If you want your voice to carry, carry it well.

Aug 18 2008 by Janet Howd Print This Article

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

But stance is the first thing to resonate with an audience, and will incline people to pay attention to us or determine them not to, long before ever we open our mouths.

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 merely to get out of the mouth intact, never mind deliver a telling message.

Think of the bodily effort required to ease that pressure as analogous to the enormous peripheral energy that the giant Amazonica water lily puts into protecting its central bud.

Surrounded by gigantic, 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 the presentation and leave buzzing with desire to stimulate others with its essence.

Using that as our model let's find a way to obtain help from peripheral parts of our own bodies and ensure that our voices can confidently express the essence of our ideas.

First make sure you have about half a minute's worth of speech prepared. Then sit with a straight back on a hard chair, your hands in your lap, your head held high and the soles of your feet firmly on the ground in front of you.

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 eyebrows 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, open your eyes as wide as you can and - even though muscles in various parts of your thighs, hips, trunk, neck and face will have begun to ache - deliver your speech without hurry, making sure that your eyes stay as wide 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 up until you find yourself slumped over your chair.

Slowly collect yourself together. Stand up. Shake your limbs, body neck and cheeks loose. Then, sit upright, breathe evenly and start again.

Repeat the whole process five times. Each time consciously 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, maintain that upright posture while you open your eyes wide and have your say.

By now I hope you have some idea of how much peripheral bodily effort it takes to support your voice. But as with all physical patterns, muscle memory latches on fast and you will find that the effort will seem less and less and the upright posture will become easier and easier to maintain the more you work at it.

As for opening your eyes wide as you speak - that automatically enlivened your face, lifted your cheek bones, opened your mouth wider across its top than usual, and drew the breath expressing your words close to the roof of your mouth.

This in turn allowed the curved hard palate to add ring to your well supported voice and enabled your words to resonate more strongly than they are likely to have ever done before.

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

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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.