I have been thinking over this last month about listening. It goes without saying that if we all want to have greater connection to the world around us, we have to be attentive listeners. I have previously blogged about the things you can do with your body to help you listen more comfortably. I am aware that we all understand that we should be better listeners, but its easy to forget about that when Facebook prompts us with ‘What’s on your mind?’ or Twitter’s decision to double the number of characters late last year. We are told to tell all, but are we listening?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the dangers of a single story in her powerful TED talk. We have to challenge that one story we know about a certain person or country. This single story limits us and stops us listening. At the extreme, this is what the far-right have always used to justify actions of hate and discrimination. However, at the milder end, we are all missing out on opening our minds to the people and possibilities that surround us.
I am currently reading Keith Johnstone’s ‘Improv for Storytellers’. He writes that instead of telling his students to be ‘Good Listeners’, he encourages them to ‘Be altered by what was said.’ I can’t think of a more apt way for explaining the effect that listening should have on us. So whether we are trying to tune into a conversation in a board room, our children telling us about their day or trying to listen to ourselves with greater integrity, all these moments could lead to alterations about the way we perceive the world. It’s time to let our minds be changed, influenced, informed or moved by what we hear in the world around us.
A lot of clients come through the door chasing clarity, feeling like they are mumbling or loosing their thread when they are talking.
Earlier in this A-Z Voice series, I talked about Articulation. This work concentrated on the relationship between the soft palette and the tongue. This time I would like to concentrate on the Jaw.
The jaw is one of the most powerful muscles in the body. Think what we put our jaws through! How we might clench our jaws or grind our teeth. These things put unnessary strain and energy into a part of our body that we need to be loose and soft. Not sure? Try speaking throigh clenched teeth and you can hear our locked your voice is.
It may seem that your voice is fixed just because of a locked jaw but if you try and move you tongue up and down with a fixed jaw, it’s fairly immobile compared to when the jaw is soft and flexible.
Our tongue is one of our main articulators. If this is restricted in any way that our diction is not so hot. The root of the tongue is also anchored into a piece of cartilage called the Hyoid bone. Also suspended from the Hyoid bone is our vocal chords. We need our vocal chords to move up and down. So if we have a locked jaw and a fixed tongue we have restricted vocal chords, this all contributes to a flat, dull voice that sounds like it’s uninterested in the ideas it shares or the audience it speaks for.
The good news is that this is something that can be worked on. One simple way to combat Jaw tension is to have a really good yawn. Something that I am sure we can all do!
In my dream society, all members have a voice. Everyone has a space to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings. Freedom of speech is the essence of the place I’d like to inhabit. In most ways, this is in place in the world I inhabit. However, the difference between my dream world and reality is that everyone has the ability to understand the power of their voice. Not just in the content, but in the vocal mechanism itself.
Through teaching for the last ten years, it has become apparent to me, that most people think that individuals are gifted with a beautiful speaking voice. A voice that eases into their listener’s ears and transports us with their stories, awakens us with their ideas and moves us with their view. Maybe some people are lucky to have been born with this skill. However I believe that everyone can unleash this marvellous power and use their voice to their full potential, if they are shown how.
In my dream society this is something we would teach to children as part of mainstream schooling, so as adults they contribute to society confidently and freely. In the world we inhabit, children may access this through extra curricular activities. Those who practice the creative and expressive arts are more likely to have confidence in their voice.
As adults in the society we live in, we can feel the divide between those who have accessed this and those who have not. However we perceive it as raw, unlearnable talent. This is it not the case, a clear, confident, authentic voice is available to us all, if we choose to engage with training that explores and deepens our understanding.
In learning these things, we free our voice. In freeing our voice, we share our ideas. In sharing our ideas, we evolve and grow our communities.
My dream society isn’t as unattainable as perhaps it first seems. Maybe yours isn’t either.
Breath is the driving force four body. We take 17,000-30,000 breaths in a day. That’s 7,363,289 breaths per year. However, how often does our breath end up taking for granted?
Your breath is a magical force. It gets your heart going, provides a platform for speech, it can work you up or it can calm you down.
I would like to invite you to take some time to get to know your breath.
Sit down comfortably somewhere where you feel warm and safe and close your eyes. Now breath in through your nose and as you breath in take the time to follow the journey of that breath, where you feel it is traveling to in the body. Keeping you jaw soft, let the breath out again. Repeat this for a few cycles.
