, squeakiness, an accent that is too thick or tendencies to mumble or to talk too fast.
3. Use your diaphragm. Practice long and controlled exhales. When you speak, use breath to punctuate your point. For example, take a breath at the end of each phrase whether you need to or not. Use that opportunity to pause and let the listeners absorb what you say.
4. Moderate your volume. Find out if you speak too loudly or too softly. When you begin speaking, ask your audience how your volume is (each situation is different). Try to stay at the appropriate volume throughout your speech.
5. Moderate your pace. This one is also closely related to breath. If you speak too quickly, people can’t keep up. If you speak too slowly, people will lose interest. Record your speech to determine if you need to change your pace. Get feedback from others.
6. Use pitch. Lower pitches generally are more soothing to hear. However, modulating your pitch for emphasis will keep your listeners engaged. Develop your pitch by practicing humming.
7. Articulate. Try exaggerating your lip movement to reduce mumbling. Practice articulating tongue twisters and extending and exaggerating vowel sounds. Become an expert at articulating tongue twisters as quickly and crisply as possible. Focus on the ones you find difficult.
When Giving a Speech
Step 1. Follow the instructions above on improving your speaking voice.
Step 2. Practice your speech in advance and determine where you want to pause for a breath. For more emphasis, pause for more than one breath. Mark your breathing points in your notes.
Step 3. Loosen up before you begin. Look side to side. Roll your head in half-circles and roll your shoulders back. Shift your rib cage from side to side. Yawn. Stretch. Touch your toes while completely relaxing your upper body, then slowly stand up, one vertebra at a time, raising your head last. Repeat as needed.
Step 4. Release tension in your face. Blow through your lips. Move your face through various expressions. Stick out your tongue. Yawn. Stretch your jaw.
Step 5. Notice your breathing before you begin. Make sure it’s even and natural.
Step 6. Hum before you begin.
Step 7. Drink plenty of water. Have water or herbal tea available during your speech. Punctuate your message by pausing for a drink of water at key points. Avoid milk and caffeinated drinks when giving a speech.
Step 8. Stand up straight and tall to allow full lung capacity and airflow.
In addition, at the start of the day try a few of the following exercises. Soon you’ll find a new, more natural and relaxed voice evolving in no time:
Humming: One of the easiest and most accessible ways to improve the quality of your voice. Rumor has it that Frank Sinatra used this technique as his only “warm-up” before singing onstage. To prove its efficacy, speak a sentence prior to humming. Then hum for five minutes. Feel your lips vibrate. Hum high, hum low. Then speak the same sentence again. You’ll notice a cleaner, more forward sound. That’s the natural sound and placement of your voice.
Yawning: Could this get any easier? That’s right, yawn with sound (that natural “slide” sound from a high note to a low note). Don’t feel like yawning? Then fake it. Try this a few times in a row. Notice the relaxed opening in the back of your throat. Most of us restrict this part of our throat, due to stress and fatigue. The idea is to keep the same open “yawn” sensation when we speak throughout the day.
T-time: Enunciation is one of the weakest elements in most of our speech. Making some small changes in the way you pronounce words can change the way you are perceived. True or not, people who enunciate properly are often considered intelligent and well-spoken. So how do you start cleaning up your speech? Say the words “notice” or “little.” If you “notice,” you probably say something closer to “nodice” and “liddle.” For one day, focus on your T’s. You don’t have to overdo it—small changes make a big difference.
Let Your Words Breathe: Most of us have a tendency to speak in a “slurry” manner, eliding one word to another. Pretty soon, an entire sentence sounds like one word! Grab your nearest magazine or newspaper and read from it. Exaggerate each word, focusing on the separate quality of each and every word. While you may not want to speak like this on a daily basis, you’ll get a sense of what true enunciation is all about.
Listen to the Pros: The next time you are listening to a newscast, imitate the anchorperson. These professionals are trained to speak quickly, clearly, and concisely. Notice how much authority they radiate simply from speaking well. Try it on for size.
Breathing: Ultimately, breathing is the “root” or support of our speaking voice. If you are an anxious or uptight person, you need extra help here. When you wake up in the morning, observe your breathing. It is slow, steady, and seems to come from your abdominal area. Take one minute each day and breathe deeply. Place your hand on your abdomen and focus on your breathing emanating from there. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest relatively still. This amazingly simple exercise not only changes your speech, it’s relaxing and reminds you of your true, natural breathing pattern.
These exercises are at your disposal throughout the day, so there’s no excuse not to try them! Remember, your voice is one of the most essential aspects of you. Keep it tuned up and working well. You can avoid an annoying voice quality by taking time to follow a few simple exercises like these—it’s an easy way to improve your voice, thus your communications with others and ultimately, your confidence.