19 Why Your Voice is the Most Important Part of Your Speech: If They Can’t Hear You It is Only a Frustrating Exercise in Lip Reading
There is no such thing as presentation talent,
it is called presentation skills. -David JP Phillips, author of How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint
Why Your Voice
is the Most Important Part of Your Speech
The most important part of your delivery has to be your voice. You are not an actor in a silent film, a mime in a skit, nor a person giving lessons on lip reading. You are a presenter giving a speech. If they can’t hear you and they can’t understand your words, then you have failed. Like any other skill, strengthening your voice takes practice, but it is time well spent. This chapter gives you reasons for why you should develop your voice and includes activities and videos to help you improve your voice.
First things first. Let’s talk about why it is important to work on your voice. If you have an attractive voice, people tend to attribute other positive characteristics to you. Research highlights that those with attractive voices are believed to be warmer, more likable, and more honest. Those with confident voices are believed to be more dominant and are perceived to be higher achievers. Strengthening your voice can help you with your speech, but it can also help you in other parts of your life. A strong voice will help you in your job interview, in meetings, and in interpersonal relationships.
This chapter is mostly made of exercises for you to try to strengthen your voice. Reading the activities will not help you, doing the activities will. As with all skills, you won’t necessarily improve with one try, it takes practice.
Warm Up Your Voice
Do A Five-Minute Vocal Warm-Up
Loosen up and shush: Loosen up your upper body, take a deep belly breath and then say shhhh
Tongue Trills: Descending and ascending
Hum it Up: Hum up and hum down
Chant: Meem, Mime, Mohm, Moom
Pronounce: Ma, Pa, Ta
TRY IT: Watch the video below to learn how to warm up your voice using these five steps.
Work on Clearly Articulating Words
Articulation refers to the clarity of the sounds you produce. The opposite of articulation is mumbling. Try putting a pencil in your mouth horizontally and then read your textbook out loud working on keeping your lips off of your teeth to exaggerate the sounds.
Another way to work on articulation is to do the practice drills. Here are some suggestions from Communication in the Real World.
Say “Red Rover” ten times, overenunciating each r.
Say “Wilbur” ten times, overenunciating the w and r.
Say “Bumblebee” ten times, enunciating each b.
Say “Red-letter, yellow-letter” five times, making sure to distinctly pronounce each word.
Say “Selfish shellfish” five times, making sure to distinctly pronounce each word.
Say “Unique New York” five times, enunciating the q and k. (To really up the challenge, try saying, “You need, unique, New York.”)
Bring Your Voice Up Front
Bring your voice from the back of your throat to inside your mouth. Practice bringing your voice forward by trying this exercise.
Say the words “coal, coal, coal.”
Now, do it again. Say the words “coal, coal, coal” as you hold one hand in front of your mouth and feel the air pushing out on your hand. Do it several times to feel the air.
Now say the words “coal, coal, coal,” but this time let it drop to the back of your throat. Notice that the air is no longer pushing on your hand.
When people have strong, energetic voices, they have their voices upfront. When people are tired, weak, or unenergetic, they have their voices in the back of their throats. As speakers, we want to have strong energetic voices.
Now you understand what we are trying to do. Try it one more time each way: “coal, coal, coal.” This time, don’t just feel for the air difference, but also listen for the difference in sound.
When I first started doing public speaking, I practiced by reading out loud. I can remember reading the book Jaws to my sister every night before bed. I would walk around the room with the book in my hand and in my best clearly articulated, well-projected voice, I would read:
The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail. The mouth was open just enough to permit a rush of water over the gills. There was little other motion: an occasional correction of the apparently aimless course by the slight raising or lowering of a pectoral fin—as a bird changes direction by dipping one wing and lifting the other.
It is not enough to want to get better; you have to practice. Poet Laurette Amanda Gorman struggled with speech articulation throughout her life particularly struggling with Rs and Sh’s. It took practice to have the strong voice that she uses today.
Watch this short video and notice how she clearly articulates each word. At age 22, she is the first poet to perform at a Superbowl.