On the next in breath imagine that the breath is travelling all the way through your body as you breath in. It comes in through the nose and travels all the way down to your feet. It travels through the head and the face. The arms and the shoulders. The chest, the spine, the stomach. In and across the hips and down through the thighs, the knees, the lower legs until it reaches the feet. Repeat this a few times.
Now on the next out breath imagine that the breath is travelling up from the feet and out of the body. Take your time to enjoy the feeling of air passing all the way through each and every part of the body. Repeat this a few times.
Now take the time to observe what happens between the in breath and the out breath. Does it stop and start or does it flow continuously. Try not to force yourself to do anything, just allow your breath cycle to come to your natural rhythm.
Now bring the awareness back to the way your body feels, any sound you can here in and out of the room. and write down three words that describe how you feel.
Try this exercise for 5 days and let me know what your words were? Did they change. How did you feel?
This is the first of a series of short blogs that will introduce folk to new ideas/ exercises about their voice.
Good articulation needs strength, flexibility and calm! The fluffing of words or tripping over our sentences when we nervous are a good sign to your articulation needing improvement.
The Soft palette is like the unseen articulator as it is right at the back of your mouth. The palette is the roof of your mouth. Its in divided into two areas. The hard palette which has almost no give and the soft palette which is a fleshy bit of tissue. Improving flexibility in the soft palette will not only improve articulations but it will also help with colour and cadence in the voice. Opera Singers have incredibly flexible soft palettes and Beat boxers can achieve amazing sounds through clicks and tongue placement using their soft palette
If you make a ‘k’ sound you can feel the back of your tongue raising to meet the roof of you mouth, but what you may not feel is that your soft palette is also coming down to form this closure the ‘k’ sound is made when this join comes apart like a tiny explosion. In fact ‘k’ is a sound belonging to a group on consonants called plosives.
So if you repeat a ‘k’ sound your are working the two articulators -your tongue and your soft palette. ‘g’ is made in exactly the same way but this time in stead of the sound being carried out solely on air. The vocal folds come engaged and their is now sound with it.
A big factor in improving outgoing communication skills, is improving in coming communication skills. You will be a more effective speaker if you are a better listener. When I talk about listening, I’m talking about more than the ability to receive words from the mouth of others. I’m talking about our ability to read a situation, and hear more then the words that are being spoken. Take some time and reflect on some of the following areas, and ask yourself ‘Am I really listening?’
How are you stood? Are you stood or sat in a way that is receptive to information? Are you huddled over? Are you arms or legs crossed? Where are you looking? The ground, the ceiling? At the person speaking? How aware of your body are you? Take the time to reflect on these things at various points during the day. It doesn’t take long. Just check in with yourself.
Try standing feet hip width apart, feet parallel, going directly ahead of you. Knees soft, not bent or locked. A sense of widening across your hips and shoulders. Spine lengthening up to the ceiling and shoulders dropping down your back. Arms gentle dropping dow your sides. Let’s call this position neutral. It may feel a little uncomfortable, if it does, its a sign that you don’t stand like this habitually which most of us don’t. In this position, however, you are ready. To speak, to move, to respond and to listen. You will be able to hear what’s going on with a much greater understanding. This position allows your breath to flow with greater fluidity making it easier for those messages to reach your brain. Try the opposite. Try standing feet together, knees locked, buttocks clenched, shoulders hunched, hands making tight fists and head stuck forward. Bring you attention to your breath? How does it feel? Shallow? Tight? Restricted?
Now soften all these things and find that neutral position. Check your breath now. It should feel softer and easier.
The Mechanics of Breathing
What do you actually know about breathing? More specifically what do you know about the way you breath? The above exercise should enlighten you as to the way a constricted body stops us breathing effectively. Bring you attention to your breath. If it helps, lie down on the floor. See the image below.
You may what to put a yoga mat beneath you, but ideally you are lying on a solid surface such as the floor. Your head needs to be slightly raised in order to have alignment through your spine and neck. A book or a yoga block are useful. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees hip width apart and pointing up the ceiling. This position flattens your back into the floor. Your hands can rest on your stomach or by your sides.
