Thursday, October 24, 2013
One of the greatest challenges for those whose careers involve public speaking is vocal abuse. We see it with many who make a living by addressing an audience – from political candidates like Hillary Clinton to world-renowned motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins. Other career choices that involve heavy use of the voice include aerobics instructors, coaches, teachers, ministers, business trainers, and even stay-at-home moms who may be inclined to yell a lot throughout their day. The problem with vocal abuse is that unless you change the placement of your voice, it will continue. Chronic hoarseness, persistent sore throats and loss of voice are the common symptoms of this type of abuse. While all three symptoms can be caused by allergies, a cold, or certain prescriptive medicines, it would be wise to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist if you have any doubts. So what do I mean by changing your voice placement? Most people use four of their five resonators to speak. Unfortunately, of those four resonators, two are usually doing most of the work. While the nose and the mouth cavities play a large role in your speech, it is the throat and voice box that are taxed the heaviest. The resonator missing in this picture is the chest. That cavity is larger than all of your other resonators combined. Once you include your chest in the process of talking, however, you will find the pressure on your throat and voice box immediately relieved. Your vocal cords are a most delicate organ. Without a doubt, plenty of sleep and a nutritious diet are vital to the health of those cords. However, if you are pushing your voice from that area, the best diet and sleep will do nothing to alleviate or stop the abuse. Only when you use your chest cavity as your primary sounding board will the abuse stop. Not only will the abuse be gone, but you will discover a better voice as well. James Earl Jones, Kathleen Turner, Felicia Rashad, Julia Ormond, George Clooney, and Sean Connery have it – a richer, warmer, deeper sound. All of these voices are being produced correctly. In addition to sounding more mature, you will also be able to increase your volume without shouting. This is only possible, however, if you are using your chest cavity to power your voice. Vocal abuse is something you cannot ignore because it will not only continue but it will probably get worse. If you depend on your voice for your income, whether you are a professional speaker, a politician, a coach or a college professor, you must make the change. A little training can go a long way in the preservation of your voice.
Too often we concern ourselves with the How of public speaking and give much less thought to 5 other questions we should be asking of our host. Yes, your public speaking skills may be top notch, however, there are certain things you need to know before you do anything else. All 5 questions begin with the letter W. While I will not say that one question is more important than another, some of your questions are fairly obvious. I suggest you treat your information like a detective. Knowing the why, who, what, where and when for which you have been invited will make the how a whole lot easier! The Why. What is the reason someone is inviting you to speak? This may seem like a ‘no-brainer’ but it really isn’t. How did your contact find out about you or hear about you? Have you started a new business which was reported on by a local paper? Did you write an article that captured someone’s attention? Did you accomplish a death-defying feat? Knowing why you have been invited is important for the next 2 reasons. The Who. To whom will you be speaking? How you address your audience is dependent on your audience. Your language, even your style of delivery will change according to your audience’s needs. In truth, The Who is the most important aspect of your presentation because your audience is the reason for your speaking. That is why knowing your audience beforehand is so valuable. Talking to a group of retired women about your doctoral thesis on ferns will not be nearly as interesting for them as a discussion about the care of ferns and fronds. The What. About what will you be speaking? This, too, may seem obvious but if you have more than one topic, it isn’t. You may want to discuss your new business and your products; whereas the person inviting you may prefer to hear you talk about how you started your new business. The Where. Where are you speaking? It is imperative to know exactly where you are expected to speak. If the distance is local, you will probably be familiar with the address; but, what if it is in another city or state? Do you know how many different types of Marriott Hotels there are in each metropolitan area? That information is vital if you plan on arriving at the right one! The When. When are you speaking? It may seem obvious to arrange the correct date when settling on a day and time; however, it would be a very good idea to say the day of the week in verifying your date. Many mistakes have been made in negotiating a date simply because someone was looking at the wrong month. Don’t miss your engagement because of poor communication. Repeat the information as you make note of it, stating not only the number date but the day of the week as well. There is enough to worry about in creating a good speech or presentation and then delivering it well. Arriving at the wrong place or at the wrong time or delivering a somewhat risqué after-dinner speech to a group of Baptist ministers does not make for a likely career in public speaking. Knowing as much as you can in advance will help make your speech or presentation that much more successful as well as the likelihood of other invitations.
