“I have a voice!” By now most of you have at least heard about the most important line in the movie The King’s Speech, shouted by King George IV (Colin Firth).
There are many ways to have a voice, a powerful presence, and a tremendous impact without actually verbalizing, such as writing, drawing, and using of a variety of nonverbal behaviors including eye contact and gesture. People consciously and unconsciously form impressions of us based upon our voice quality: pitch, resonance, clarity, strength, intonation and inflection – regardless of what words we use. Have you ever met someone in person after speaking with them on the phone and been totally shocked that their physical appearance did not match the impression you had formed about them from their voice?
This first of a 3-part series about The Power of Voice addresses the actual sound that comes from our amazing natural instrument: our vocal chords.
As with music, the quality of the sound of our voice comes from the physical condition of our instrument AND from the “soul” of the musician breathing life through it. Speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) repeatedly tells King George IV: “You must have faith in your voice”
Years ago, recently transitioned from clinical Speech Pathology into coaching, I nervously co-led a workshop with some other coaches. I felt out of my element and unsure about being in front of this group. It showed in my barely audible voice. During a break a participant came up to me, handed me a whistle and said: “Blow this. Maybe then we will hear you!”
Because I knew, and highly regarded, this woman as compassionate, kind and fun-loving, I welcomed the whistle, and its message, with (red-faced) good cheer. I still keep that whistle with me as a reminder: Not only does our voice have tremendous power to influence and persuade – it needs to be tremendously powered to get the results we want.
There are many exercises you can do with the aid of a vocal coach to help create a rich, resonant voice and greatly enhance the quality of sound and your impact. Here are 3 immediate things you can easily put into practice to power your voice:
- Breathe right
Deep diaphragmatic breathing, fully relaxes and expands the abdomen upon inhale and contracts upon exhale. This is the way we breathe when we are lying down. This allows us to have a great supply of air to vibrate our vocal chords and produce a rich, resonant sound but also cuts the flow of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress chemicals which are released when we engage in shallow breathing – breathing from the upper chest and shoulders, as it triggers the “fight or flight” response. Breathing through your mouth is the most effective way to breathe when speaking – after a deep inhale you can fully power your instrument on the exhale.
A great, quick exercise for this is to sit and bounce vigorously on a very large exercise ball for 10 – 20 minutes.
- Speak up
If you want to be heard, you need to be loud enough. Soft speakers are often perceived as weak. Conversely, you need to not be too loud. There is a range that is appealing and engaging to the listener – violate that and you may be speaking to yourself.
A great way to tell how your volume measures up against others is to record a meeting or a conversation. Listen to how loudly others speak. Who do you perceive to be more effective? Where does your volume fall within the range?
Always speak on a full exhale and stop speaking before you run out of air. As listeners, we get an uncomfortable, visceral reaction when it sounds as though someone is out of breath or is gasping for air.
- Drink up
Your vocal cords are muscles, covered by thin mucous membranes. Upon vocalization, they come together and vibrate in your throat, valving our air to produce sound and pushing it up through your mouth and nose. The whole oral cavity, and especially the vocal cords, requires moisture to smoothly vibrate and produce a rich, pleasing sound. Dehydration can cause not only poor voice quality and fatigue, but physical damage to your precious instrument.
Try to drink at least 8 glasses a day.
What types of responses or feedback have you gotten in regard to your voice?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where we consider: “What Does Your Voice Say About You?”