On a recent trip to Pismo Beach, I was asked by a colleague how can I improve my speaking voice? Are there exercises I should be doing to improve my voice and where should I begin? Those questions made me refer to some of my notes from a training session which addressed those questions. That Toastmasters training session was entitled – “Your Speaking Voice.”
Breath Produces Voice: Deep, controlled breathing is necessary for good Vocal production. Your voice is supported by a column of air, the depth, and steadiness of which determines your vocal quality. Think of the diaphragm as the foundation on which this air column rests and by which it is controlled as it comes upward to meet the vocal organs. When you breathe in, your abdominal wall expands and the dome-shaped diaphragm flattens. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the abdominal wall contracts. The relaxed diaphragm rises, pushing air out of the lungs. The exhaled air provides the controlled production of speech sounds.
As the air pushes upward against the vocal cords, it causes them to momentarily separate, allowing the air to pass between them. The rush of air and the elasticity of the vocal cords then pulls them back together. The production of these vibrations is called phonation. Consider how sound is produced at the mouth of an inflated balloon. Vocal sound is produced in a similar manner. Air pressure comes up through the throat, mouth, and nose, causing a continuous pressure change in the air surrounding the speaker. These pressure changes are called sound waves. They are transmitted to the ear of the listener and the voice is heard.
Production of Voice Quality: Think for a moment about musical woodwind and brass instruments. Their sound comes from the musician’s breath and lip vibrations or the vibrations of a reed in the mouthpiece. Because the chambers of these instruments differ in size and shape, their tone qualities are distinctive. Different parts of the original tone are increased, or resonated, and other parts are reduced. Human resonance is the increasing or modifying of sounds by the throat, nose, and mouth. The sound waves created by the vibration of the vocal cords travel into the upper part of the throat, then to the mouth and, at times, into the nose. As these waves bounce around within these structures, they are reinforced and amplified. The differences in people’s voices arise from the size of the vocal cords and the effects that the resonators (throat, mouth, nasal passages) have on the vocal tone. To a certain extent, a speaker can change the size, shape, and surface tensions of the pharynx and the oral cavity; he or she may also use, partly use, or close off the nasal cavities.
Improving Your Voice: Before trying to improve your voice, you must first understand what kind of vice you have. Do you whisper or boom. Does your voice convey life, color, and melody, or do your sentences come out flat, wooden, and without variety? The primary cause of negative voice quality is tension – emotional or physical tension – so controlling tension is critical to improving your voice quality. The key to developing effective voice quality is being aware of the different roles you play during a typical day: parent, employee, boss, friend, lover, consumer, salesperson. Each of these roles reflects different personality traits and requires different voice images. Listen to how your voice sounds in your various roles as you relate to others. Consider what you are doing with your voice. How is your mouth moving? How are you using your lips? To improve your voice, you must become aware of stress, muscle tension, and relaxation. The most important recommendation for developing voice quality is to relax your throat while you speak. Think in terms of the impression you would like to convey. Is it friendliness, confidence, and a desire to communicate? If you release the tension from your voice, a pleasing tone will likely result. Remember that the emotions and vocal colorings you express with your voice can arouse similar feelings in others.