In the first part of our series on vocal delivery, we introduced the basic components of vocal expression (power, pace, pitch and pause) and provided some expert advice for improving each.
This week, we’ll share some vocal exercises that will get your voice into shape for your next presentation. And you’ll also learn some surprisingly easy strategies to make your voice sound more confident and compelling.
Get in training with vocal exercises
Whether you want to prepare for one high-stakes presentation or be ready for hours of daily conference calls, it’s essential to train your voice for its best performance. Just like exercise prepares your muscles for a challenging event like running a marathon, your voice needs training to get in shape for the demands of public speaking.
Vocal coach and owner of Command Communication Helen Moses, who also has a background in opera singing, shares some easy and effective vocal training exercises.
Vocal warmup: Moses advises warming up and stretching your voice first thing in the morning, or at least two hours prior to your presentation. Here are some good exercises to stretch the vocal cords and energize your articulators. Gradually warm up your voice by starting at mid-pitch and volume and expanding outward. Click on the links to see her demonstration videos.
- The siren: This is an exercise that helps you broaden your vocal range.
- Stretch your facial muscles: Begin by putting on your broadest smile. Then open your eyes as wide as you can, and open your mouth as wide as possible. Good vocal variety goes hand in hand with good facial expressions, so your face needs to move along with your voice.
- Repeat “patty cake” over and over, as fast as you can, to engage your tongue.
- Say “watermelon” over and over, enunciating each syllable.
- Repeat “eee-oohhh” and exaggerate the mouth movements of the vowel sounds.
- Sing: Singing requires an extra amount of vocal energy that speaking does not. Once you know how to tap into that energy that’s required for singing, you are well on your way to a great speaking voice. If you’re self-conscious, Moses advises singing along with the radio on so you don’t necessarily hear yourself but you get that vocal warm up.
You may want to avoid doing these exercises in public, but a great place to do them is in your car. Or in the shower at home.
Use your breath
A strong voice requires adequate breath support. If your voice feels weak and shaky from nerves, try Moses’ strategy for a more supported voice. First of all, stand up whenever possible when you speak, which automatically gives you more energy.
- Use good posture, which allows your lungs to expand to their fullest capacity.
- Take a very deep breath, all the way down to your abdomen, using your diaphragm.
- Speak on the exhale. Many speakers tend to take a breath, let it out, and then start to speak. Instead, use your breath and allow your words to come out on the exhale.
- To get rid of that shakiness when you are nervous, try controlling your voice by squeezing your abdominal muscles a little as you speak.
Watch this video to see a demonstration of these breathing techniques.
More tips for frequent speakers
If you present on a regular basis, here is some additional advice from Helen Moses to keep your voice in the best possible shape:
- Stay hydrated. Your throat won’t be so dry on stage if you make sure to begin hydrating well beforehand, at least 48 hours.
- Go easy. Build in periods of rest for your voice. If you are on conference calls all day, try to allow at least 10 minutes between calls, and at least an hour at the end of the day with no talking.
- Avoid the hard glottal attack. That’s the term for starting words that begin with vowels so that they sound very harsh, and this habit can be very irritating to your vocal cords. Watch this video to hear what it sounds like.
- Avoid yelling! It’s fun to get excited and scream at sports events, but it’s tough on your vocal cords.
Approach your presentation as a conversation
One of the most effective strategies for engaging your listeners is talking with them as a friend. Approaching your presentation as a conversation helps you relax and use the kind of vocal inflection and variety that establishes a connection. Not only will you gain your audience’s attention, but you’ll project the authenticity and credibility you need to get results. Related articles:
The King’s Speech – Royal Revelations on Finding Your Voice” and “Speech Preparation: Vocal Warm Ups.”
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.
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