Your Voice – Your Instrument

If you want people to listen to you, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Your voice is your instrument. You carry it with you every day of your life. However, do you know the sound of your voice? Can listeners clearly understand what you are saying when you speak? Every instrument has a distinctive sound.  We all know what a trumpet, sax, or tuba sounds like.  If you were to hear a snippet from you and seven of your close friends, would you be able to identify which voice was yours? We all have accents and different ways of pronouncing certain words. We recognize and even admire the sound of our favorite speakers and singers. Over time, we become familiar with their pitch, range, and tamber.   

Every instrument has to be tuned, and so too is your voice. To produce a clear sound, you have to work on improving your “Buzz,” which makes your tone. To create that “Buzz,” you must work on breathing. All speakers understand the importance of inhaling air when speaking and the control required in its emission.  We all depart from our natural breathing as infants with age and personal development. Many of us use almost exclusively the upper portion of our lung capacity when speaking. To develop proper resonance, flexibility, and a beautiful tone, we must focus on correcting how we breathe while avoiding the condition we call shallow breathing.  Many articulation exercises are available in books and on the internet to address this problem.

Before you can even begin to improve your speaking voice, you must first find it. You should know how you sound.  Your voice tone in everyday communication is an excellent place to start. Observe the pitch you typically default to if you were to start humming. Observe the natural ease and comfort you feel. Take note of how you felt when you tried humming at a lower or higher pitch. William Shakespeare had this to say about finding your beautiful tone when speaking:

“Two factors are necessary; first, the breath must be under perfect control; and second, the vocal organs must be trained to act with unconscious ease – without correct breath control, and without freedom of the vocal muscles, a beautiful clear tone of voice cannot be attained.”

Once you have found your speaking voice, your next step is improvement and maintenance with exercises to strengthen your facial muscles – your jaw, throat, tongue, and lips. These are all critical muscles of your “Mask Cavity” that speakers must develop with vocal exercises. One I highly recommend is “Mouth exercise for Clear Speech,” available here: Articulation Exercises. Here you will find exercises that cover many letters and sounds of the alphabet.  Some speakers may need more help from a speaking coach to produce a clear tone. However, this is an excellent place to start.

Speakers should also be aware of times when their tone and pitch change while delivering presentations.  It is natural for a speaker’s voice to change if they are nervous, excited, or are being assertive. Understanding those changes in your communication style and using them effectively can turn what may be, to some, a liability into an asset when presenting. Starting with your natural Hum or Buzz and changing registers is an excellent exercise for beginners. This exercise helps speakers move seamlessly between registers.  With soft lips lightly touching, hum a few of your favorite tunes. Recite or read and record a few short sentences. Listen to your recordings.

As any coach will say, if you want people to listen to you, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Practicing correctly is critical. As you practice, pay attention to details. When you do, you will achieve the best results. Maintain good posture and proper inhalations.  Practice humming and buzzing with ease as you exercise your vocal muscles. Make sure your lips are soft, barely touching. They should also be loose at the corners. The tongue should lie easily and loosely, with the tip of your tongue lightly touching your lower front teeth. Ensure your throat is free as if you are about to begin yawning. Also, remember that exercises are useless when performed incorrectly. Start slowly and increase your speed as you become more proficient. Exercises performed once correctly are far more valuable than an exercise repeatedly done poorly. Begin your humming and buzzing with simple songs. As you improve, step it up to include classical pieces and choruses as your breath control and resonance improve. Keep practicing, and over time you will find what is unique and natural to us all – Your distinctive, beautiful sound – Your voice – Your instrument.  

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmaster in 1997. He is presently a member of 4 Toastmasters clubs; two in Santa Cruz and two in San Jose. He is a DTM-4. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ whose speechwriting approach is similar to his approach to songwriting.

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