Introduction Have you heard the old expression, “It’s not what you say but how you say it!”? In today’s world of International Communication, we have to add on to that saying: “It’s not what you say but how you are heard!”
How do you sound when you speak?
Is there rhythm to your speech and depth to your voice?
Do you hear music when you speak? Or do you speak in one tone only?
Have you ever recorded yourself just to listen to the qualities and tones of your voice? If you haven’t, please be prepared to begin doing so. It is really important that you become self-aware; that you know how you sound, how you are being heard.
More often than not we sound very different to what we mean to sound like. There are many people who speak languages other than English, and they often speak in the rhythms of their Mother Tongue – until they get told to slow down. They start to speak word by word and everything ends up sounding the same.
There are many mono-tone speakers in the speaking world. Remember: mono-tone is also known as monotonous. I would like you to not be one of them.
Another very common example of unintended tone is using questioning tones when making a statement. “I have a new idea? That might solve the problem? I’d like to try it?” We have all heard this questioning inflection or intonation pattern when the speaker means to make a statement. It is becoming increasingly common among young speakers and undermines their message. This makes them sound like they lack confidence because it’s as if they are asking for permission to make the statement. They have never heard themselves this way. Once they actually hear themselves and stop using that questioning pattern for a statement, they begin to notice that people listen to them differently. People actually begin to hear them – because they are speaking with conviction, with musicality, with life breathed into everything they say.
Speaking of breathing life into your language, let’s begin by working on developing proper, diaphragmatic breathing. Without good control of your breathing, you will have difficulty mastering your voice. Have you ever been distracted by a speaker who keeps running our of air mid-sentence and has to take a big, beastly gulp of air to finish the sentence? That’s another common fault speakers make and once again, gasping for air mid-sentence is a sure fire way to get your audience to stop listening – because they feel uncomfortable for the speaker.
CLASS ONE ~ Breathing EXERCISE 1: Breathing Life into your Vowels - Warm-Up Renowned voice coach, Roger Love, says that great speaking only happens when the right amount of air meets the right amount of vocal cord. Mastering your voice, learning to control and move that air across your vocal cords, will make an enormous difference to the way in which you are heard, perceived, and understood. Vowels carry the music of the English language; vowels can be elongated or shortened as needed to help you use the three notes of English. Vowels open your throat, just like a song bird opens its throat to sing. Let’s begin by releasing your voice by making vowel sounds.
Sit comfortably on the front half of your chair.
Keep your spine straight but not stiff. Tuck your chin in just slightly.
Take a moment to let go of the worries and the stress from the day and just breathe normally.
Yawn a few times, roll your neck, raise and drop your shoulders. Yawn again.
Become focused on your breath: are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? Try both ways. Through your nose only. Now breathe through your mouth. Which feels the most comfortable to you? In speaking, we use both.
Are you breathing only as deep as your chest? Or are you breathing all the way down to the diaphragm – way down there in your belly. You want to begin breathing diaphragmatically or from your belly.
Take a few seconds to practice breathing into your belly; keep your shoulders and chest from moving while you breathe.
As you inhale, let your tummy get big and fat. Fill it up with air.
As you exhale, tighten the stomach muscles and allow all the air to begin its journey up and across the vocal cords.
Inhale to the count of 4.
As you exhale, in a voice just above a whisper release the air in a long AAAAAAAHHHHHHH sound – the sound you make when you go to the doctor. Allow yourself to mimic a yawn by increasingly opening your mouth as you make the sound. The objective here is to sustain the sound and do your best to keep your voice smooth and steady. We all have the natural tendency to take a breath of air when we elongate sounds. Resist that urge and maintain a smooth quality of sound throughout the exhalation.
If inhalation is to the count of 4, try to make your exhalation to the count of 6.
Repeat this sound at least 3 times, AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH, each time trying to lengthen and sustain the exhalations/sounds.
Now, repeat the process, this time on the exhalation, make the sound of long AAAAAAAAAAAAAA as in CAPE.
Feel the tension in your cheeks, feel what’s happening in the area of your vocal cords. Hold it nice and long; stay steady as you go. Repeat this sound at least 3 times, AAAAAAAAAAAAAA , each time trying to lengthen and sustain the exhalations/sounds.
Repeat the process, this time making the sound of long EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE as in SEE.
Where is the tension now? Do you feel it in your lips? Repeat this sound on the long, smooth exhalation, 3 times, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Repeat the process, this time making the sound of long I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I as in BIKE.
Feel the movement of your jaw and your lips, feel what’s happening in your face. Hold the sound and long; stay steady as you go. Repeat this sound at least 3 times, I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I.
Repeat the process, this time making the sound of long OOOOOOOOOOOOOO as in GO.
Feel the movement of your lips and cheeks, feel what’s happening in your face. Hold the sound nice and long; stay steady as you go. Repeat this sound at least 3 times, OOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Repeat the process, this time making the sound of long UUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.