Bring you attention to the centre of your torso, How much can you feel the air travelling in and out? Are you sucking, or dragging or pulling big gulps of air or are you taking very small breaths? Take a look at this picture below.
How much can you feel you abdomen expanding as your breath in? What is the quality of this movement? Is sharp and forceful? is subtle and soft? Take your attention to the out breath. Are you pushing out powerfully, or is it quite weak? Imagine your diaphragm within your body? Imagine it like a jelly fish, floating on the tide. It contracts downwards as your breath in and relaxes upwards as your breath out. Try not to change it or alter it, find this gentle rhythm.
We have two groups of muscles that we use when we breath. Primary muscles (essential for full breathing) and Secondary muscles. The primary muscles sit lower in the torso and do most of the bulk of the work. These muscles are generally large and strong as they must work over 22,000 times each day. The diaphragm is in this group of muscles and like the heart, works relentlessly without fatigue. The secondary muscles are higher in the body and act as auxiliary helpers. They give us adaptability in the way that we breath. These muscles are smaller and more delicate. They can act powerfully for short periods of time, such as catching your breath after running fast. They tire easily and quickly.
With modern living and work conditions we quite often neglect to keep these primary muscles in good shape in order to maintain good breath support. There are those, who do actively work the abdominal muscles when it comes to exercises, but their is preference in society for men and women to have toned flat stomachs and stomach crunches are quite oftened practiced to achieve this. The problem with working the muscle group in that way, is that it is actually restricting the muscles. We need strength and flexibility, which is why yoga or pilates is a much better exercise to practice for improved flexibility, strength and breath support.
Good breath support will enable you to receive information better as well as speak with greater clarity.
Take your Time
A huge factor that effects our ability to receive information, is the fast paced cycles of living that we are placed in. Our minds are a huge vat of soup, with all sorts of ingredients floating through them. Deadlines, childcare, loved ones, meetings, emails, appointments and people. In her opening chapter of her book Presence, Patsy Rodenburg (Voice coach, Theatre Director and Writer) tells us how anthropologists research shows us that we really only capable on connecting with 400 people in our lifetime. If you apply this to modern, urban living, it is clear that we could easily come into contact with 400 people in a day. Then there are online platforms in which we receive information about others. Social Media is a wonderful things but we know that while we have increased connectivity, our appetites from human contact and communication are possibly not fulfilled. We increasingly feel removed and lonely.
It is not always possible to reduce the amount of people you come into contact with in a day. However, it is possible to switch off. Turn off your phone for an hour everyday and do something you love. It could be reading, or writing or crocheting a new hat. When meeting friends, place you phone on silent and keep it in your pocket or bag. When it comes to eating, leave you phone in another room. While it may not reduce the people you are coming into contact with, or the pressures of your time, it will make you feel more present. Part of the process in slowing things down is allowing yourself to take your time.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher and Storyteller based in South Manchester. to find out more about her work, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk.
Your mouth goes dry. Your legs start to shake. The butterflies are fluttering in your stomach. It’s today. In ten minutes, you are going to stand up in a room full of 25 colleagues and give the report and findings of the last 6 months of work. Your boss is there. Her boss is there and his boss is there too. All the nights you’ve worked late, missing drinks with friends or skipping bedtime stories with your children. The extra work at weekends missing birthdays and barbecues, it all culminates in this 15 minute presentation. What if people don’t listen? What if I sound really boring? What if i go really high pitch or forget what I’m saying? What if my voice let’s me down?
These are common thoughts and feelings that nearly everyone has before they stand up to speak in public. Usually publicly speaking is a reserve or when the odds are quite high. Making a sale, feeding back to a board or making a speech at a Wedding. They are moments when we want to feel most connected to ourselves and our audiences. These are moments when we want to feel authentic and accessible. The pressure we put on ourselves to deliver a ground breaking speech worthy of an Oscar is incredibly high and often understandable.
Here are a few ideas to help you combat those nerves and feel ready to connect.
1. Breath. Breath. Breath and Breath again.
Those butterflies are more then just strange fluttering feelings. Those knots in your stomach are directly effecting your muscles that control your breath. Your diaphragm needs to be able to drop down into your torso like a parachute filling with air or a jellyfish moving through water. If you are finding that your stomach feels tight and uncomfortable or uneasy, the just take a few minutes to focus on your breath and think of it filling your body from the ground up.
