In my dream society….

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.

Nerves and Public Speaking

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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/speaker/improve/fear/

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

 

Your Voice and Marginal Gains

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.

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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.

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Bradley Wiggins demonstrating a good vocal exercise in warming up the tongue and improving facial muscularity.

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

 

 

 

 

Women Speaking with Authority

Last week, Women’s hour had a section on women undergoing vocal coaching. Addressing the issue head on presenter Emma Barnett talks about how women ‘can face deeply held cultural prejudices about the tone and depth of their voice, reducing their ability to have authority’.

First of all, I think it is important to underline that your voice is incredibly unique and it tells the listener the story of your identity. Any work that looks at ‘changing’ the way you speak should be done sensitively. Your voice can be put through training where the power of the vocal identity carries you through and above any bad habits that you pick up along the way. Bad habits that we all have.

A good starting point to find strength in your voice, is believing you have strength in your voice.

Easier said then done. I recognise that saying this sentence is a bit like saying that ‘chocolate cake is bad for me and I shouldn’t eat it’, as though that is enough to stop you eating it. However with discipline and believing that you have a choice about how you view yourself, a healthy start to exploring your vocal identity is possible.
It can be incredibly hard to believe in what you’re saying if you are worried about how your voice is being received. It undermines any sense of clarity and conviction. Nerves are tricky things and can make our bodies do strange things. Butterflies in the stomach soon lead to a lack of breath support which, in turn, leads to being unable to send enough oxygen to the brain in order to deliver your thoughts into speech.

What if you walked into the next business meeting or presentation, utterly sound in the belief that you not only have a right to be heard, but that people want to hear what you are saying?

Engaging with voice training, will no doubt improve an individual’s vocal quality. However changing the status quo on who should speak and how they should speak is something we all have to take a collective responsibility for.

Now, where is that chocolate cake?

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07lfkj5?ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbc_radio_4&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=radio_and_music

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

 

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