We all admire people who are really good at what they do. Doing anything well does require balance. Great athletes, musicians, artists, and writers develop the important balance between technique and vision. It is no different for effective and efficient speakers. The ideas you want to share are your vision. Many individuals mistakenly believe that their silted delivery and discomfort in speaking are due to a lack of vision when it most often comes down to a lack of technique.
Good vocal technique starts with understanding the relationship between the energy in your diaphragm, the muscle that regulates your breathing, and the tension in the muscles that surround your larynx which houses your vocal cords. Less energy and focus in using your diaphragm leads to increased tension in your throat muscles. Relaxation is the goal. It leads to better resonance, projection and ease of expression. Efficient, energized breathing is essential to developing a connection to your best, most relaxed voice.
A relaxed voice does not mean a dull, boring monotone. On the contrary, relaxation allows for a feeling of ease in the speaker and the perception of ease by the listener. To the listener it sounds like an individual is speaking their mind because the spoken ideas truly are flowing out on a breath of air.
Breathing seems so simple and mindless. Mainly because we breathe involuntarily every second that we're alive, except, of course, when we're underwater. However, breathing related to speech is different. Both your inhalations and exhalations need to be more active than they are when breathing normally. Becoming aware of your active breathing is the start to establishing good speech technique. By the way, the execution of good vocal technique requires daily practice.
Here is a daily exercise that can help increase breathing, breath support and the recognition and regulation of your diaphragm. There are several steps to follow:
- Breathe normally and count the seconds it takes for you to inhale and then exhale. Both should average about two seconds.
- Now, breathe deeply from the belly. The time it takes to inhale and exhale will increase by as much as two seconds to about four seconds.
- Next, inhale deeply again for four seconds, open your mouth as if you are being examined by the dentist and say, “Awww”. Continue saying “Awww” for 12 seconds. Why are we able to extend our exhalation for so much longer when voicing sound? The answer has to do with resistance and diaphragm regulation. It probably seems pretty obvious that if your air stream has to pass through and vibrate your vocal cords it will slow down. The active regulation of your diaphragm has a lot to do with it, too.
- Breathe deeply one more time. Then, attempt to exhale for 12 seconds without voicing a sound. You will notice that, in order to extend your exhale, you will need to hold back the air using just your diaphragm. You will definitely feel this muscle at work. Diaphragm regulation isn't easy at first, but you can teach yourself to master it over time.
For better or worse, we use our voices everyday. This accounts for why it can be so hard to get rid of old, inefficient habits. The mental and physical pressures of each day have a direct impact on the larynx and vocal cords, too. The two biggest factors that put strain on the larynx, and cause it to rise, are feeling stressed and being tired. It often feels like these two factors are a constant. Therefore, daily relaxation is crucial to vocal survival.
Here is a daily relaxation exercise to explore. Yawn. That's right. As stressed and tired as you feel everyday, it should be easy. Start by forcing yourself to yawn. Then, it should be hard to stop. Good! Yawning is very good for your voice. The larynx involuntarily lowers with each yawn. A lowered larynx is a larynx in its most relaxed position. Yawn again. Now try speaking at a normal volume and at a deliberate pace. The ease of speech may only last a few seconds but it does feel good.
Developing good vocal technique requires a daily ritual of awareness, recognition and action. Focus on your breathing technique and learn how to actively relax. Freedom of expression is what we are all striving for. Don't let incomplete vocal technique stand in the way of communicating your ideas efficiently and effectively.