Your Natural Speaking Voice

The breath must be under perfect control.

Do you know the sound of your natural speaking voice? If you listened to a short statement read by you and seven of your friends recorded weeks earlier, could you identify which voice was yours? Whenever I listen to some of the great speakers of yesterday and today, I realize how critical it is to find your natural speaking voice. Notice the pitch, range, and timbre of the speakers you admire. They understand the importance of inhalation of air when speaking and the control required in its emission.

Many of us depart from our natural breathing as infants with age and development. We use almost exclusively the upper portion of our lung capacity. To develop proper resonance, flexibility, and vocal beauty, focus on correcting how you breathe and correcting that condition called shallow breathing. How you breathe determines the quality of your natural speaking voice.

Before you can improve your speaking voice, you must recognize it. It is the tone and pitch we all use in our everyday communication. There is no need to look much further. Observe the pitch you would typically default to if you were to start humming. Notice the ease and comfort you feel instead of when trying to hum at a lower or higher pitch. William Shakespeare, the famous English poet, and playwright (1564-1616), said it best. He had this to say about finding your beautiful tone when speaking or singing.

Two factors are necessary: 1.The breath must be under perfect control. 2. You must train your vocal organs to act with unconscious ease. Without proper breath control and freedom of the vocal muscles, a speaker cannot attain a beautiful clear tone of voice.

Once you have found your natural speaking voice, the next steps are development and maintenance. Freedom of the jaw, throat, tongue, and lips are critical areas speakers must develop. It is a slow and disciplined process. Some speakers may require help from a speaking coach to break some of the bad habits perfected over time. Speakers should also notice how their tone and pitch changes when they are on the platform.  It is natural for a speaker’s voice to change if they are nervous, excited, or assertive. Understanding how to use those changes effectively can turn what may be, to some, a liability into an asset when presenting. Start with your natural hum and try changing registers. That is an excellent exercise for beginners to practice moving seamlessly between registers. With soft lips lightly touching, hum a favorite tune. Then recite or read and record a few short sentences. Listen to your recordings. If you want people to listen to you speak, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Attention to detail as you practice is of paramount importance. Maintain good posture, proper inhalations, and hum with ease as you practice exercising your vocal muscles. Make sure the lips are soft, barely touching, and loose at the corners. The tongue should lie easily and loosely, with the tip of your tongue lightly touching your lower front teeth. Make sure your throat is free as if you are about to begin yawning. Exercises are useless when performed incorrectly. Those performed once correctly are far more valuable than an exercise done repeatedly while ignoring a single detail. Begin your humming with simple songs, even nursery rhymes.  As you become more proficient with your breathing, step it up to include classical pieces and choruses as your resonance improves. Keep practicing and humming correctly, and you, too, will find that which is native to us all, your natural speaking voice.

Understanding Your Audience

Values Beliefs and Characteristics

How well do you understand your audience?  That is a question all speakers should answer when preparing a presentation. Some may regard presenting TO an audience, rather than FOR an audience as semantics. However, both deliveries are different. When a speaker is preparing FOR an audience, they begin by researching mainly the values, beliefs, and characteristics of the group they will be facing. Speakers should also consider looking into the ages, gender, ethnicity, ability, and membership tenure. Of the group.  It’s also a good idea to start with your point of contact. Prepare a list of questions to understand the topics that will resonate best with that group. Once you have done your homework, you should have a pretty good understanding of what you should prepare FOR that audience.

Delivering TO an audience is a bit different. The speaker may choose a speech to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Similarly as when they are presenting FOR, their understanding of the audience’s makeup will help them determine how much is too much or enough.  Although the speaker’s topic usually is one with which the speaker is familiar or may even be an authority, the speaker’s goal is to connect with that audience. Speakers base their content on their experiences and knowledge. They are offering a slice of their life experiences to you. To diffuse discord, the speaker may use rhetorical questions. Speakers should also rely on their instincts and observations as they decide how to connect with the group they are addressing. A little understanding of the group will often lead to success.

Lifestyle can be an indicator of values, beliefs, and characteristics. Looks are sometimes deceiving. It’s always a good idea to compare your research with your first impressions.  Age, gender, ethnicity, and culture can influence everyone’s ability to relate to some topics. Speak to your audiences’ level of understanding. Audiences don’t like being lectured or preached to unless they planned to attend such an event. Be prepared to cite sources for the information you are presenting. Your delivery will determine how the group is receiving your message.  As you continue your delivery, read the reactions you are receiving from the group in real-time. Know what you want your listeners to think, feel or do after hearing your presentation. If your message is clear, concise, and you-focused, your audience’s understanding will keep increasing as you continue speaking.