Once you have your voice warmed up, voice coach Graham Williamson suggests you practice these phrases. As you speak them, try to keep an even tone and pace as if you were speaking one long word with no break in between.
1. Many men munch many melons.
2. Mandy made marinade in May.
3. Major Mickey’s malt makes me merry.
4. My mom’s marvelous modern manicure.
5. Mervin Maclean’s mess marred my marmalade.
Magnify Your Voice
Having a strong, clear voice is important for speechmaking. The best way to learn to amplify your voice is with practice. Amplify doesn’t mean to scream, it means to use the force of your breath and the amplification provided in your mouth to make the sounds strong and clear.
Try talking to your furniture. Right now, look at a chair that you can see and say, “Hello chair.” Imagine seeing your words as rays of light traveling to the chair. Now, look out of a window or a door and see an object farther away and try it again. For example, I may look out the window and say, “Hello tree” and imagine my words traveling to the tree. Try this for various objects at varying distances.
Arguably you may feel silly doing this but trust the process and give it a try. Practice with things inside your room and outside your window. Feel the air and notice the difference.
Practice-Changing Your Volume
To practice changing the volume of your voice, Williamson suggests counting exercises. Try to do it in one breath.
1. Count and gradually increase the loudness.
2. Count and gradually decrease the loudness.
3. Count and increase the loudness on every 2nd number.
4. … on every 3rd number.
5. … on every 4th number.
6. … on every 5th number.
The monotonous speaker not only drones along in the same volume and pitch of tone but always uses the same emphasis, the same speed, the same thoughts—or dispenses with thought altogether.
Monotony: the cardinal and most common sin of the public speaker.
J. Berg Esenwein, The Art of Public Speaking
Yawn to Open Up
Yawn a couple of times really big. Feel the back of your throat open when you are yawning.
Now try a big yawn, as you exhale close your mouth, let out a sigh. The goal is to open your throat.
Focus on the back of your throat opening up. Now yawn right before taking a big breath to open up the back of your throat. Relax your larynx and your head and neck muscles.
TRY IT: Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions.
(Turn up your volume, the video is very quiet).
Exercise Your Vocal Folds
Grab a straw and prepare to try this technique.
Put the straw in your mouth, pinch your nose, and hum.
TRY IT: Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions.
Watch the video and notice how he uses pauses to give the audience time to laugh. He also uses pauses to give the audience time to anticipate what he is going to say next. In those pauses, you can tell that the audience has guessed what is going to happen by their gasps, laughs, and sighs. One person even says, “Oh, no!”
Joy is a concept that is very hard to pin down, but you know it when you see it. And I saw the joy in the eyes of my roommate. The dude is clearly excited about something.
Advanced Vocal Training
All the activities above are for all speakers. For those of you who want to take your vocal training to the next level, watch this video to find your natural range. She references a piano keypad, so I made one available for you.
Uptalk is where the voice goes up at the end of sentences. To many listeners, uptalk makes the speaker sound uncertain, insecure, and annoying. Within other circles (groups of uptalkers), the use of uptalk may signal that the speaker is “one of us.” UK Publisher, Pearson, interviewed 700 managers on the use of uptalk and this is what they found:
85% thought it was a “clear indicator of insecurity.”
70% found uptalk annoying.
Of those, 50% said that uptalk would hinder the prospect of employees and interviewers.
44% stated that they would mark down applicants with uptalk by as much as a third.
The evidence is clear that in professional circles, uptalk can hurt your credibility. Record yourself while giving a speech and listen for uptalk. Start being aware of when you do it in everyday speech.
Avoid Filled Pauses
Um, uh, ok, like, ya know. All of these happen to even the best speakers, but they are distracting. According to one study, recording yourself and listening to your speech is one way to reduce ums. Another trick is to replace the filler word with the word “period” or “pause” in your everyday speech to help your filler awareness.
Why do we use filler words? We use filler words because we are afraid of silence and pauses. As an advanced speaker, you should begin to think of pauses as a purposeful thing you do for emphasis. Eliminating those “ums” will make you sound more organized and confident.
