Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on tape? Did you think, ‘that is not how I sound? It must be a bad recording!’ Perhaps you were shocked to discover your nasal twang, your monotonous tone or your singsong speech patterns.
Very few people are truly aware of the weaknesses of their own vocal and speech patterns. However, as a presenter, you must come to terms with the problems and the potential of your vocal style.
The first step is to listen to yourself on tape, no matter how painful and embarrassing this is. Record yourself reading out a newspaper article or talking to one of your friends. Compare your own voice to the voices of your friends, actors and television journalists. You should discover that low voices are easier to listen to than high-pitched voices.
Making effective use of your voice comes with the decision about whether or not to use a microphone. If you have to raise your voice at all to be heard, consider using a microphone. This will prevent your voice sounding forced and aggressive, and will minimise long-term damage to your vocal chords.
Among the most irritating problems is a high-pitched voice. This is particularly common among women, but can also be a problem for men. Also a constantly high-pitched voice, inflecting upwards at the end of a sentence can undermine the presenter’s authority by suggesting the statement is a question. It can make the most competent and confident presenter appear to be seeking the audience’s approval.
You can learn to control the pitch of your voice through practice. Practice humming in a low tone in the shower, or singing a low harmony with your favourite song, while driving the car. Practice reciting your favourite dramatic poem in a low, whispered voice, or read the part of your favourite make Shakespearean character.
You can also improve your control over your voice by strengthening your diaphragm. To do this, lie on your back and place telephone books (or even just your hands) on your diaphragm. Breathe in and out slowly to strengthen your diaphragm. Actors and actresses use similar activities to strengthen their voices. Another activity you can do to warm up your voice is by repeating the word “gudabuda” as fast and as many times as you can. Follow this with “budaguda”. This difficult to pronounce sound will exercise your tongue, lips and vocal chords.
There are few things as frustrating as listening to a speaker mumble and slur their way through an important presentation. The audience has to listen a lot harder to understand a presenter who fails to articulate clearly. The result will be a tired and irritated audience. Listen to yourself on tape and ask your family and friends to tell you when you are mumbling. Be particularly wary when you are tired or rushed, because that is when you are most likely to mumble.
An important aspect of vocal control is breathing correctly. Breathing slowly and deeply into the lungs increases the flow of oxygen into your body, which has a twofold effect. First, the flow of blood to the brain is increased, helping you think more clearly. Second, the flow of air into the vocal chords will improve, resulting in clearer speech.
In summary, we suggest four ways to improve:
- Record your voice
- Ask a friend for feedback
- Get a drama/voice coach
- Find the tape series The Sound of Your Voice by Carol Fleming