Developing Your Voice

The sound of your voice often tells a story different from the one you intended.  You may feel happy, excited, angry, or confident, but your voice may not accurately reflect those emotions.  You may say the right words or ask the right questions, but your voice may detract from the message.  Good communication skills training is important so that you can be effective in your job and achieve your goals.  However, if the voice itself isn’t developed, your verbal message may be misunderstood or lost entirely.  If presentations or speeches are part of your work, the way your voice sounds is especially important.

Try the following exercises to first analyze your voice’s strengths and weaknesses.  Then continue to practice these exercises to develop and expand the voice.  And very soon you’ll have a voice that serves you – and your ideas – well.

RELAXATION

These exercises will help relax the body and relieve tension in the neck, important first steps in the vocal production process.

  • From a standing position, roll down slowly and back up, vertebra by vertebra.
  • Tense head back slightly, feeling the tension in the neck.  Release the tension and feel the difference.
  • Roll the shoulders, forward and backward.
  • Roll the head around in a circle, feeling the stretch in the neck.  Let the mouth drop open when the head rolls to the back.
  • Fill the lungs with air and hiss softly for 60 seconds while revolving the head and shrugging the shoulders.

WARM UPS

Just as an athlete warms up the muscles before a workout or game, you must warm up your vocal muscles so that you don’t injure your throat.

  • Do a full-body yawn – open mouth, open eyes wide, stretch arms over head.
  • Make the face as small and pinched as possible – close the eyes, purse the lips, and frown.  Then, make it as large as you can – open wide the eyes and mouth, lift the forehead.
  • Gently grab the larynx and move it from side to side.  Keep the jaw slack – the larynx should feel quite moveable.
  • Warm up the jaw by saying “mah” or “yah” several times.
  • Warm up the tip of the tongue with “lah” or “tah”, keeping the jaw still as you speak.
  • Warm up the back of the tongue with “ah-ee”.  Keep the jaw still and force the back of the tongue to arch high on “ee”.

BREATH SUPPORT

(excerpt from It’s Your Move: Dealing Yourself the Best Cards in Life and Work, by Cyndi Maxey and Jill Bremer, Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2004)

Abdominal breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, promotes relaxation and blood flow, detoxifies the inner organs, and supports the voice.  The diaphragm is shaped like an upside-down bowl and acts as a partition between the heart and lungs above and all of the other internal organs below.  When you inhale and the lungs fill with air, the diaphragm is forced downward by the lungs and the stomach expands.  As you exhale, the lungs empty, the diaphragm relaxes back to its dome-like shape, and the stomach contracts.  The more the diaphragm can move, the more the lungs can expand, bring in more oxygen, and release more carbon dioxide.  You automatically breathe from the abdomen when you lay on your back, and usually when you’re seated, although this is not automatically deep breathing.  Deep breathing takes advantage of the fact that the lungs are larger at the bottom.

  • Pant like a dog, keeping your shoulders still.  Notice how your stomach bounces in and out.
  • Lie on your back and place a book on your stomach.  Watch it rise and fall as you breathe.
  • Sitting in a chair, lean all the way over so that the chest is on the lap.  Let your arms hang down to the side.  Breathe in and out several times deeply and slowly, noting where the expansion is.
  • Stand or sit with your hands on your waist and breathe in through the nose.  Sigh out through an open mouth and throat.  Let the stomach cave in as you blow out every ounce of air.  Wait until you feel you must breathe, then inhale slowly feeling the lungs filling deep down.  Do not let the upper chest move.
  • Breathe in, then exhale quickly, as though you were punched in the stomach.  Inhale, taking five, short quick gasps through an open mouth to fill the lungs completely.  Feel the stomach grow bigger and bigger with each inhalation.  Then exhale, blowing out over the course of five short exhalations.  Repeat.
  • Stand facing a partner.  Lean towards him with his fist pushing into your stomach.  Say “ho, ho, ho”.  With each “ho”, your stomach should push you away off and away from the fist.

RESONANCE

A resonant voice has a rich, pleasing sound.  There are three areas where the voice can resonate: nose, mouth, throat.  The goal for most voices is to have little nasality, utilizing primarily the mouth and throat cavities.

  • Say “Mama made Mary come home”.  Repeat holding the nose – feel the resonance in the nose.
  • Say “Alone, alone, all all alone.  Alone on a wide, wide sea”. Repeat, opening the mouth and throat to feel the resonance in the oral cavities.
  • Take a deep breath with the mouth loosely open.  Sigh out on a stream of vibrations – “huh”.
  • Repeat the above exercise, closing the lips around “huh” to a hum.  Try starting from a comfortable high note, moving slowly down the scale.

PITCH

A voice with highs and lows is more pleasant to listen to than one that is monotone.  Try these exercises to expand the range of your voice.

  • Imitate a siren, softly on “oo” or “ah”, moving from low to high and low again.
  • Sing a descending five-note scale, moving from high to low on “huh”.

TONE

These exercises will help to develop your voice’s inflection and communicate the emotion of your message.

  • Say “I’d love to” different ways, suggesting the following emotions: anger, fear, doubt, determination, sarcasm, disgust, joy, pity, curiosity, indifference, regret.
  • Say “oh” suggesting each of these meanings: mild surprise, great surprise, polite interest, indifference, disappointment, pity, disgust, sarcasm.
  • Say “She saw me”, emphasizing alternately “she”, “saw”, and “me.”  Suggest the following emotions: pleased surprise, horrified surprise, sarcasm.

ARTICULATION

When you articulate, your message becomes clear and understandable.  The following exercises will develop the articulation mechanisms: lips, teeth, and tongue.  Exaggerate the lips, teeth, and tongue as you say them.

  • “Bibbity-bobbity, Bibbity-bobbity, Bibbity-bobbity, boo.”  “Tickety-tackety, Tickety-tackety, Tickety-tackety, too.”
  • “Ah-ee, ah-ee, ah-ee.”
  • “Lemon liniment.”
  • “A noisy noise annoys an oyster.”
  • “Round and round the rugged rock, the ragged rascal ran.”
  • “Strange strategic statistics.”
  • “Red leather, yellow leather.”
  • “Jump Charley.”

RATE

The following “I Have a Dream” excerpt is exactly 140 words.  140 words per minute is a good rate when speaking before an audience.  Time yourself as you try this exercise.  Do you finish before one minute is up?  Are you still talking at the minute mark?

“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal…”

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”\

© 2017 Jill Bremer All Rights Reserved

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