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      because there is a cost to not using your voice fully.

 

Three Tips to Own the Room

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Heard Around

Speech Pathologist

Kate DeVore, MA, CCC-SLP, is a voice, speech, and communication trainer. She is a theatre voice, speech, and dialect coach as well as a speech pathologist specializing in professional voice. She helps professionals (ranging from actors to executives) deliver their message in comfort and style. Kate works one-on-one with clients both in-person and remotely, and is available for workshops and trainings of any size around the globe.

Public speaking may come naturally to some, but for those of us who prefer to get our point across through written word or one-on-one conversations, the idea of addressing a large group can be nerve-wracking. But there’s good news. According to voice/speech pathologist Kate DeVore, stage fright is perfectly normal. “I work with veteran actors who have been performing professionally for 60 years, and they’re still terrified before they walk on stage,” she says. “It’s not something to resist or fight; it’s something that will be there. So it’s helpful to embrace it and channel that energy, rather than trying to make it go away.”

With an M.A. in speech pathology and an extensive background in theatre, DeVore can build a bridge between the artistic and scientific worlds of effective communication. Below, she provides three tips for improving your public speaking that you can implement today. 

Prepare

“You know perfectly well that when you get up to give a presentation, if you’re not quite ready, you’re more nervous – and with good reason,” says DeVore. “Be as prepared as you can, so that when you get up there, you’re not focusing on your performance—you’re focusing on delivering your message.”

Preparation isn’t just about the material and content, however. You need to prepare your whole self. Take a moment to physically ground yourself and relax your body. “Do some shoulder rolls to make sure that your shoulders haven’t crept up to your ears,” says DeVore. “Unlock your knees, so that you’re not tense in the pelvis and spine. Ground yourself, feel your feet on the ground and practice standing in a strong, neutral, relaxed, grounded position.”

Your nerves affect your body, which is why you feel stiff and uncomfortable when you’re nervous. But that’s a two-way street. By making changes to your body, you can have a positive effect on your nerves. 

In the moments before getting on stage, take a deep, controlled breath and focus on nothing but that breath. Be sure to exhale fully. “Focusing on the breath serves triple duty,” says DeVore. “It helps to calm the autonomic nervous system, it helps to bring you into the present because you’re focusing on something very physical and tangible, and breath is the power source for voice. So, breath is the unifying link that helps with both nerves and vocal power.”

Breathe

Remember that long, focused breath you took right before you walked onstage? Keep it going. Steady breathing can keep you calm and focused, while improving the quality of your vocal power.

“Take breaths at the end of each sentence or at the end of each phrase,” says DeVore. “When we get nervous, we tend to make our breath very shallow and quick. That makes our voice get high and tight and scrunchy. It makes us rush, and makes us even more anxious. Take the time to take a real breath each time you begin a new thought. It not only helps to slow you down—it helps to relax you. It also brings much more richness and fullness to your voice. If you feel tense, remember to exhale.” 

Connect

Connecting with the audience, as DeVore tells it, is the piece that brings it all together. You’ve prepared. You’re remembering to breathe. Now, it’s time for your message to travel across the room and land firmly upon the waiting ears of an engaged audience. Depending on the circumstances and nature of your presentation, you might try making eye contact with the people in the room. Of course, you might not be able to do that, whether due to a lack of confidence or because bright stage lights make it impossible to see anything past the edge of the stage. “If it doesn’t work to make literal connections with people, then imagine the face of somebody who loves you in the back of the room,” says DeVore. “And imagine that you’re talking to that person. Visualizing a real true human that you know and that you love and feel safe and comfortable with, and talking to that person, brings out a lot of warmth and positivity in the way you present and speak.”

The most important connection you make with the audience, however, is your voice. And it goes deeper than you think.

“The voice is the only part of a person that touches their audience physically,” DeVore explains. “Voice is sound waves that travel through the air through a series of vibrations. Those vibrations have an actual physical impact on the listener. That’s how we hear things. If your voice doesn’t reach them, your message is less likely to reach them.”

