Breathing & Voice & Speech
You can wade through this whole article if you really, really want to. But… I can give you a real quick heads-up of everything you need to know to warm up your voice for presenting and public speaking. Right here and right now.
- Sing a song that you like…
- In a ‘full-bodied’ way i.e. loud!
- For 5 minutes
- Bask in that post singing feeling for 10 seconds
- Run through a short section of your presentation and…
- ‘Copy and paste’ the singing feeling into your speech
This will bring much more volume, resonance, colour and clarity into your spoken voice.
Recent UK based research into singing presents compelling evidence that it will additionally help you with stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain – the list is too long for this article!
What’s that? You’ve got a singing voice like a foghorn? No problem. Be the loudest foghorn in the orchestra!
That’s it basically. But the following article will definitely be helpful if you really, really want to read some more…
The hunchy, crunchy, wired and tired scenario…
‘Aaaah… Aaaah… A.a*,a… ??’
This true life scenario features a group of 6 men and women seated in a circle. Their postures are slumped into their chairs, hunched and generally constricted. They look, somewhat suspiciously at each other as they vocalise the vowel sound ‘ah’ in unison. Actually, to be honest, the sound isn’t that unified. ‘Ragged’ would accurately sum it up. They continue vocalising the ‘ah’ sound which becomes steadily weaker, shakier and harsher…
What madness is this!?
Well, there is a method to the ‘madness’… it’s a voice coaching class for people who deliver presentations and speak in public. This stage of the class, I hasten to point out, is the ‘before’ rather than the ‘after’. What you want to be avoiding rather than what you want to be aiming for. Contrast and compare is a very useful teaching tool! Feeling a bit silly and practising something a little unusual in relative privacy is called.. rehearsal!
The voice teacher, who is leading the session, points out that most people feel a little bit stressed at the prospect of delivering a presentation. And a few of us can experience real terror at the thought of addressing an audience. This of course affects many aspects of our delivery not least of which is the quality of our speaking voice.
But we can’t just hope that we’re going to have a wonderful ‘green light’ day and breeze into our presentation and dazzle everyone with our eloquence and intelligence. Life tends to be a bit more complicated and throws up red lights, obstacles and stress. So it’s a wonderful thing to have a few well practiced tools at our disposal so that we can perform convincingly even when we are right up against it…
The perfectly poised and assured scenario –
‘Aaaah… Aaaah… Aaaah… !!’
The teacher asks the particpants to stand and then guides the class through a series of 3 ‘postural landmarks’:
- Placing the attention in the body’s centre of gravity
- Being centred
- Distributing the weight evenly across both feet.
- Being grounded
- Allowing the vision and shoulders to be wide and easy
- Being physically and emotionally open
Everyone, at the very least, looks much more confident and self assured. But will this be enough to change the quality of the sound that they make?
The teacher again leads the group into repeatedly vocalising the vowel sound ‘ah’. The group sound is no longer ragged but, actually, distinctly harmonious. The group sound is louder, warmer, more resonant and each vocalisation gains strength and lasts longer.
Was this change in the group sound reflected in the subjective vocal experience of the individual participants? The consensus seemed to be… Yes. Very much so!
The teacher points out all he asked the group to do was to think differently about their posture. The changes in the power of their vocal expression seemed to be automatic – like the cart following the horse.
By all means try out the above experiments/ scenarios at home but do go easy on the hunchy crunchy scenario – act it rather than live it.
People who look and sound more assured are, generally, more persuasive and succesfull. Humans have known this, perhaps unconsciously, for millenia. And yet it’s still reassuring to have some evidence that reinforces this intuitive perspective…
In the early 1940s, the surgeon William Faulkner carried out an experiment in which he measured his patients’ physical responses to both stressful and pleasant thoughts. When his patients thought of something unpleasant, he noticed that the movement of their diaphragm became restricted, shallow and irregular. These breathing changes were accompanied by a corresponding tightening of the throat and negative changes in the characteristic of the patient’s speaking voice.
Conversely, when his patients thought of something pleasant, the movement of their diaphragm became expansive and regular and the levels of tension in the throat were reduced. All of this was accompanied by positive changes in the characteristics of their voices.
Faulkner, William B. Jnr., “The Effect of the Emotions Upon Diaphragmattic Function: Observations in Five Patients”, Psychosomatic Medicine, 3, No. 2 (April 1942).
Welcome to the Voice Gym
The human voice is, amongst other things, a muscular mechanism. A muscular mechanism that conveys ideas, emotion, facts and imagination. Like all muscular mechanisms it is amenable to training which enhances its endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. And these qualities are all enhanced through a mixture of repetition and rest and recovery.
We shall look at a few simple reps, i.e. repetitions, which will do much to enhance the warmth, authority and resilience of your voice.
Anyone who has been to a gym induction session in the past 2 decades will know how much emphasis the instructor will place on correct posture while carrying out the reps. Or, as I prefer to express it, mindfulness of posture and balance… Archaic greek egyptian statuary here?
The 5 minute voice warm-up.
What are your reps going to be? Forgive me if I drop into the world of opera for a moment…
“When I started serious study, I spent the first six months vocalizing only with the vowel sounds. Day after day I would be singing ay, eee, oh, eye, ooo… my teacher, Arrigo Pola, believed it was essential. And he convinced me. Over the years I have become even more convinced of the importance of this.”
Luciano Pavarotti- My World Page 282
So, there you have it from the mouth of the master. You’re in excellent company! Repeating basic vowel sounds will work every bit as well for your speaking voice as they will for singing. Okay, okay I’ll make it even easier for you. You only have to do 3 vowel sounds – ‘oo’ as in zoo, ‘ee’ as in sea and ‘ah’ as in apple.
But first, as any gym instructor will tell you, you need to approach it with poise, balance and equanimity…
“I’m nicely centred
I’m beautifully grounded
My shoulders are wide and open
My vision is wide and receptive.”
For a deeper explanation of the postural landmarks please follow this link.
Start by simply vocalising an ‘ah’ sound 2 or 3 times. And then pause and let your attention radiate through your postural landmarks.
Reasons to be cheerful…
Feeling a bit daft? It’s definitely a good idea to choose your times for doing this e.g. when other people are out of the house. Channel that embarrassment into humour…
- Think of something that makes you smile… or laugh!
Smiling and laughter are the Royal Road to the diaphragm. We can tell when someone is smiling or laughing when we hear their voice on the telephone or radio. Be that person!
And continue vocalsing the ah sound another 2 or 3 times.
Some more ‘reps’…
Do some vocalised ahs. Play around with the volume – a bit softer, a bit louder. Play with the pitch – higher and lower.
Experiment with combinations of volume and pitch – high and soft; high and loud; low and loud; low and soft.
Slide from quiet to loud to quiet again on a single note. Repeat the same with a variety of vowel sounds.
Avoid straining your elastic suit, your muscular system, as you do this. Continually return to a sense of ease in your vocalising – be centered, grounded and wide. Allow your breath to return effortlessly and naturally between sounds avoiding any exaggerated sucking and sniffing of the air.
Vocalise an ah sound and then gently bring your lips, but not your teeth, together to make a humming sound. You may notice a subtle tingling or buzzing sensation spreading across your lips and face. This feeling may spread to other parts of your body – throat, chest, fingertips etc. This tingling is associated with muscular release and increased peripheral blood flow.
Now sing a song. Sing several songs. Copy and paste into your speaking voice. Watch out world!