A few weeks ago at my local Toastmasters club in London, I had the privilege to see a former member get up and speak to us in an organizational capacity. I couldn’t help notice how resonant, rich and, in the words of my old vocal coach, “fruity” his voice sounded.
It reminded me that I should be doing more to improve and maintain my vocal skills and range.
Imparting vocal tips and techniques a little difficult in the form of the the written word as it’s a subject that has numerous aspects to it such as voice development, warming the voice, articulation exercises, stretching the vocal range and so on.
Then, of course, there’s dealing dealing with individual vocal problems that need to be ironed out. The best way to experience vocal exercises is in person with a vocal coach. Or if that’s not possible then perhaps on video or DVD.
Why is it important to exercise the voice? Well, fundamentally it’s because the voice for a speaker as well as for an actor, is an important part of one’s instrument. It sounds a little silly to refer to your body and voice as your instrument, but if you think about it as a speaker or presenter you are using just yourself. It is your method of expression. Yes, you may have a presentation or props, but it is you that people listen to and if your voice isn’t clear and uses it’s full range of expression then your listeners will be turned off.
Without getting too bogged down with the science of the articulatory muscles and how the work, I’ll just quickly mention that they are as follows: the tip of the tongue, the hard palate, the soft palate, the back of the tongue, the teeth and the lips.
Now, there are probably many professional vocal coaches out there who are ready to argue with me on these points and say that I should tell you what the correct categories are, whether they are active or passive articulators. But for the purposes of this post I don’t feel it’s necessary.
So here’re some 5 Dos and Don’ts for Vocal Tips :
Don’t consume dairy: Before you speak or present make sure you keep your dairy intake to a minimum. Dairy products have a tendency to produce excess mucus which can make you snort and constantly feel like you have to clear your throat. Keep yourself lubricated by drinking plenty of water or herbal tea. Too much caffeinated tea can dehydrate you. If you’re drinking plenty of water before you speak remember to use the loo (rest room).
Do speak your words out loud: I’ve talked about the benefits of rehearsing your speech or presentation elsewhere in this blog. By speaking the words out loud your mouth gets used to saying the words and as a result you’re less likely to stumble over what you’re saying because your body has a physical memory.
Do hum before you speak: By gently humming, your voice gets to go hum and down it’s range and gets warmed up. At drama school we used to hum a very slow version of the nursery rhyme “Pop Goes The Weasel”. As a quick refresher here’s the lyrics as I know them:
“Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel”.
Just go on to Wikipedia where they have alternative versions of the lyrics that you may know. There’s also a notation of the tune on there for anyone unfamiliar with it. It’s quite a jaunty little jig, but you’ll want to slow it right down when you hum your way through it. Also, make sure you don’t push yourself. Be gentle.
Do use tongue twisters: Tongue twisters are a good way to exercise your articulation muscles. Here’re a couple of my favourites:
is a desirable ability
manipulating with dexterity
the tongue, the palate, and the lips”.
“Red leather, yellow leather”. (repeat 5 times)
“The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips”. (repeat 5 times)
“The back of the tongue and the tip of the tongue”. (repeat 5 times)
These exercises need to be regularly used, daily if at all possible as you cannot hope to feel any improvement if you just do everything once.
Do Make Sure you Articulate When I say this you don’t have to over-articulate your words so you sound like Richard Burton. What I mean is that you should take care not to have sloppy speech. Try rehearsing your speech out loud and tape yourself. Listen to it a couple of times so you get over that awful feeling of hearing your own voice. Then listen to it to make sure your words are clearly spoken and that you are hitting all your Ts and Ds in your words.
These tips are merely scratching the surface of a vast and constantly fascinating subject area. There are plenty of great books out there on the subject. The techniques that I’ve been trained in come from past vocal coaches at The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Royal National Theatre in the U.K.
Try implementing these dos and don’t before you give your next speech or presentation and you’ll see a marked improvement in your vocal clarity.