We are all concerned about public speaking: how to be more dynamic; how to control nervousness; how to keep your audience interested (and awake); etc. However, have you ever considered the sound of your speaking voice? Did you know that 37% of the image you project , is your voice? To make matters worse, I’m talking about the voice you hear on your answering machine, not the sound you hear in your head. The former is the truth; the latter a lie or not an accurate account of what people actually hear.
In order to improve the sound of your speaking voice, you need to do two things: breathe with the support of your diaphragm, and speak within your optimum range. Most people are doing neither. Once you learn these two techniques, you will discover a rich, warm, resonant speaking voice as well as one that will improve with age because you have taken the pressure off the vocal folds and throat. When I’m 85, I may look like an old man, but I will not sound like one. Ever.
All mammals have a diaphragm; all mammals use that muscle to support breathing. It is only the most intelligent of the mammals that stops this practice sometime during our childhood development. What results are voices that are being powered by the throat, vocal fold, mouth, and/or nose.
We have five cavities in the body in which sound should resonate or vibrate: the throat, the voice box, the mouth, the nose, and most importantly, the chest. Because the majority of the population is using only the upper portion of the chest to breathe (which is referred to as lazy or shallow breathing), that majority of the population is unable to capitalize on the fantastic sound that results when the chest becomes the major sounding board, the major amplifier. James Earl Jones is capitalizing on it, as well as many others today. Take for example the movie “Shriek” all the stars involved Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy ( the Donkey), Antonio Bandaras (Pussycat) etc all have learned to project and need to do so as they spend hours in the recording studio.
In addition, breathing with the support of your diaphragm means that you will be able to project your voice instead of shout. Projection is only possible if you are speaking within your optimum range and breathing properly — anything else is yelling. I try to never yell at my son Zack; I project. It is more effective and better for my voice box to do that. When you yell, you’re out of control; if you project, then you’re in control. By the way, kids don’t listen if you yell, but they do pay attention when you project.
More good news is that diaphragmatic breathing is the single most important thing you should do to control nervousness in any form of public speaking. Those who tell you differently are wrong. Sadly, breathing is something we never consider when we stand to speak except when it’s gone.
Breathlessness is a huge problem at the lectern. Let me ask you a question. Do you ever wonder when to take a breath in normal conversation? Probably not. So why is it such a concern in public speaking? Because we don’t allow ourselves to take a breath before we run out of air; we wait until we are totally spent and then we gasp for the next breath which only increases out tension. When I give a presentation, I am nervous, but my audience does not see or hear it because I am breathing — I’m using my diaphragm to control that nervousness. I like nervousness. Nervousness is good. It’s that extra spurt of adrenaline that can help make your talk truly exhilarating.
If you’re not nervous, if your heart isn’t beating a little faster, I’m concerned because your presentation or speech will be flat. The secret, however, lies in this control. Nervousness doesn’t control me; I control it.
Having control over your speaking voice and your breathing is a fantastic asset. And, once you make diaphragmatic breathing a habit, you will discover benefits that have nothing to do with the voice or presentation skills.
In the meantime, “ let the power of your voice take their breath away, not yours! ” – Leslie Choudhury