If your delivery is all TO or all FOR your audience, that is a recipe for failure.  The goal is to make a connection while switching as you deliver. The speaker can deliver parts of their speech TO the audience and others FOR the audience. Decide where you will do your switching during your preparation. Use reminders in your script for your delivery. One approach that works well is the “speaking one to many” method when switching. The speaker focuses on one audience member. At the same time, everyone receives the messaging as if it was intended for them only. Delivery is where the rubber meets the road. Finally, whether you choose to deliver your presentation TO or FOR your audience, success or failure on the platform depends on how well you understand your audience. This talk was prepared FOR a Pathways-L3 project on Motivational Strategies.

What is Your Purpose

Your purpose statement should be laser-focused on your topic

Every speech must have a clear purpose. I am sure you have heard that said many times. The reasons for speaking, in general, are to inform, persuade, actuate, and entertain. But although those purposes are not mutually exclusive, they can still be treated as individual purposes. However, the speaker should always be very clear about what they want their listeners to think, feel or do after hearing you speak.

Speakers should decide on their purpose or foundational statement on which they will build their speech. As Randy Harvey, the 2018 World Champion of Public Speaking, advises:  “your purpose statement should be laser-focused on your topic and run like a scarlet ribbon through your speech from start to finish.”  A general statement is of little value until reduced to a manageable size – a series of why questions will help narrow your message. The first “why” question should be why that particular subject. The second, why your audience would be interested in listening to you speak on that subject. Third, is it appropriate for that audience and occasion, and can you complete this topic in the allotted time?

As the speaker answers the why questions they have chosen, they should also keep in mind the general purposes for public speaking. Speakers should speak to be heard, understood, and repeated while focusing on the central idea and message.

1. When the purpose is to inform, the speaker must clearly understand their message.

2. If the objective is to persuade, the focus should be on getting your listeners to accept your claims or ideas. 

3. If it is to actuate, you want the focus to be on taking some action. 

4. While the primary focus of speeches to entertain centers on entertaining, amusing, or providing enjoyment to their listeners, humor is discovered when you contradict your audience’s thinking. When your audience expects you to turn left, you go right. 

Selecting a subject about which you already know a thing or two and find out more through research. Whether you are speaking to inform, persuade, actuate, or entertain, natural humor will significantly increase your audience’s attention to the content presented. Speaking from personal experience, we exhibit goodwill, and empathy for the feelings of others increases your credibility. However, your purpose will go a long way in determining the success of your speaking occasion. Your purpose is everything.

The 3 Phases of a Speaker’s Development:

“All great speakers refined their thoughts on paper – before they spoke, they wrote.”  

The 3 phases of a speakers’ development are: 1: Their concerns about self.  2. Their concern about their message and 3: Their concerns about their audience.

Many years ago, I attended a workshop with the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Brooks, who spoke about these three phases. In his talk, he also emphasized the importance of writing out your speeches to have something to edit. Immediately I was hooked. To repeat a few of David’s words of wisdom: “All great speakers refined their thoughts on paper – before they spoke, they wrote.”  

Do you know which phase of development you are in presently? You could find the answer to that question by simply looking at one of your recent speeches. Ask yourself, is my speech focused on self, the message, or my audience?    

In the first of the three phases of development, speakers are concerned about how they look, how they feel, and how they sound. Concern with yourself in this development phase is where many speakers begin and where average speakers remain.

When a speaker focuses on giving speeches for personal satisfaction, the singular first-person pronouns “I” are noticeable in their writing.  The text of the speech will show the number of times they repeated the pronoun “I” instead of the more inclusive, we, us, or you.

Putting your words on paper and editing them will help restructure your sentences to be more message-focused. Focusing on the message is the second phase speakers graduate to as they move forward in their development.

In the second phase of the development process, speakers usually shift their concerns to their message. Speakers in phase two edit what they have written for accuracy, clarity, and brevity. Their focus is on effectively communicating their message. Speakers in this phase put the needs of their audience before their personal opinions, likes, and dislikes. Their focus is on their message.  