Public speaking instructor Cathy Hollingsworth emphasizes that speeches need to “start with real words” (not ok, um, or so). In her classes, she even gives students a do-over and allows them to restart if they begin with a filler (but only if they catch it themselves).
Watch this fun slam poem by the teacher and poet Taylor Mali on that trouble with filler words.
Keep Your Voice Healthy
Staying hydrated helps your body lubricate your vocal cords. It can take up to six hours for the water you drink to get to your vocal cords so you need to hydrate hours before your speech. You cannot wash off your vocal cords. You cannot slick them down with water.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine.
Balance alcohol and caffeine consumption with water. Drink one glass of water for each cup of coffee or alcoholic beverage.
Use a humidifier when the air is dry to keep your throat moist.
Avoid Inhaling Smoke.
Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. This also includes avoiding other airborn pollutants as much as possible.
Protect Your Voice.
Project your voice, don’t scream. Avoid vocal extremes. Too much shouting or too much whispering can damage your voice.
Warm Up Your Voice.
Before you give a speech, sing, or teach. Practice humming and gliding.
Resist Dairy: It Makes You Snotty.
Dairy products can thicken mucus and clog you up. When you get excess mucus, you are likely to damage your voice by repeated throat clearing.
Avoid Throat Clearing and Limit Coughing.
Coughing and throat clearing are hard on your voice. Try sipping water or sucking on a non-menthol or non-eucalyptus cough drops. It is better for your voice to cough than to clear your voice multiple times. The need to clear the voice often comes from thick mucus–staying hydrated thins the mucus and reduces the need to clear your voice.
Avoid Speaking from Your Throat
Use your breath to carry your voice. Speak from your core and use your diaphragm to support your breath. If you speak from your throat, your voice will begin to sound raspy, and you will struggle to maintain volume in even a three minute speech.
Occupational Voice Users Often Abuse Their Voices.
When people think about occupational hazards, few people immediately think of voice damage but studies highlight that occupational voice users are at risk. Teachers, preachers, singers, actors, and coaches are all considered high-risk categories. Their voice damage can cause pain, it can reduce their effectiveness at their jobs, and can even result in loss of income. In 2001, it is estimated that 28 million workers experienced voice problems every day. One in three teachers reports a financial loss due to voice problems. “School teachers report problems with their voices 60% of the time in their lifetime and 11% at any given time”, according to the Cleveland Clinic.It may be no surprise that some coaches do a lot of yelling. In a survey of 500 soccer coaches, 28% reported having vocal symptoms such as coughing and hoarseness. Pastors are another group who often experience vocal abuse. Fifty-seven percent of Seventh-Day Adventists pastors who were studied experienced voice clearing and hoarseness. Even though Catholic and Pentecostal pastors use their voices differently, there was no significant difference in groups in terms of hoarseness, and 14% of those pastors studied reported the hoarseness did not clear completely and hindered work life. In summary, for many professionals, their voice is the tool of their trade and it becomes an occupational hazard to abuse their voice.
What Occupations Experience Voice Disorders?
Customer service representatives
Unless you are a musician, actor, or speech professional, you may not have thought about how important it is to protect your voice. Everyone should protect their voice–it is precious. Learning to use your voice safely and in a confident manner can benefit you not just in your speech life. In the words of Jen Mueller, American television and radio sports broadcast journalist, “The only way you find your voice is to use it.” Now is your time to find it and use it!
Having a strong voice can help you as a speaker, but it can also help you professionally.
Do vocal exercises to improve the strength of your voice.
Using proper air control helps your voice.
Avoid vocal fillers and uptalk.
Please share your feedback, suggestions, corrections, and ideas.
I want to hear from you.
Do you have an activity to include?
Did you notice a typo that I should correct?
Are you planning to use this as a resource and do you want me to know about it?
Do you want to tell me something that really helped you?
There are many factors in your voice you should consider when making a speech.
Watch the video below for examples of each of these.
It only takes one voice, at the right pitch to start an avalanche. Dianna Hardy
International Bestselling Author
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