When I hold a 2-day workshop and explain to the group that their assignment is to give a 4-minute informative presentation, they often look at me and question what to talk about. They also tend to think that 4 minutes is a great length of time. When it comes to public speaking, 4 minutes is extremely short. The proof of my words is the fact that once my students or clients begin, many of them talk for much greater lengths of time. [This is one of the reasons why practicing your speech or presentation out loud is vital. Saying it over in your mind will never give you a true idea of the timing.] It is always rewarding, however, to hear about an event that was exhilarating, frightening, eye-opening, rewarding, sad, humorous, or even death-defying. The secret to the story presentation is that it must be truly interesting, compassionate, exciting or humorous. Telling an audience about the coffee maker you just purchased is not a good topic (unless you are talking to a coffee club). If the coffee maker exploded when you plugged it in or shot the water at your ceiling, you might have a worthwhile topic. The more your audience can relate to your problem, your adventure, your exploits, your mistakes, or your successes, the better your topic. You will need background information to set up your story as well. This is where humor or good anecdotal material relevant to your subject can be of help. Again, if you story deals with an exploding coffee pot, telling them about the buying of that model is not of interest unless there is pertinent information that relates to your story. If you have had other appliances or products that have exploded similarly, you have a great presentation dealing with poor manufacturing, for example. A little creativity can go a long way towards an interesting presentation that others would enjoy. Grab your audience’s attention by opening in a manner that makes them want to listen to you or piques their curiosity. You could begin by asking your audience how many have purchased a product and brought it home only to discover that it does not work. Most in the audience will raise their hand in agreement because most people have ‘been there’ or have done that. Your job at that point is then to tell your story in such a way that they empathize, sympathize, or laugh; but above all else, you must make it memorable. With a little practice, you can tell the story, engage your audience throughout and leave them wanting more. All it takes is a little creativity, a desire to share, and a story that is somewhat different than anything else they have heard. In all my years of teaching I have heard hundreds of presentations and the topics chosen have included speeding tickets, weddings, births, divorces, winning a hockey game, running a marathon, getting lost, and racing at Daytona, to name a few. The subjects are varied; the subjects are many. All it takes is a little imagination.
Excessive nasality or too much nose in speaking definitely has a negative impact on your listeners. A whiny voice can be shrill and is much akin to nails on a blackboard. The good news is that you can eliminate the excess nasal sounds in your voice if you practice and retrain your ‘inner ear’ to hear the difference. While all languages vary as far as true nasals, in the English language, we have 3 sounds which indeed should vibrate in the nose: the n, m, and ng sounds. What this means is that any word which contains 1 or more of those nasals will produce some vibration in your nose. The problem with excess nasality is that other sounds are going up through the nose as well – particularly the long e and long a vowels in certain areas of the United States and Canada. No, you needn’t be a New Yorker to have too much nose in your voice. To see if you are nasal, very gently place your index finger on each side of your nose. Do not squeeze your nose, just touch it. Say the word, tea. Did you feel any vibration? If so, you might consider working on stopping that practice. I recently had a client from Italy who sent me his ‘before’ recording. He wanted my opinion about his voice. This man’s voice was quite nasal and high-pitched. I told him was that there were 2 things he should do to eliminate the excessive nasality: 1. Do some nasality exercises. One of the best exercises is to exaggerate saying the word tea by sending it up through your nose. (Yes, it will sound silly.) Then open your mouth, unclench your jaw, and try saying the same word again along the floor of your mouth. Often excess nasality is caused by a tight or locked jaw. When you learn to loosen your jaw and enunciate your words along the floor of your mouth instead of sending them up through your nose, you will notice quite a difference in the sound. Then practice the same exercise using other words that have the excessive nasal sound. 2. Discover your ‘real’ voice – that richer, warmer sound – which is hiding in your chest cavity. In doing so, you will find that your change in voice placement will also help decrease the excess nasal whine. It is amazing to hear the difference with this voice training technique. Excessive nasality mars a dynamic speaking voice. Get your nose out of your voice and you will be surprised by what you hear!