On the second of our four-part blog about Public Speaking, we will talk about:
How to correct and enhance your voice and your communication skills
So, how do you correct and enhance your overall communication skills before, during and after your presentation/speech so you are assured of sounding well? Below, I will provide some very practical and doable tips that I have applied myself ever since I started several years ago. I have proven, time and time again, that they truly work so I hope they work for you too.
Get enough sleep.
Speakers get a raspy voice for one reason or another. One of them is not getting enough sleep. When you do not take ample rest, your body gets tired including your vocal chords. So, simply, make sure that you give yourself a well-deserved rest so your body and voice are well-conditioned for your speech. Also, you may have to include thinking of happy and positive thoughts beforehand. Thinking of happy and positive thoughts in preparation for your speech not only relaxes you but relieves you of any pressure or stress as well.
Drink plenty of lukewarm water hours or minutes before your speech. Hydrating keeps your vocal chords healthy in such a way that lukewarm water relaxes them and keeps them moist. When they are moist and relaxed, the sound they produce comes off more pleasing and clear as compared to a dry and inflamed voice box. Moreover, never drink cold water when you are going to speak or present. Although it also wets your vocal chords, its coldness actually causes the blood vessels to contract that leaves the throat dry afterwards and consequentially, dry vocal chords are prone to irritation. Since our vocal chords vibrate fast when being used, this causes friction which produces the hoarse voice.
Never drink alcohol or smoke cigarette.
The reason behind this is simple. Drinking alcohol and smoking also dry the vocal chords up. As mentioned above, dry vocal chords do not produce a clear and pleasant voice.
Aside from conditioning your voice with the aforementioned, I also highly suggest conditioning and loosening your speech mechanisms so they are prepared to produce a nice-sounding voice.
Your speech mechanisms refer to the physiological systems that aid in sound production. They are your jaw, your lips, your mouth, your teeth, and your tongue. In preparation for presenting or speaking, you may need to ready them as well. What I personally do, especially so as to produce my vowel and consonant sounds correctly, is that I produce all of the standard American English sounds one by one from the fifteen vowel sounds to the commonly-misproduced consonants. Doing so kind of programs my speech mechanisms to remember producing them correctly so when I start speaking, I will not mispronounce a lot of words or any word at all. Also, I do what I personally coined as the “Boxer’s Jaw Muscle Exercise”. With this, I imitate the way boxers loosen and warm up their jaws. Using slow-relaxed motions, I move my jaw up and down and side-to-side repeatedly. The purpose of doing this is it becomes easier for you to produce those vowel sounds for which your jaw has to drop down and those that have to be prolonged and your speech mechanisms get used to producing the consonants correctly as well.
Do not clear your throat.
Before, I used to clear my throat prior to and even during my presentation or speech in order to remove the mucus inside until I came across an article on a medically-inclined website saying that it is not actually advisable. Accordingly, clearing your throat actually traumatizes the vocal chords the same way that drinking cold water does. Instead, what is suggested is that you swallow your saliva or have a sip from your water bottle every so often. Saliva is not cold and lukewarm fluid like what it is, as earlier explained, moistens your vocal chords to make them perform better.
Breathe in deeply and blow air out.
In order to speak with a well-modulated and audible voice, I also highly recommend that you do breathing exercises. One way is to take in lots of air through your nose as long as you can and blow the air out through your mouth with a loud “hah!”. Breathing in and out this way does not only condition your voice but it also provides you with a powerful one that sounds well and can be heard even at the back of your audience.
Read a lot of materials about your topic.
Stage fright or nervousness is not the only cause of stuttering, stammering, or fillers when speaking. At times, it is also because of lack of knowledge of and poor vocabulary about your topic. I mean, you may have good grammar and excellent pronunciation but if you do not know much about what you are going to talk about, you will just see yourself groping for what to say or say next. It then leads to thinking in between that makes you either pause long or utter fillers unavoidably. Also, thinking in between words or sentences makes you more prone to speech defects like stuttering or stammering. As we know, these two are usual hints for lack of expertise or confidence of any speaker. On the same note, poor vocabulary makes you say “whatchamacallit” or “how do you call that?” which are expressions commonly used when the person cannot remember what word he wants to use. Worse, you just find yourself speechless and just the same, stuttering or stammering. Ergo, make sure that you do not go out there to talk without any preparation at all. Study and know a lot about your topic especially when you are, admittedly, not an expert in it. The more you know about the topic, the more exposed you are to relevant words that you can say and the more fluid your delivery is.
There are some elements that you have to take note of, try out and master while you are speaking. These similarly pertain to the physical qualities of voice. They are:
TIMBRE – refers to your voice’s unique tone quality or combination of different qualities that makes it different to other people’s
You do not have to change your voice when you are speaking just so you can sound like speaking greats like Anthony Robbins, John Maxwell, Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, T. Harv Eker, etc. Unless you are a dubber, just do not. If you want to make it big as a speaker and be known for your own identity and capabilities, just keep what you have and just correct and enhance it if needed.
VOLUME – pertains to the loudness or softness of your voice.
The loudness or softness of your voice is controlled or modulated depending on the following factors:
- The number of your participants
- The surroundings or venue you are speaking in/at
- The quality of your microphone (if there is one at all)
Of course, common sense says that you need to check both your microphone and your voice to see to it that everyone in the room is able to hear your voice. This requires you to be sensitive and to observe whether all of them are able to hear you very clearly or not. If not, then you speak louder. If yes, then you are good. Now, if their reactions tell you that your voice is too loud and it is either annoying or distracting them, then adjust the volume of your voice accordingly.