Feel the movement of your lips and cheeks, feel what’s happening in your face. Hold the sound nice and long; stay steady as you go. Repeat this sound at least 3 times, UUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
Now, inhale into your diaphragm and as you exhale, join all 5 sounds together into one long sound starting with AAAAAHHHHH+AAAAAAAA+EEEEEEEE+IIIIIIII+ OOOOOOOO+ UUUUUUUU AAAAAHHHHH + AAAAAAAA + EEEEEEEE + I I I I I I I I + OOOOOOOO + UUUUUUUU AAAAAHHHHH + AAAAAAAA + EEEEEEEE + I I I I I I I I + OOOOOOOO + UUUUUUUU
Do you feel the different positions in your mouth where these sounds come from? Really use your face muscles to help you make these sounds. Use your strong exhalation to sustain clear, smooth sounds. Keep repeating these sounds; feel them, hear them and if you have a mirror, see them.
AS SOON AS YOU HEAR QUIVERING OR YOUR THROAT BECOMES DRY, STOP THE EXERCISE AND HYDRATE – JUST ROOM TEMPERATURE WATER. NO LEMON. NO ICE. NO HONEY. NOTHING. JUST ROOM TEMPERATURE WATER.
I emphasis the above point because those vocal cords are just little folds of muscle and they are precious. They can be very easily hurt – so take care of your great gift and keep your vocal cords wet as you exercise.
EXERCISE 2: Explore Your Vocal Range Spoken English is a “beat” or “stress” driven language. It is called a “three note” language because it has three clear stress patterns and vowel lengths. There is a fourth note – the high and loud cautionary note where all words are equally stressed – WATCH OUT! As speakers/leaders who are focusing on being heard and understood, mastering a range of three notes in your vocal repertoire is crucial to your verbal and vocal success. We will focus on the beat pattern later in this Video Workbook. First, let’s explore your range of voice by using variations of humming exercises. Let’s awaken the chambers of the voice by practising the humming sound of MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. While you are practising your belly breathing and exhaling with this long MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM, I want you to play around with the sound.
Begin by bringing the sound from somewhere in the middle of your throat – between your nasal passages and your chest. Let’s call this your “middle” voice. Try humming high. Then try humming low. Then, find the spot in between the two.
Continue adjusting your pitch or note until you hear yourself sustaining that sound with ease.
Notice where you feel the vibration. Take mental note of that feeling and sound combination.
REMEMBER: Keep a glass of room temperature water on hand as you do this. I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your vocal cords moist as you exercise them.
Once you have established an easy “middle” voice, take the humming way below your throat, down in your chest. Let’s call this your “chest” or “bottom end” voice.
And again, continue to adjust your vibration until you hear yourself sustain that sound with ease. You don’t want to see how low you can go but rather, you want to explore the lower register of your voice until you find your natural “low” voice.
Notice where you feel the vibration. Take mental note of that feeling and sound combination.
Now, let’s move up the MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM up to the higher, nasal chamber. Continue to adjust your sound and vibration until you find the easy spot.
Feel the vibration in your face this time as we establish your “top” note. Start low and gradually make your way up 5 notes and then back down, repeating those some notes as they go back to where they started. Once you can master smoothly sustained sounds in these exercises you will notice that you have come alive again when you speak. If you’re still speaking in a flat voice: loosen up and have some fun. Monotonous means “mono-tone”, one tone only and we all know how boring a monotonous speaker is.
PLEASE NOTE: we use the word “note” in Spoken English patterns. “Note” is another word for pitch and/or stress level in Spoken English. Thankfully, you don’t have to be musical to perform these exercises or to find your own voice. You only have to establish your three note range, saving the warning fourth note, as in “WATCH OUT!” – which is higher, louder and clearer than normal speech.
Repeat MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM only this time add the different vowels sounds at the end of each MMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAHHHHHHH
Remember to breathe deep into your belly, shoulders down, and release the sounds as smoothly as you can.
MMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAA (long ā)
MMMMMMMMIIIIIIIIIIIII (long E)
MMMMMMMOOOOOOOOOO (long ō)
MMMMMMMUUUUUUUUUU (long ū)
MMMMMMAAAAAHHHHHH MMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAA MMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEE MMMMMMMMIIIIIIIIIIII MMMMMMMOOOOOOOOOO MMMMMMMUUUUUUUUUU
Let’s switch it up a little. Remember to play with your vocal range. Remember to keep drinking your water throughout these exercises. Mix up the order of the sounds. For example:
Inhale deeply into the belly and in one long, smooth, and beautifully sustained voice, make these sounds: MMMMMMAAAAAAHHHHHH MMMMMMMOOOOOOO MMMMMMEEEEEE MMMMMMUUUUUUU Try using different notes, some higher, some lower.
Play with the sounds. Become aware of your voice – its qualities, its textures, its sounds.
MMMMMMAAAAAAHHHHHH MMMMMMMOOOOOOO MMMMMMEEEEEE MMMMMMUUUUUUU
Do not push your voice – EVER!
Use a mirror to see the movements in your face as you make these sounds.
Vocal awareness is a key component to speaking to be heard. If you want people to listen to what you are saying, master your greatest asset: your voice. You may have the best ideas in the world, but if no one can hear you, your best ideas will go nowhere.