If a voice is to carry it must be carried well

2011

The first thing most clients want to know when they opt for voice training is how to make their voices hold up when they are under pressure. They are therefore surprised - and often a bit irritated - when the first thing I ask them to work on is their posture - holding up themselves.

But stance is the first thing to resonate with an audience. It inclines people to pay attention or determines them not to, long before we open our mouths to speak.

Voice emanates from a pliant valve - a mere three centimetres in length - suspended horizontally inside the throat directly underneath the great weight of the head. Unless the whole body assists the neck to support this heavy load, voice struggles even to get beyond the lips never mind delivering a telling message.

Think of the bodily effort required to release that pressure as analogous to the enormous peripheral energy that the giant Amazonica water lily puts into protecting and projecting its central bud. Surrounded by three metre wide, deep-pan-pizza-shaped leaves whose stems channel air down into the plant's river mud lungs, each bud is able to blossom unhampered and express its perfumed message to a willing audience of beetles who eagerly attend its presentation and leave buzzing with desire to stimulate others with its essence.

That model should make it easier to see how help from peripheral parts of our own bodies is needed to ensure that our voices confidently express the essence of our ideas. With that in mind, make sure you have half a minute's worth of speech prepared and then give this a try.

Stand upright with a straight back your head centred well over your shoulder girdle; no locked knees or ankles, your feet a little apart and both heels and soles firmly on the ground. Hold that upright position (but not your breath) while you lift your neck up and out from between your shoulder blades so that you lengthen the space between the top of your back and the base of your skull.

This action should automatically tilt your chin downwards; make your forehead and eyes the most prominent parts of your face and allow you to see things from a higher vantage point than usual.

Still holding that position and breathing evenly, lift your eyebrows to open your eyes wide and - even though muscles in various parts of your thighs, hips, trunk, neck and face will have begun to ache - deliver your speech without any hurry, making sure that your eyes stay as open and lively as possible all the time you are speaking.

Once the final word is out of your mouth … let out a great sigh! And as that gush of breath and emotion leaves your body, allow all the muscles in your forehead, around your eyes, in you cheeks, neck, shoulders, torso and hips to crumple into a slump. Slowly collect yourself together. Shake your limbs, body, neck and cheeks loose, stand upright, breathe evenly and start again.

Repeat the whole process five times. Each time deliberately creating as much length as you can between your hips and your waist; your waist and your armpits; your shoulder blades and the base of your skull; the base of your skull and the top of your head - and each time, maintaining that upright position while you have your say.

By now you will definitely have felt what a lot of peripheral effort it takes to support a voice. But as with all physical activity, muscle memory latches on fast and you will find the effort becoming less and less and an upright posture easier and easier to maintain the more you work at it.

As for opening your eyes wide as you speak - that will automatically enliven your face, lift your cheek bones and open your mouth wider across your upper gums. This, in turn, draws the breath expressing your words closer to the roof of your mouth and allows the curved hard-palate to add ring to those words so that they resonate outward more strongly than they have ever done before.

Get used to hearing and feeling that volume of voice inside your head - believe me, it won't sound anything like as loud and sonorous once it is in the open air - so it will always be the least amount of volume necessary if you want your voice to carry directly to every audience you address.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.