They also focus how their audience will receive their message. Each sentence is checked carefully for clarity and brevity. Speakers in phase two know the importance of speaking to be understood and to be repeated. They know, what’s evident to the speaker may not be apparent to their audience. Regardless of how beautifully written your text sounds, when in doubt, leave it out. 

The third phase of development is where all speakers aspire to be; concerned about their audience. They are confident, comfortable with themselves, concern about their message, and are focused on their audience. To get to that third phase, speakers must free themselves from the expectations of perfection. They are willing to reveal who they are and what they are about to their audience.

Phase three speakers are confident communicating with their audience, even when faced with the unexpected. So, where are you as a speaker? If you are in phase one, the move forward is simple. Change your focus and concerns. Focus on your message and your audience. You will become a better speaker when you know where you are, in the three phases of development as a speaker.

Your Amazing Grace

It is a feeling of being Unbreakable-Unshakable-Unsinkable

Your Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound – it is a song that awakens the power of the human spirit to remind us, in our hour of darkness, if we reach out to the power of the human spirit, that spirit that is deep within us all, you too will be filled, with your Amazing Grace. Are you filled with Your Amazing Grace? It is a feeling of being unbreakable, unshakable, unsinkable, even when you believe that all but hope is lost.  

On Christmas Eve, some two hundred and forty years ago, Pastor John Newton, the man who coined that phrase Amazing Grace and wrote those beautiful words that became the song Amazing Grace, delivered a sermon in which he recalled a time in his life when he was lost, and how he came to be found. When he was too blind to see the beauty of humanity and when he came face to face with what he was sure was going to be his destiny, a watery grave at sea.

Newton, a self-proclaimed wretch – a vagabond of the sea, who broke every one of the golden rules of life, was sailing across the Atlantic with his crew and human cargo – Yes, he was a slave trader, a vocation many believed could only be reserved for the worst of humankind. As they sailed off the coast of Ireland on a bright sunny day, suddenly they ran into the eye of a storm. The seas were angry; the sky grew darker and darker. The winds were howling like mad dogs. Newton, an experienced seaman, realizing he was no match for the fury of mother nature that day, fell to his knees, begging for mercy, promising to change from his wicked ways if given a second chance at life. 

Newton got that second chance. Miraculously, they made it to Donegal – a little port of the Northern Coast of Ireland with his ship almost a complete wreck. It was there, while his boat was being repaired, he wrote those beautiful words that would become the song, Amazing Grace, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found-was blind, but now I see” – And I am sure if we had more than five to seven minutes here today, we all would still be singing that song of song, that hymns of hymns, that gives us all hope in our hours of darkness.

It is sung more the 10 Million times each year, recorder over 11,000 times in more than 100 different languages. But the true miracle of that song is the melody – which was inspired by the moaning and growing of shackled slaves in the hole of that ship, as they too struggled to survive that voyage, wondering if their destiny would also be a watery grave at sea. Haunted by those memories, Newton kept every word of that covenant he made at sea. He transformed his life from being one of the worst of humankind to become an advocate for the abolition of the slave trade. 

I truly believe, everyone will someday have at least one John Newton moment in their lifetime – a moment when their entire life flashes before their eyes like a bad movie. Do you remember your Newton moment? Did you too make promises? And were those promises made promises kept. I still remember mine as if it were yesterday. To this day, I could still remember seeing those two words we all dread in bold letters – “The End” – as the credits of my life journey scrolled amid a deafening silence. But in that moment of darkness, I too reached out and was blessed with an experience I will never forget. It was a feeling I can only describe as being simply Amazing.  

Today, whenever I hear someone cry in word or song with those – Amazing Grace! seeking comfort from their grief and suffering, I am reminded that second chances don’t come easy. And not every bend in the road is the end of the road. But what I do know for sure, is in your hour of darkness, if you reach out to the power of the human spirit, that spirit which is unshakable, unbreakable, unsinkable, you too will be filled with your Amazing Grace. 

Table Topics Questions Continued:

Ready to go for a wild ride?

You can have lots of family fun with Table Topics. Here are 40 questions I have selected just for you. On President’s Day, my wife held court with some of the grandchildren and the adults in the room. We had a fun fill Q & A session with these Questions. Many of the answers were quite impressive. Try comparing the responses of Kids and Adults to some of these questions and brace yourself for surprises. Ready to go for a wild ride?