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DeVore’s book, The Voice Book: Caring For, Protecting, and Improving Your Voice, is available now on Amazon. For a direct link, visit the digital edition of FORUM.

Cooler Weather Means It’s Time to Hydrate Your Vocal Cords!

Ever notice how voice geeks (singers, actors, coaches, teachers, speakers) tend to carry around a water bottle? It’s not just that they know water is essential to our health – it’s to keep the vocal cords hydrated.

Vocal cords vibrate incredibly fast when we speak: 100 – 200 times per second for most folks (and way faster on some occasions). In order to do that, they have to be pliable. In order to stay pliable, they must be – I apologize in advance for using a word that many people loathe – MOIST. 

Everything loses pliability when it gets dried out (skin, a sponge, strawberry jam, even nail polish). If the vocal cords are a little dry, they can become stiff. This can lead to hoarseness and/or a sense of increased physical effort when we speak.

The most obvious way to hydrate your body, and therefore your voice, is by drinking enough water. How much is enough, you ask? Nobody knows. There are all kinds of theories, but the bottom line is that each of us needs to drink enough water that we pee pale all the time. That means the kidneys have enough water to deal with the toxins, and the rest passes right through us. So aim for super pale pee every single time, and you’re well hydrated.

The other helpful tip is to inhale steam. Did you know that nothing we swallow touches the vocal cords? They sit over the airway, not the food tube. The water we drink hydrates us systemically, from the inside out. Only what we breathe actually touches them. So breathing steam is the only way to directly hydrate the vocal cords. (This is why drier air causes problems). The old-school way is to bring a pot of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and use a towel to make a little tent over your head to trap the steam as you breathe. Or you can buy a little device called a “personal steam inhaler” online, which makes the job more comfortable. You want to inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes every day or so, more if you feel dry.

If you want more info about caring for your voice, set up a session here to get all the details!

I Hate the Sound of My Voice!

First of all, I’m sorry to hear that, Second, I bet it sounds better than you think.

You don’t hear your voice the way others do. We hear most things from the outside-in (air conduction). Sound waves cause vibrations in the air, which vibrates the eardrum and sends information to the brain. We hear our own voices largely from the inside-out (bone conduction). The vibrations in your head send information to your brain through your bones. Naturally, these different ways of hearing result in different perceptions of your voice.

So yeah, when you hear a recording of your voice, that’s pretty close to how your voice sounds to other people. It’s not exact, as voice recordings do alter the voice and eliminate certain elements of it. But it’s closer than what you hear inside your own head. Once you get used to that idea, you can start to hear your voice for what it is: a beautiful (yes it is) vehicle for you to express yourself and communicate with the world around you.

The idea that “my voice” is a single, unchangeable thing is inaccurate. The human voice is hugely versatile, and we use it in specific ways as a result of a myriad of factors (see my earlier post, “Yes, you CAN change your voice!” for more about that). Your voice is such a personal, integral, beautiful (I’m doubling down on your voice being beautiful!) part of who you are and how you express yourself. Make friends with it. Come to appreciate it. Love it.

As always, a good voice coach can help you find a version of your voice that you love. Email me to learn more.

What is Vocal Fry?

Have you heard about the style of speaking called “vocal fry”? It’s a gravelly, low sound that is most commonly heard at the ends of sentences. The mysterious fame of Kim Kardashian brought this style of talking into the public eye, or rather, ear.

Fry was named because the pops and creaks made someone think it sounded like bacon frying (I’m not making that up). Everyone has a little fry some of the time (especially if we are sick or vocally tired), but some people have made it a permanent way of talking. So what is it, exactly?

Fry requires two things: a fairly low pitch, and minimal exhalation while talking (check out previous entries to learn more about how breath affects the sound of your voice). To many people it sounds disinterested or bored, and it lacks vibrancy, pitch variety, and expressiveness.  In other words, too cool for school. It also can’t be projected, so it lacks power.

