Millennia before human beings began writing down their thoughts they were using their voices to communicate. From the earliest primitive declarations to the most sublime enactments of Shakespeare’s plays, somewhere, deep in our genetic makeup, we have always known on a profoundly personal level how incredibly important this gift of speech is, and historically we have always shown great respect and admiration for those who can do it well. While the written word holds great power, it is the voice that immediately stirs our souls and creates a visceral reaction in our emotional and physical being. Maybe it is because the voice is a bridge between our animal and our more enlightened selves, because it literally speaks to both regions of our being. Whatever the reason, it is our voice that has the power to persuade, to goad, to entice, to infuriate, to cajole, to inspire and to nurture like no other part of our being.
So let’s talk about how to do all those things by connecting to other people with our voice and making them hear what we have to say with excitement, eagerness and desire. In Part 1, we talked about the need to recreate emotions spontaneously and authentically, about being emotionally in tune with your voice and body. In Part 2, I’m going to get a little more specific in terms of talking about ways to work with your body, your lungs and your vocal chords to achieve an effective speaking voice.
First of all, you need to project. If people can’t hear what you are saying they’re going to lose interest very quickly. You’re going to make them work too hard just to hear you. That energy they’re expending should be used to process the emotional import of your words, not trying to decipher what those words are. So your voice must carry; you have to get your words out there in a way that will resonate with your listener and reach their ears without any trouble. Now this does not mean that you have to, nor should you, yell. That’s just obnoxious. So, how do you project without yelling? I’m glad you asked. First, breathe in deeply. Breathe deep into your diaphragm and stomach. By breathing in this way your diaphragm will naturally want to expel all that air that you took in, and by creating this physical reaction you are using the natural force of exhalation to carry your words. Now think about this: the more you reduce your inhalation, the less fully you breathe in, the less force there is to make your words carry when you breathe out. Not only that, you’ll need to breathe in again sooner, and then speaking becomes very breathy and less commanding. That’s not going to work for anyone using his or her voice to communicate. So please, practice breathing. Deeply. It’s one of the easiest and healthiest things you can do, and yet it’s amazing how few people do it. The more you exercise these muscles the more responsive they will become.
This will lead to better vocal control. Vocal control is having the ability to make your voice do what you want it to do, quickly and efficiently. You will be able to create more immediate and precise changes in your vocal presentation, meaning if you need to go up or down with your voice quickly, in order to make a point or to add emphasis, you will have the air and muscle control to do just that. For more information on this most basic of ways you can help your voice, check out my article on Voice Over Health.
Now speaking of your tonal range, it’s very important to know and remain within your “power range.” Everyone has an uppermost and a lowermost pitch to their voice. When you work within that span to produce vocal tones that resonate comfortably, then you are working inside your “power range,” meaning your vocal chords are still relaxed when projecting those tones. Outside of this range you are still capable of producing notes, but not without strain and/or distortion.
To find out what your vocal range is practice saying “aahhhh” into both your upper and lower ranges. Keep saying Aahhhh until you feel your vocal chords tightening and constricting just slightly into the upper area or distorting and breaking up into the lower area of this range. Once you know what your range is, stay within it. Going outside your range does not create a strong impression, and it often takes you away from sounding believable.
Now the last thing I want to touch on in this segment is diction. For the most part, sad to say, we’ve become a lazy society as far as delivering our words with articulation. Now this may work fine in your particular neighborhood or even in large swathes of the country, but that’s not going to work if you are presenting, or teaching, or voicing ad copy. A more precise enunciation is expected in these situations and you are going to need to “bring it” so to speak, if you want to have an impact on your audience, whoever they might be. Proper diction isn’t hard. It just involves a little more thought and care into how you speak. It means using the muscles in your face and especially around your mouth more consciously, until it becomes second nature. It means your tongue works a little harder on being in the right place at the right time, at the back of your teeth for instance if a word ends in the letter “T.” If a word ends in the letters “st” then make sure both sounds are heard. If you say the word “fast” too fast or too lazily it will come out as “fas”, as in “You said that word too fas for me to understand it!” Same thing with words ending in “ing”. Too fast or too colloquial and its startin to sound like you forgot the ‘G”. Or try a word like “lasts”. That old “sts” at the end gives a lot of people conniption fits. They end up sayin’, “Oh the hell with it, that’s the las’ time I say las’,” and drop both the “t” and the “s.” Here’s one more: that great word, “Asked,” where you have to mouth the sounds “a” “s” “k” “t” all in about a second. A lot of people just say “axe” now, as in, “He axe me a question,” but they will probably not be axed to voice a script any time soon.
Ok, enough for now, that’s a big mouthful of things, heh heh heh, for you to consider. Don’t worry. Thas the las time I’ll axe you to do any thinkin’ today. See ya.
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