2. Find your feet.
What are you feet doing? Are they providing a secure platform on which your body can rest upon? Are you rocking through your feet in an agitated manner? Or are you putting all your weight back into your heels?
Take a breath. Close your eyes if you can or it helps. Imagine you are stood on a sandy beach in barefoot. The sand is warm and golden and dry. It shifts to accommodate a footprint of each of your feet. Your toes, the balls of each foot , through the arches and back through the heel. Feel the sand supporting your weight and giving your foot as much contact with the ground as possible.
3. How am I stood?
Are you stood with your shoulders hunched forward. Are your legs as close far apart? Are your buttocks clenched? Are you tensing your jaw? Are you locking your knees?
Take a breath. Bring your feet to hip width apart, your knees soft. Imaging your have a light travelling all the way up your spine from your tailbone to your head. As the light passes through each vertebra, it creates warm pockets of light and space in between each one. From the tailbone, to the small of the back, up through the arch to the middle of the back. Up in between the shoulder blades, into the neck, head and beyond. Feel your shoulders and your buttocks gently letting go and dropping down the back of your body. Imagine the light travelling through your jaw creating space between your teeth.
4. Mind the the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.
Some students tell me they quite often trip over their words or under up feeling that they are rushing and enunciating badly. A good way to combat this is to look to give yourself time to warm up before a presentation. It could be your car on they way to work, or before you leave the house or in a quiet corner of your building. Tongue twisters are an excellent tool for getting you mouth and teeth moving. Tip is to not rush them and do lots of different ones. Take the time to really get your moth around the words. These exercises also help to move the sound forward to the front of the mouth. Try this one:
What a to-do to die today, at a minute or two to two;
A thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo, at twenty to two,
A rat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tattoo.
And a dragon will come when he hears the drum,
At a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two.
5. Breath. Again. Seriously.
I believe the number one tool to combatting nerves is to observe the breath. You will breath in and out until your die. Its a reliable mechanism and if you cultivate a positive mental attitude towards your breath it will support you back. Your breath needs space and respect to flourish. If your suck and out the in breath, the muscles which should support your stomach will be neglected or overworked. if you push the air out to hard, you’ll find that you run out of steam quickly and will suffer fatigue and vocal clumsiness.
Take your time. Observe the flow of breath in and out of your body. Only speak when you feel comfortable and assured by the certainty of breath.
Follow the link below to hear comedienne Jo Brand talk through dealing with nerves.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk
Watching the Team GB race in the men’s team pursuit and win gold was magnificent. The atmosphere in the Velódromo Municipal do Rio was electrifying as the the cycling team whizzed round battling it out with Australia. Not only did Bradley Wiggins make history by coming the first British athlete to pick up 8 Olympic medals, but they also achieved a new world record time. Day seven at the Rio Olympics was an exciting one with Team GB picking up medals in rowing, dressage, trampolining and swimming.
However the GB cycling team is the one to watch with the women also beating the world record in the qualifying stages of the women’s team persuit. What are this remarkable teams secrets to success? Sir David Brailsford, Director of UK cycling introduced the simple concept of marginal gains. By making small changes (however small), one could improve their overall performance. This concept was introduced to me by Dr Chris Whitaker. What struck my was that this concept developed by Brailsford is actually entirely the process of voice work.
Brailsford explains the idea of marginal gains to the BBC in 2012:
“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together…They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”
As a voice teacher, my job is to help you attain the voice that you feel more comfortable and confident in. We do this through looking at everything that effects the way you speak. Your Breath, Posture, Muscularity, Resonance, Accent and Pitch. We then explore any patterns that feature in any of these different areas. For example we might discover that you slightly pause before breathing in. After working through exercises that explore and lift your vocal stamina we then slowly build all this different work together and you discover a more authentic voice.
The Olympics are exceptionally inspiring to watch and it’s easy to think that winning Gold is down to the work of the individual, but they all have coaches helping them achieve the physical prime.
So maybe you are looking to improve your presentations skills, or you diction? Maybe your hoping to lift you general performance in the work place. Voice work will help you to unlock potential and find authenticity in the way you communicate. Looking for some starting points? This post on Public Speaking: Preparation-Warming Up is as good as any.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk