Freeing the Voice

If you can engage with Voice work, you can find yourself being liberated in ways that you could not imagine. Looking at someone’s voice beyond the mechanics, we can find the entire story of the individual. Where they came from. How they were formally educated. What their relationship is to the world around them. These things on there own are subtle nuances that encourage or limit self expression. However if you put them together they give us out vocal identity. It easy to bracket vocal identity off as something different and to that as the rest of your character.

Robert Ebert, a film critic who lost his lower Jaw due to cancer, said:-

I felt, and I still feel, a lot of distance from the human mainstream.’

Ebert talks of his struggle to connect with the world around him. In his 2011 TED talk Remaking my Voice, Ebert tells us “All my life I was a motormouth. Now I have spoken my last words, and I don’t even remember for sure what they were.” Ebert lost his voice over time, not in one moment. He wouldn’t have realised that the last words he spoke would be just that. It’s a good example of how we take our voices for granted.

Freeing your voice is freeing you sense of self.

Any vocal exercises you try are not simply a trip to the mechanics in which your voice is tinkered with, but they are a way of deeply exploring your identity. Plenty of people will make off the cuff remarks about how people should sound. Men should speak low and strongly. Women should speak softly and in a higher register. These concepts are rigid and destructive. Think of the images we are shown by the advertising industry of how men and women should look. Most people understand that these images do not broadly represent the diversity amongst how we all look and this is incredibly destructive. This is applicable to our interpretation of how people speak. Most people can think of a time when someone passed comment of their voice, normally its wrapped up in someones accent being inaudible. So people are mocked because of where they are from? ! This is clearly and totally unacceptable.

What’s also interesting is that people will often speak of their voice in a negative light. When we listen to a recording of our own voice, its common to recoil at how we sound. Like when you look at a photograph and you see all the things that you don’t like about the way you look. You are hyper vigilant in your observation of your flaws. Most of the world is not. There is a wealth of information to be read of quietening your inner critic. A good place to start though is just notice your voice. When you notice your voice, notice if you have judged it. If you have judged it, notice how that makes you feel. Now try and think about when you need your voice for something really important. It might be a presentation at school or work, it might be a eulogy at a funeral or it might be telling someone that you love them. We all want our voices to feel and sound authentic in those moments. Every time you cast a judgement on your voice, you are distancing yourself from being able to speak in an authentic manner.

Starting from today, start thinking of your voice as part of your identity. Start treating yourself with dignity and compassion. Start respecting yourself and pave the way for others to hear you.

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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

Public Speaking: Preparation-Warming Up

 

A lot of clients coming through my door are looking to develop stronger public speaking skills.

keep-calm-and-prepare-for-public-speaking-speaking-quote-1024x768The most important thing to do that most people miss out is warming up. Here is a list of five useful warm ups you can do before any presentation when time is short and space is limited. There are lots of different exercises when it comes to Voice work. These are just some of my favourites. Ideally you would do these exercises in the space you are working in but sometimes that isn’t always possible. Its a good idea to practice them at home and see which ones work for you.

Exercise: Body Scan
Time: 5 mins
Purpose: Allowing you to relax and feel settled in your body

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Imagine that you have a ball of light entering through the soles of your feet. Imagine the light is travelling through all of the foot and up into the ankle.
  3. Continue to imagine this light traveling up through the body soothing the muscles and easing the joints. Through your knees, upper legs. In an across your hips.
  4. All the way up through the spine and in and across the shoulders. Through you stomach, rib cage, all the way up to your collar bone.
  5. Up through your neck and over the top of your head. Down through the face.
  6. Take your time with this exercise and enjoy the sensation of your body feeling warmer and softer with the direction of lengthening and widening with this warm light.

Exercise: Grounding
Time: 5 Mins
Purpose: Helping you feel rooted into the floor

When giving a presentation, it is very easy to come off balance and feel uneasy on your feet. This exercise looks at helping your feet make as much contact with the floor as possible.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Begin by rocking gentle through your feet from toe to heel. As you do so imagine each part of your foot coming into contact with the floor. As you do, allow the movements to go so you are going forward onto your toes and backwards into your heel. Check that you and not holding your breath or tensing your upper body as you do this. Take your time.
  3. Now rock from side to side through your feet. From The out side of your feet to the inside. Again, check that you are not tensing your upper body.
  4. Now think about creating a circular movement as you move through your feet. From the outside to the toes, to the inside and then then heals. Make these movements nice and gentle. Reverse the circle the other way.
  5.  Place your feet back on the ground and imagine you are placing your feet into warm, soft mud. Imagine your feet creating a perfect foot print as your feet make full contact with the floor beneath them.

 

Exercise: Breath
Time: 10 minutes
Purpose: Settling down any nerves and connecting to breath support.

Mistakes are often made in public speaking due to poor breath support. Think of a time that you maybe stumbled over some words, or perhaps jumbled up a sentence. Its highly likely that these things happened due to poor breath support. This exercise encourages calm and a feel of connection with your breath.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Bring your attention to your stomach. If it helps place the palms of your hands there. See if you can feel you diaphragm moving in and out. Try not to force the breath, just bring your attention to it moving organically. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
  3.  Look for the moment that your in breath peaks and moves into the out breath. Look for the moment that the out breath melts into the in breath. Notice that this pattern is always there and you do not have to force it or suck breath in or push breath out.
  4. Imagine your breath is waves in the sea. The in breath is the wave coming back and peaking the out breath is the wave crashing over and spreading out in front of it. Think of those small waves at the beach. Think about the water spreading over the sand.
  5. On the next in breath, imagine the air filling all the way through your torso. First in travels down into the stomach and fills it with air, then through your chest.
  6.  As the breath turns into the out breath imagine that you are sending it out and filling the room with it. Don’t force the breath out. Just imagine it filling the whole room. Check that you haven’t tensed any part of your body as you do this
  7.  Repeat the last two steps.
  8. When you feel that you are comfortable with the above, make a long “s” sound like a snake. Repeat a few times.
  9.  Now move to a long ‘z’ sound like a bee. Repeat a few times.
  10.  Now a long ‘f’ sound like waves crashing on a beach. Repeat a few times.
  11.  Now a long ‘v’ sound like a aeroplane.

Exercise: Laughter
Time: 5 minutes
Purpose: To actively open up the throat and engage the voice box.

When giving a presentation or a performance, some people feel that their throat goes tight. The following exercise should help you combat this.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Bring your attention to the inside of your throat just above your collar bone.
  3.  Now start a giggling sound on a ‘Hee, Hee’ and a ‘Hoo Hoo”. Imagine these sounds a bouncing from the diaphragm. in the middle of your stomach.
  4.  Notice if you can feel your throat opening. its a subtle change but it is happening.
  5.  Once you feel it happen, continue to giggle and count from one to ten. Notice the throat opening on each number you giggle.
  6. Once you feel confident at this, alternate between counting and speaking and see if you can feel that same sense of expansion as your speak the number as when you giggle it.

 

Exercise: Chewing
Time: 3 minutes
Purpose. To gently warm up your face.

Poor diction and pronunciation of words, can be due to a lack of energy in the face. This exercise helps you wake up the muscles in your face.

  1.  Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Imagine you are chewing a soft sweet of chewing gum. Start moving your mouth in this way. As you do move the lips in all sorts of directions.
  3.  Now imagine that the sweet is growing in size as you chew making the movements bigger and bigger. as you do this try and keep your mouth closed.
  4.  Now exaggerate the movements so that you are wrinkling up your nose and rotating your jaw as you chew.
  5.  Include your eyes and your eyebrows. So that you scrunching up your face and opening it up while you chew.

So there you go, 5 quick exercises to help you warm up for a presentation. I hope you find them useful. You can modify them in a way that maybe more helpful for you and think about working with different images then the ones I’ve given. It can be hard to not feel a bit silly when doing voice work but it’s also unpleasant when presentations go wrong due to poor vocal stamina. Try and cultivate an attitude of non-judgement about yourself while working. Find out more about what I mean in How to Love your Voice.

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

How to Love Your Voice.

I have always struggled with calling myself an Elocution Teacher. I worry that it conjures up images of elitist communication captured in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw in the journey of Eliza Dolittle. I have always felt that it makes me sound like someone who was “fixing” someone and getting them to the “correct” way of speaking and behaving. Like I was some strict, straight backed authoritarian who would tell you right from wrong. This is a world away from the Voice work that I practice and actually seems like this is not a process in which you would learn to love your voice.

Elocution is merely ‘the art of careful public speaking, using clear pronunciation and good breathing to control the voice’ (Cambridge Dictionaries Online). When I look at this dictionary definition, I completely see that this is all incorporated in my voice work. However that is not the entirety of my practice as a Voice Teacher. There is an increasing awareness of authenticity in the way that we communicate. People want to feel like they are heard and communicate in a way that allows them to express themselves freely. They want their voices to be credible and ultimately they want to feel confident. Many of my students seem deeply unhappy with their voice. They are very hard on themselves and feel like their voice lets them down.

Here are just some of the ways I think we can improve our relationship with our voice.

  1. Your Voice is Your Friend

Easier said than done, but I really do believe that telling yourself how your voice should sound and what constitutes a good voice is actually very unhelpful. I always encourage my students to cultivate a mindset of non-judgement. Treat it like a best friend. You would forgive your friends for making small mistakes, you would be fair and you would listen. You would encourage. You wouldn’t call them boring or flat. Imagine your voice is your friend.

  1. Explore your voice with interest.

The elements of our body that we use to speak are fascinating. From your tongue to your diaphragm , your pelvic floor to your shoulders and your jaw to your toes, there is so much to explore. Imagine you are an adventurer who is off to unchartered lands, excited about what they might find.

  1. Listen to your voice.

Whether you are singing in the shower, calling to a mate across a busy road or preparing for a presentation, listen to your voice. With the spirit of non judgement you will hear so much wonderful stuff. I encourage students to find some time to read aloud every day. It might be poetry or the news or stories to your children. Anything. Just get used to the sound of your own voice. Think about it’s shape and colour. What do you like about it? What’s it like hearing yourself?

  1. Don’t let others tell you that your voice isn’t good enough.

This may seem counter intuitive for a voice teacher to be saying this, but I really believe that someone commenting on another person’s voice is really damaging and unhelpful. We wouldn’t pass comment on someone’s appearance or gender so why is it ok to pass comment of your voice? Your voice tells your story. Everywhere you’ve lived, how your mother talked to you, your personal and your professional life. You don’t pick the voice you have but with a bit of love, understanding and work, your voice can flourish and unfold.

  1. Have fun.

Coming at voice work with a sense of play is incredibly helpful. It’s really easy to feel embarrassed and let down by your voice, but what if you were a child discovering your voice for the first time? Find that sense of fun, allow yourself to be taken by surprise by your voice. Voice work can be very funny. It involves making strange sounds and pulling weird faces. It’s incredibly relaxing and rewarding but only if you are willing to have fun.

  1. Breathe

Your voice is as strong as the breath that carries your words to their listener. We regularly take our breathing for granted as supposed to marvelling at the fact that it is an amazing network of muscles, organs and tissue that work together to make our body function. We pick up some pretty unhelpful breathing habits throughout our life. Take some time to bring your attention to your breath. Notice the way it comes into your body. Notice the way the breath travels out. Find that moment when the in breath turns to out breath. You don’t need to tell your body to do this. You don’t need to control it or hold it or push it or suck the breath in. You will just breathe and provide your body with this incredible sense of flow. Each breath is giving you life. It’s the rhythm to which we all live by. It’s reliable and strong and full of opportunity and promise. It’s the foundations that your Voice is built upon.

Felicity Goodman is a Voice 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