Another school of thought sees it as a feminist issue, since fry (and the criticism of it) is most commonly associated with younger women. The admonition to “sound more professional” can be taken as disrespect for who someone is and how they express themselves. See my previous post on “Talking While Female” for more on this topic.

A good voice coach can help you maintain your identity while meeting any vocal demands of the workplace. If fry is part of your repertoire, and if there are times when it does not create the vocal image you want, there are ways to find balance. Schedule a session now to learn more.

Pain or Strain While Talking?

Do you ever feel tired, sore, or strained from talking? Does it ever become a chore to talk at the end of the day? Chances are, it’s related to the way you use your voice muscles.

The two major behaviors that lead to vocal strain are: 1) Not exhaling with enough air when you talk, and 2) Inadvertently tensing some of the muscles in your neck, throat, and mouth.

The human voice is a wind instrument – a solid exhale is required to make sound. If you don’t use enough breath, the muscles in your throat tense up tp try and “help” push out the sound. That leads to strain, fatigue, and pressure. There are a ton of reasons why you might not use enough air when you talk, including holding your abs so tight you can’t take deep enough breaths. See my previous post “Breathing From the Diaphragm is BS” for more info.

It takes about 100 muscles to speak a word. Isn’t that crazy? There are a lot of opportunities to accidentally hold tension, especially since so many of the muscles are tiny and we aren’t even aware of them. They are the “Who Knew? muscles” – who knew they were even there, much less tense? A lot of voice coaching is about learning where you are inadvertently holding tension, and learning how to replace it with freedom.

So if you want to check out your technique and get some tips for talking with more ease, click here to make an appointment!

Of course it is also possible that there is something physical irritating your vocal cords (like silent acid reflux, allergies, or mild dehydration), which makes it harder to talk without strain. If you feel you might have some physical issues, visit your friendly neighborhood Voice Center for a medical assessment and nip it in the bud.

Does Your Voice Get Lost in Meetings?

It can be deeply frustrating to repeatedly start a sentence and then have someone else in the room steamroll right over you with a louder voice. It’s even more problematic when you lose the opportunity to show your knowledge and skills because your voice is less assertive than others’.

You can change that!

People often think they have the voice they were born with, and there is nothing they can do to change it. Not true. You can uncover, maximize, and train your voice. It takes over 100 muscles to utter a phrase of speech. Speech is a physical act. Like any other physical act, we can make changes to it with targeted exercises.

Here’s a pro tip: Loudness is determined by how forcefully you exhale as you speak. There are other more complicated factors as well, but for some people simply taking a bigger breath before speaking – and spending it with gusto – can increase vocal power. Practice in the shower or the car so you feel comfortable with your new sound.

There are many great books on the subject (including my own). At the same time, it’s hard to really learn a physical skill without guidance. How do you know what your own habits are, and what might be getting in your way? Knowing what physical behaviors are holding your voice back, and how to replace those with behaviors that fully serve you, is the key to voice training.

Click here to schedule a session (in person or remotely), and learn how to stand your ground in a room full of voices!

Can You “Lose” an Accent?

The short answer is, no, not really. The larger question is, are you sure you really want to? Your dialect is a rich part of who you are and what you bring to the table. It would be a great sadness to really lose it. BUT, you are probably thinking, I am not always able to communicate effectively in a business setting. THAT is something we can absolutely address.

If you have considered trying to “lose” your accent, I propose that a more effective (and kind) way to approach it is, instead, to learn a Neutral American accent that you can use when you choose. “Code switching” refers to humans’ tendency to speak differently in different settings (i. e., most of us talk differently to our best friend than we do when we present at a meeting). So you can learn a solid American accent and still retain your identity.

Most people need some targeted coaching to address the speech sounds, rhythms, and mouth movement of a neutral American dialect. Check out my iBook if you want to try some self-study, or schedule a session to get more personalized guidance.

The goal is for people to focus on what you are saying, not how you are saying it. You can be heard and understood and still not “lose” something that is a beautiful part of who you are.