Thursday, October 24, 2013
In an article I wrote about the value of diaphragmatic breathing in public speaking, what I did not discuss was how this type of breathing is what you must do in order to find your ‘real’ speaking voice. And that ‘real’ voice is deeper in pitch, warmer in quality and resonant in sound. So what does breathing have to do with your voice? Everything. The type of breathing you employ determines how you sound. If you are not breathing with support but instead relying on your upper chest for respiration, also known as shallow or lazy breathing, then the voice which results will be higher in pitch, thinner in quality, possibly nasal, reedy, too soft, too loud, throaty, weak, wimpy, etc. The list goes on and on. When you employ shallow breathing, you are unable to use your chest as your primary sounding board when you speak. What this means is that you have little control over your speed and no control the quality of your voice. The reason is because your throat and voice box are doing most of the work in producing your voiced sound. Of course the mouth and nasal passages are also involved in this process of phonation; however, the primary amplification is happening by means of your throat and vocal cords which is why so many people experience vocal abuse. Vocal abuse is a persistent sore throat, chronic hoarseness, or even loss of voice because of continual shouting or even just speaking for great lengths of time. When you change your voice placement, however, the vocal abuse ends as you discover your richer, warmer, deeper sound. In addition, you will gain a marvelous control over your voice, your speed, and even your nervousness in public speaking. All of this is happening because you will be using your chest cavity as your primary sounding board and amplifier. This change in voice placement takes the undue pressure off your voice box and throat which immediately eliminates the vocal abuse. Another benefit of changing your voice placement is that you will be able to increase your volume without shouting which is known as projection. It is only possible, however, if you are powering your voice by means of your chest cavity. With a little training, you will find a voice that has more depth and breadth and is much more pleasing to your listeners’ ears. It’s in there and it’s just waiting to be discovered.
In order to improve your presentation skills, you research, you read, you listen, you watch speakers, you may even take a course in public speaking. Be it on the internet, in the boardroom, at a 1-day conference or your local community college, your goal is to learn as much as possible about honing your presentation skills. But what about your speaking voice? When you consider that your voice is the vehicle or the means by which you transport your message, how does your voice measure up to the rest of your delivery? And by that I mean the voice you hear on recording equipment – not the one you hear in your head. What does that voice say about you? Keeping your audience’s focus on you and not their iPhones takes a great delivery and a great message; however, if your voice is not especially appealing, you may not be able to hold their attention. When I started my voice business, the first professional speaker I heard was a young man who worked for Dale Carnegie. He was giving a full day seminar: I lasted but an hour listening to this man because his voice was so nasal I got a headache and had to leave. Some years later at a bootcamp in California, one of the speakers spoke so loudly that many of walked out of the auditorium because his strident voice over the loudspeakers hurt our ears. I’ve heard speakers who are soft-spoken, others who speak in a sing-song rhythm, and a surprising number who sound reminiscent of a Valley Girl. Of course there are some whose voices may be whiny, throaty, reedy, raspy, quivering, or even flat or monotone. With voice training you will not only find a richer, warmer, resonant sound, but you will also discover one of the best kept secrets for controlling your nervousness in any form of public speaking. Another benefit of this training is that your voice and energy level will last longer throughout your day because you will be less likely to experience vocal cord abuse. World-renowned speaker Anthony Robbins is suffering from severe vocal abuse because he did not have training in the beginning of his career. After years of pushing his voice too hard and too long, he is now paying the price. If your goal is to be a great public speaker, do not ignore your voice - it is your calling card and something you will rely on for the rest of your business and speaking career.
There are several dynamics that make for good public speaking but the one component that far outweighs all others is the need to breathe while speaking. Without air, there is no voice. And yet, many novice speakers never think about that life-giving force when addressing an audience. In fact, it is often the last thing on their minds when indeed it should be the first. As a people, we are renowned for being lazy or shallow breathers. What this means is that we are using only the upper portion of the chest for respiration instead of making use of the diaphragm and the entire mid-torso region to support our air supply. [Your diaphragm is a muscular partition that separates your chest from your abdominal cavity. Its primary function is to support breathing.] To find your diaphragm, place your hands under your rib cage and cough. Did you feel that muscle kick out? If you have ever had a cold in which you coughed all day long, you may have felt sore under your rib cage. Another time this muscle gets a workout is after laughing for a couple of hours during a funny movie. You may remember feeling sore in that area. Why is breathing so important during public speaking? Obviously because you need air; however, the breathing I am referring to is that which you take all the way down to your diaphragm. In doing, so you will find that you are more relaxed. However, a huge breath is not what I mean: I am talking about a deep breath. That deep breath is healthier because it sends more oxygen to the brain which means that your body is able to rid your blood of nasty toxins. Shallow or lazy breathing, on the other hand, actually increases the toxins which results in an increase in stress. For the purposes of public speaking, deep, supported breathing allows you to take control of your nervousness and put it to good use. That wonderful rush of adrenaline makes you more alert and more focused in your delivery. While you certainly need to know your material, make eye contact with your audience, speak with emotion, and believe in yourself, breathing with the support of your diaphragm should be the first thing you do when approach the lectern. You will be amazed at how much better you feel, how much more confident you look, and how much more in control you are of those nervous jitters.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to get rid of their nervousness in public speaking. In truth, they should embrace that wonderful rush of adrenaline. If you’re not nervous when presenting, then I am because being overly confident is never a good thing in public speaking or any live venue for that matter. If you look at nervousness and what it does to your body, you have 3 choices: freeze, flight, or fight mode. We have all seen those in the freeze scenario in which they stare at the audience in a rigid stance while their bodies tremble with fear and they are unable to utter a word. And, as one who has taught public speaking for many years, I have certainly had a few students who have literally walked out of the room before presenting. This we would call desperate flight! The fight mode, however, is what you should aim for because it is in this scenario that you will be able to face your audience, open your mouth, and deliver your speech or presentation. When you place yourself in this mode and learn to take control of your nervousness, you will then have the upper hand, in which you are in control of the situation and not your nervousness. So how do you take control? By: 1. knowing your material – which means practicing it out loud over and over and over again; 2. talking to your audience as if you were having a conversation in your living room; 3. speaking with color, with life, with emotion; 4. believing in yourself; and, most importantly; 5. learning to breathe with the support of your diaphragm which is truly the best means of controlling nervousness in any form of public speaking. The secret to the breathing is that most people are lazy breathers using only the upper portion of the chest for respiration. The result of this type of shallow breathing means that your body is unable to eliminate the toxins in your blood. If you are unable to rid your blood of the toxins, your nervousness or panic increases. This is why the 1st step in stopping a panic attack is to breathe. If, on the other hand, you learn to breathe with the support of your diaphragm, you will notice that you feel more relaxed and more in control, that you are better able to focus on the subject at hand, (and not on your nervousness) and that you are able to communicate with your audience instead of at them. Great public speakers are nervous. Learn to breathe, embrace your nervousness for what it is, and you will be surprised at how much better your presentation skills will be.
If you desire to be a public speaker, then you have a goal that needs to be met if you are going to be successful in your career. I am not talking about the wedding toasting, the valedictorian speech, or a travel presentation to a senior citizens group. I am talking specifically about the persuasive presentation. Your goal with this type of presentation is to satisfy the needs of your audience. They came to hear you speak for a reason. Whatever their issue, their problem, or their pain, your job is to ‘ease their pain.’ That is the bottom line. Yes, you want to give a dynamic speech or presentation both in content and delivery, but you must first understand their pain. And the only way that can occur is if you know your audience. Talking to a group of babyboomers about saving for college is a waste of time since their kids have already finished college. Likewise, discussing Medicare to college students is a bit premature and not going to be a topic of interest to them. Your priority is to understand the specific needs of your audience and then satisfy those needs. If I am talking to aerobics instructors, my topic will be on vocal abuse and what they can do to both eliminate it and prevent it from happening again. Why do I know that this will be of interest to them? Because I know it is the #1 injury for people in that profession. By satisfying their needs, I know that some will respond in kind to what I can offer them. And, that is either a product, a workshop, or corporate training. How can you ‘know’ your audience? By questioning your host, researching the group or business on the internet, and/or talking to other speakers who are familiar with that audience. Will it be a male, female or mixed group? What are their ages? What are their backgrounds, education, interests, etc. The more you know, the easier the audience. To have a career in public speaking, you will need to support yourself by either booking more engagements and/or selling a product, a service, or an idea. But the ‘sales’ of you or your product is not your first priority. Your first priority is to solve their problem. If they see that your only interest is taking orders at the back of the room, then you have failed in your objectives and your career will be short-lived. The bottom line is not how much money you can make but what you can do for your audience: satisfy their needs and they will satisfy yours!
Jeff Dudley of Midland, MI, has always been passionate about connecting with people in both his personal and professional lives. He began his career in chemical engineering and worked for a very prominent chemical company for many years, when in 2004 he was awarded the Genesis Leadership Award. While Dudley was interested in the chemical engineering aspect of his job, he soon discovered he was more interested in leading people. Jeff Dudley of Midland has been able use his strong leadership capabilities to begin a career in motivational speaking. Motivational speaking is not something that comes naturally to many people; however, Jeff Dudley of Midland believes that if a person is passionate about something, then he can become an effective communicator on the topic. Dudley believes that if a person has passion and a genuine interest in communicating with people, then he will be able to speak to a crowd on the topic. While he understands that not everyone is interested in traveling the world speaking to large crowds, Dudley believes that anyone can become a more effective communicator and public speaker. Jeff Dudley of Midland offers a few tips to both those wanting to become professional speakers, and to those who would like to improve their public speaking skills for their careers. To captivate the audience, Dudley says that the person must first know their audience. For example, when Dudley speaks at a business conference in South America, he has a bit of a different delivery than speaking to a crowd in Michigan. Jeff Dudley of Midland says that knowing the audience makes it easier to connect. In addition to knowing the audience, Jeff Dudley notes that the speaker must communicate with confidence and passion for the subject material. Dudley, for example, is very interested in effective leadership and management. He is able to translate that interest into passion when speaking to business leaders. In order to communicate with confidence, one must be aware of his tone, pronunciation and body language. Midland’s Jeff Dudley emphasizes the importance of good posture and eye contact when communicating with a crow. He states that slouching and mumbling are surefire ways to lose the interest of a crowd. Jeff Dudley of Midland acknowledges that people have different communication styles and that not everyone is interested in delivering motivational speeches to thousands of people at a time. However, Dudley knows that communication is key in anyone’s personal and professional lives.
There is no doubt about it. Most people not only dislike hearing themselves on recording equipment, but they also don’t want to believe what they hear. The unfortunate truth about what you hear on your voicemail, camcorder, or some other form of recording is that that sound is exactly how everyone else recognizes you. Whether your voice is strident, harsh, throaty, whispery, child-like, too soft, too loud, monotone, nasal or high-pitched, it most definitely does not correspond with how you hear yourself in your head when you speak. In fact, the majority of people hear their voice in their head to be deeper in pitch than what they hear on the recording. You recognize your voice by means of your inner ear which is hearing a distortion of your voice. The reason is because it is sound vibrating in the solid and liquid of the brain. When you talk to someone, on the other hand, your voice is being carried through air waves and is not the same sound that you recognize in your head. You also cannot hear it because your voice is being carried away from your ears when you speak. The good news is that you have a better voice inside of you which I call your ‘real’ voice. Deeper in pitch and warmer in quality, it is sound that, when powered by means of your chest cavity, is very resonant. So much so that you will actually feel your voice vibrating in your mid-torso region. If your speaking voice is excessively nasal, for example, your voice vibrates but that vibration is in your nasal cavities. If you are very soft-spoken, on the other hand, you will feel no vibration whatsoever because your voice does not have enough power to noticeably vibrate. Maybe you have a throaty sound. What is happening in this case is that your voice is getting stuck in the back of your mouth or throat and just seems to sit there, which is why you may be asked to repeat yourself a lot. I could list problem after problem which we find with the speaking voice but what is interesting is that once you discover your ‘real’ one, all of those problems go away. There is no one specific exercise for the throaty sound nor one specific exercise for the soft-spoken. When you learn to use your chest cavity as your primary sounding board, the problems disappear and your voice becomes deeper, richer, vibrant. With voice training, you will no longer hate how you sound when you hear yourself on a recording. In fact, you will be amazed at just how good it is.