  1. What is one fear you would like to conquer
  2. If you could rename yourself, what name would you choose
  3. What was your most embarrassing moment
  4. Are there any redeeming qualities to the person you most dislike
  5. What moment from your life would you like to relive if you could
  6. What is your biggest pet peeve
  7. What remains undone that you have wanted to get done for years
  8. Would you live your life any differently if you didn’t care what people thought
  9. If you could give all human beings one virtue, which would it be
  10. Who has inspired you as a mentor, and why
  11. What does your perfect day look like
  12. What makes a house a home
  13. Who’s the most unusual member of your family
  14. Would you rather be smarter, more athletic, or better-looking
  15. Do you live more in the past, present, or future
  16. What quality do you think is most important in marriage
  17. How do you define integrity, and do you have it
  18. What’s the most significant problem facing the world
  19. What are the most important qualities your look for in friends
  20. What is the one goal you hope to accomplish this year
  21. If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk, what would you do
  22. Who are your role models
  23. Which do we need more of justice or forgiveness
  24. What was your most memorable meal ever
  25. What son evokes the strongest memories for you
  26. Which of your ancestors would you most like to meet
  27. When you’re down, what do you do to feel better
  28. Is there only one soul mate for each person
  29. What’s your proudest accomplishment
  30. What would you most like to do for someone if you had the money and time
  31. What do you think is the ideal age
  32. What is the most challenging thing you’ve ever done
  33. Where would you most like to travel to
  34. What’s your dream job
  35. Is science or art more essential to humanity
  36. Is the male or female body more beautiful
  37. Would you rather live by the beach or in the mountains
  38. What’s your favorite quotation
  39. What do you wish you were better at saying “No” to
  40. Would you prefer to be the worst player on a winning team or the best player on a losing team

Let’s Talk Table Topics

All speaking is Public Speaking!

Table Topics is all about revealing the authentic you. It challenges your impromptu speaking skills. Les Brown, someone I respect in the speaking world, has often said, “Once you open your mouth, you tell the world who or what you are.” Sure, you can fake it, but time will take care of that. As honest Abraham Lincoln once said: You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Prepare all you want; however, it all boils down to being in the moment. The more moments you have the better you will become.

If you are passionate about competing to become better at any discipline, you will realize the importance of improving related skills. The first I highly recommend is to become better at listening. Know thy self. Are you an active or passive listener? When you are actively listening, you are fully concentrating on what is said and not passively hearing the speaker’s words. Work on your confidence. It is another required area of development. Although impromptu speaking is quite different from delivering a prepared speech, if you develop the same style you have grown accustomed to using regularly, you will realize there is not much difference between the two disciplines. All speaking is public speaking. They are different but do have a lot in common.

Develop your technique for giving impromptu speeches. Practice adapting rehearsed stories during your five to seven-minute presentations. Keep an active story file. Impromptu speaking is your opportunity to be in the moment. Table Topic questions are usually simple but carefully worded. Remember, all you have is 1 to 2 minutes with a 30-second grace. Practice getting a feel for your 1 to 2 minutes of speaking time. Once you receive the question, do a quick analysis. Does the question require a singular or plural response? Keep it simple don’t overthink the question. What are the KEY words in the question? Be aware and prepared to adjust to the audience you are facing. Take a moment to decipher if you were asked a question or given a statement for comment. That you should do before you utter your first words. Silence is your prerogative.

Clarify your understanding of the question by paraphrasing what you heard, then immediately begin your answer. That should take no more than 30 seconds. Stalling with pleasantries is not going to earn you any points with judges. The judging items in a Toastmasters contest are Content 55pts, Delivery 30pts, and Language 15pts. The point’s distribution clearly shows your Content is critical. Your challenge as a contestant is to make your fewest words go the furthest. Make your audience experience the words you choose. Your comments should target not just the ear but in their hearts. Soundbites are most effective in this segment as they are memorable and they resonate with audiences.

Once you have answered the question, or have stated your position, be anecdotal. Support your answer with a story or statement relevant to your response. Continue to add Content while focusing on your delivery and language. Help your judges to add points to your total score. You should be somewhere around the 2.00-minute mark – an excellent place to have your magic moment. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is where you must deliver your 11. Ask your audience to do something. Challenge them to take some action. You are no longer speaking to their hearts, you are speaking to their hand and feet. You now have roughly 20 seconds to wrap-up or, to summarize and close the deal.

