One of the actor's most precious tools is his voice. Unless he's in a Marcel Marceau retrospective, without his voice he will miss an entire dimension of communicating with the audience. So the actor protects his voice by doing exercises to strengthen it, by warming it up before using it on stage and by learning breathing techniques to maximize its projection and tone.
As business presenters, we can benefit by taking a page from the actor's script.
WARM UP YOUR VOICE
Many things work better when they're warmed up a bit and the voice is no exception. In coaching Jane Fonda, Kate Wilson of Julliard tells her to warm up by making her voice vibrate. (view the video here). Other exercises to try:
- Start the day off humming gently. Do this in the shower for added benefit: warm up plus hydration.
- Sing "Mmmee, Mmmay, Mmmah, Mmmoe, Mmmoo" on one note and then repeat, moving up and down the scale.
Just as a football player or a violinist warms up muscles before engaging them in the game or the concert, so should a speaker warm up the muscles required for speaking before a presentation. Here are some exercises to massage your facial muscles.
You can also alternate an exaggerated smile and frown (do this about a dozen times) to give your facial muscles a great workout.
And use an old childhood favorite, tongue twisters, to loosen and exercise the muscles around your mouth. These are particularly helpful to alleviate the tightened jaw muscles that come from stress and anxiety. Done shortly before a presentation, tongue twisters will help to ensure that you don't stumble over your words.
Breathing from the diaphragm, instead of more shallowly from the chest, produces several positive results: it helps you project your voice so it sounds strong; it ensures that sufficient oxygen gets to your brain which keeps you mentally sharp and prevents any light-headedness; and it helps curb nervousness.
The diaphragm is an umbrella-shaped muscle which helps push air out of the lungs. Place your hands just below your ribcage, with fingertips touching. Breathe in and out. As you breathe out, you will see your diaphragm push your fingers apart. Done properly, all the movement is in your diaphragm and your chest barely moves at all.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR VOICE
Your voice can benefit from these tips all the time, but they are particularly relevant before a speech or presentation.
- Keep your voice well hydrated. This means drinking lots of room temperature water (8 glasses a day). Liquids that are either too hot or too cold tend to irritate the sensitive vocal cords.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking (including second-hand smoke), caffeine, antihistamines and anything menthol, all of which have a drying effect on vocal cords, making your voice sound scratchy.
- Avoid milk and other dairy products which tend to produce phlegm and mucous, causing you to frequently clear your throat.
- Avoid situations where you have to strain to speak over loud noise (like on an airplane) as this can strain your vocal cords.
According to Richard Strauss, the German composer and conductor, "The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play." Make that task a little easier, particularly before a presentation, by following this advice on caring for your voice.