For those who naturally have a very soft voice and would like to know how they can speak aloud, my tips would be:
- Maximize the use of your microphone. Turn up its volume if you must just so everyone can hear you.
- Before you say a sentence or a group of sentences, breathe in plenty of air through your nose and release the air through the mouth as you are speaking. Believe me, this works. It makes your voice louder and clearer.
ENUNCIATION – is articulating your speech in such a manner that you add the corresponding feelings or emotions that come with the message of what you are saying on top of speaking clearly and concisely.
Speaking with emotions or feelings is what makes your speech or presentation alive. Just imagine cracking a joke, a really good one, to your audience but you do not sound elated to say it or imagine sharing a personal experience that irked you with a flat tone. Do you expect your audience to laugh at your joke, even if its content is hilarious, when you say it with a monotone? Do you expect your audience to identify with and feel sorry about your annoying experience when you do not even sound like you mean it or you were genuinely pissed by it? Hell no! So, when you are sharing something funny, make them hear a smiling or a laughing voice. When you are mad, sound mad. When you are serious, give them an assertive tone. I believe you sound more believable and influential when you speak sincerely or when you sound like what you are saying is being drawn out from the bottom of your heart. All it takes really, is to play with your tone and speak as if you are narrating a story to your listeners. It is as simple as that.
RATE OR PACE – the slowness and quickness when speaking.
Make sure you are not talking too slowly nor too fast when you are speaking. Quite understandably, some speakers have the tendency to talk fast when they get too comfortable speaking about the topic, they have so many details to tell, or when they know a lot about the subject matter. Unfortunately though, it takes its toll on the learning retention of the audience and the quality of the good message that is being sent across. On the other hand, with those who talk slowly, it is either they just naturally sound that way or they are just not fluent so they have to think in between or intentionally slow down so they can enunciate their words clearly and accurately. Unfortunately again, however, it is pretty much the same with the consequence of speaking fast; that it fires back at the quality of the content and the participants’ level of appreciation of and learning from the talk.
The work around this is relatively simple. Just do not talk too fast nor too slowly. Set your pace somewhere between these two where your participants can catch up to you or better yet, be on the same page as you are. This can be done by observing them as you speak. If there are some people who look like they are not following you because of like their raised eyebrows or what have you, slow down a bit. Now, if you think (based on their facial expressions and reactions once again) that you are talking too slowly, then accelerate a bit as well. Adjusting your pace, really, is simply matching your audience’s reactions.
TONE/INTONATION – means the highness and lowness of voice when speaking.
There are several intonation rules out there and although I would not mind sharing them all here on this article; this article is already long enough that including them would already make this look and read like a mini-novel. Thus, let me just limit my explanation to a few very elementary rules with regard to intonation.
1. When you are asking a close-ended question, your intonation rises. For example, “Are you ready?”
2. When you are asking an open-ended question, your intonation falls. For example, “Why do we have to think positively?’
3. When you start your sentence with an introductory phrase, make your intonation rise in that fragment. For example, “When we are talking about public speaking,…”.
4. Your intonation rises every time you are emphasizing a word.
The aforementioned are just four of the several rules with intonation. I know they are basic if you look at them. You might even say you have known them ever since your preparatory schooling. Nevertheless, I must tell you this, there are some who are not able to or who are not applying them flat out. So, let us just say this is just a refresher of what you already know or a reminder that if you desire to be a great speaker, you are ought to put them to practice.
These are very long and complex topics to learn in our only four-part blog so let me just refer you to my other widely-read blog article that was published back in November which is entitled, “How to Speak Great English with a Neutral Accent”. Read on.
And last but not least, AFTER
Now that you already know what to do before and during your speech so you have the likelihood of pulling off a heavily-applauded and sought-after presentation, let us now talk about what you must do after your talk.
Drink plenty of lukewarm water.
Your vocal chords must have been overworked after your long speech. So, moisten and relax them again by drinking lots of lukewarm water. This is definitely one way of maintaining your voice’s health so it will not suffer wear and tear and be damaged permanently in the long run or when you least expect it.
Take a rest.
This is something that you, your body, and your voice deserve after a helluva experience speaking to and educating lots of people. So, take it and enjoy it.
Think of ways on how you can get feedback or testimonials from either the organizers of your speaking engagement or a few of the participants.
We love feedback as much as our trainees or participants do. Right? So, if you would like to improve your speaking skills continuously and get back up on stage a better speaker, presenter, facilitator, or whatnot the next time around; I suggest you solicit feedback from either or better yet, both the organizers (those who staged the event you spoke at or invited you) and a few representatives from the audience. What I would do is I would approach my contact person right after my portion and would have him/her bridge me to the organizers. I would then ask the latter for testimonials/feedback that they can just email to me afterwards so they have all the time they need to draft it.
Same with the participants. If possible, I would ask those who are taking photos with me or that I walk with on the way out of the venue to tell me what they say about me and how I did on stage. If they are too shy to share, I just provide them my email address as well and request them to shoot me an email about their feedback/comments. In my training stints, on the other hand, I make it a point that I administer my post-training program and facilitator evaluation forms or more commonly known as “happy sheets”. I give them out so I can have my trainees provide me their feedback about my strengths and areas of opportunities. This way, I can enhance what I am already good at and I can correct or work on my areas for improvement. This is, plain and simple, how I get better and better with each speaking engagement that I have.
I hope you learned a lot from the second part of our four-part blog about Public Speaking. On my next article, we will talk about how to enhance your stage presence (platform skills). Till next time. Be equipped!