Tell your audience and judges you are about to summarize. Of the many ways to telegraph you are wrapping-up, one of the best I have heard is – In conclusion! said with confidence. Remind your audience of your answer and your position. Don’t use exactly the same words you used initially, vary them a bit. Recall no more than three of your points. Resist the temptation to add additional information. That will only confuse your audience and judges. When you close STOP speaking. It’s over! Develop your own method for handling Table Topic questions with style and authenticity, and you will master not just Table Topic but impromptu and all speaking in general. All speaking is Public Speaking!

Practice Practice Practice

When your speech is in your head, it is not ready for delivery.

Sunset at Pismo Beach!

If ever you were to flag down a cabbie in New York City to ask, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall,” the answer you will most likely receive is practice, practice, practice. And your fare will suddenly double while your cabbie takes the scenic route. However, if you ask Lance Miller, the 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking, how do you practice? He will tell you, “You practice precisely as you deliver your speech on the platform.” The word practice can be a verb or a noun. When used as a verb, you perform an activity or exercise. That skill performed repeatedly or regularly improves or maintains your proficiency. The nouns; doctors and lawyers have practices. While they may never become perfect, they are permanent.

Your approach to practice can determine your success or failure when you are on the platform. Rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving or lying in bed is not exactly practicing, You are sequencing. You are arranging your thoughts in a particular order, which is useful; however, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing places your presentation in your head. When your speech is in your head, it is not ready for delivery. You have to move it from your head to your heart. To avoid that extra step, practice as if you are speaking to an audience. When you practice as you will deliver your presentation, you develop muscle memory, which requires your total body involvement.

Lance also recommends that you should avoid practicing in front of mirrors. The speaker focuses on themselves when they should be focusing on their audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. Recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction to the speaker while practicing. Your focus will be on yourself and not your audience when you are on the platform. What and how you practice becomes permanent.

Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. They also had specific workout routines. They also had different exercises for different days. Before they begin to practice, they knew what to would be focusing on during each practice session. They knew how many times they will practice particular routines. They practice their speech uninterrupted from start to finish. Also, they make sure they practice delivering their presentation to an audience. Adopt those practices. If you don’t have an audience, create one. Chairs, trees, dolls, whatever that will not talk back, works well. Feedback will come in your testing phase. Practice, Practice, Practice but do it right and the day will come when you too will be on your way to the Carnegie Hall of public speaking.

Organizing Your Speech

Just as important is the organizational structure you choose.

It is often said, we speak to be heard, understood, and to be repeated. Topic selection is important. We choose topics we are passionate about. However, just as important is the organizational structure you choose. A well-organized speech enhances the audience’s understanding of your topic. When your speech is well-structured and easy to follow, it is more effective. A clear understanding of the different types of structures and when they are used will help you organize your speeches. The following are some structures you may find useful during your writing and delivery.

CHRONOLOGICAL: Chronologically organized speeches follow a sequence of events. When you speak about events linked together by time, it is best to engage the chronological organization style. Your main points are delivered according to when they happened and could be traced back in time in a chronological speech. Arranging main points in chronological order can help describe historical events to an audience and when the order of events is necessary to understand what you wish to convey. This style is effective when delivering Informative or when delivering demonstrative speeches about a series of events.

TOPICAL:  A topical structure organizes speeches by topics and subtopics. Break your speech into sections that explain major concepts related to your topic, followed by smaller and smaller subtopics. If your speech center’s main points on ideas are more distinct from one another, use a topical organization style. Your main points are developed separately in a topical speech and are generally connected within the introduction and conclusion. In other words, the topical style is crafted around main points and sub-points that are mutually exclusive but related to one another by the thesis. Use the topical style when elements are connected because of their relationship to the whole.

SPATIAL: A spatial structure organizes a speech by geography, the physical structure of the topic, or discusses the impact your topic has upon a region or the world. Spatial also refers to content that covers the physical landscape of a specific location. For example, if you are giving a speech about California, you may organize your presentation to imply movement from the North to the South; or from San Francisco to Monterey. 

CAUSAL: A causal structure organizes speeches to link a cause to an effect or its cause. Casual speech is also a way of talking that you use with people close to and trust. There are different words, phrases, and ways of speaking that you can use with your friends, your family members, and with people who are a similar age, social status, and personality to you.

COMPARATIVE:  A comparative structure organizes speeches by describing two or more objects and their shared and or different attributes. Show how your topic compares to another by examining similarities and differences.

As you select your topic, understand the style you will use to deliver that particular presentation. Develop a well-structured, clear, and organized speaking style, and you will always be heard, understood, and repeated.