By Andrew P Bennett., Toastmasters International
If you give presentations or speeches, you want your audience to find your voice engaging and easy to listen to. That way your ideas will land effectively.
The key to an attractive, dynamic speaking voice lies in breathing – or more precisely, in finding a depth in our breathing so that our voices are nourished by a steady flow of breath as we talk.
To help you find your true voice, let me share some tips about posture and breathing
Start with your posture
Posture counts is important. Whether we are seated or standing, we need to achieve the best conditions to take a breath.
So how do you stand? Your feet should be no more than shoulder width apart, firmly feeling the ground. Align your posture so you can imagine a line proceeding up your legs, continuing up your spine. Your shoulders are back and relaxed, hands and arms comfortably by your sides. You can imagine your head crowning your body.
You should feel springy, active, alert – ready to begin speaking.
Calm ‘Low rib’ breathing
Maintaining your good, flexible posture place your thumb under your lowest rib at the side of your rib cage, shoulders are still back and relaxed. Gently and slowly take a deep breath through your nose, feel a slight expansion at the rib cage. Then calmly breathe out.
This kind of breathing is the opposite of the shallow, high in the chest breath many people use in everyday conversation.
It is good for speakers to have easy access to drinking water because your vocal folds (or vocal cords as they used to be called) only work well when you are hydrated.
Increasing your breath span
Take a low breath, then in your mind count to 5 slowly breathing out gradually: 1 2 3 4 5!
Rest for a moment, then take your ‘low rib’ breath and breathe out counting slowly in your mind to 6 this time.
You can continue all the way up to 10 or eventually beyond. But remember only 1 or 2 minutes of this type of exercise at a time before taking a pause (you don’t want to get light-headed).
If you continue this exercise over time your body will accustom itself to a more settled, longer span of breathing out. You need this gentle, flowing span of breath to sustain a fine quality in your voice when speaking.
A bonus is that if you feel nervous before a speaking presentation of any kind, be it an online client call or a formal or social occasion speech, you will only need to focus on your breathing like this to remind your body of the healthy breathing reflex you have established with the exercise. This will reassure you and you’ll appear poised to your audience.
From breath to speech
With good posture and breath established it is time to transform that breath into words and expression. You can extend your breath span so that even longer sentences can be delivered comfortably without a feeling of running out of breath.
Here is a warmup routine using your settled, flowing breath.
Firstly, set up your good posture, take a low breath and hum a tune. I like to use ‘Happy Birthday to You’.
At first breathe at the end of lines as you need to, but gradually try to do the first two lines in one breath.
Then, maintaining good, poised posture and ‘low rib’ breath sing out loud with the words.
Alternatively, there are tongue twisters and word rhymes or that you can use in a warmup as you steady your breath flow and extend your vocal range. Here’s one with a great range of vowels and consonants. Allow the pitch of your voice to rise or fall naturally with the meaning of the words.
Does the man in the moon like music?
Does he tootle on his flute, or does he croon?
Does he slip in something lunar in the way he plays his tune?
Or does he simply sit and doodle on the moon?
Finally say the first few lines of your speech/presentation twice, out loud.
If you have any physical issues, a bad back or neck for example, make sure to do the exercises in the way that’s safe for you.
With this preparation you be ready for your speaking challenge and be fully able to create a relationship with your audience members as you share your message with them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew P Bennett is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org