Imagine being told to make gargoyle faces, to hum using different parts of your body, and to read Doctor Seuss tongue twisters aloud in a big empty room. This was my introduction to voice training.
The class was run by Ms Justene Knight, a Senior Consultant: Organisational Development, Human Resources at the University of South Australia. Standing before us she looked so comfortable and confident in her own body and voice – so it didn’t surprise me to learn that she had previously been an Actor.
We began by trying to pay more attention to our bodies as we stood there. With two hands on our bellies we practised breathing into our stomachs instead of into our chests (where people normally tend to breathe from). To find tension in our bodies we swung arms, rolled ankles and shook our legs. Justene got us noticing how different subtle postures could shorten our breath. Things like standing on your toes, lifting your shoulders or even curling your toes up can impact how grounded you feel and how your breath comes out.
And try this for an exercise! To help shift your voice from the back of your throat or up in your head – Pinch your nose closed and say,
“Hello, my name is _______ and I do _____________ for work.”
I bet you sounded pretty funny huh? Now try to do it and sound completely normal! No nasal sounding words at all ( I can get some words but not others).
Another great part was having to read a page from the Doctor Seuss story “Fox in Socks” aloud. We tried emphasising the consonants and then the vowels. We even mouthed the words without sound, and wow – that really makes you notice how much (or how little) your mouth moves when you speak. Apparently Australians are particularly bad at not opening or moving their mouths very much when we speak!
Some other tips Justene had for preparing for a talk or presentation were:
- If you can, find somewhere private to warm up your body (shoulder rolls/ankle rolls etc.), to warm up your face (scrunch it up and then relax it or mouth the first few lines of your talk), and finally your voice (hum a tune).
- Take a few slow deep breaths into your belly before you begin to speak.
- “Acknowledge the room”. Now this was more about taking in the size of the room you’re in. So look at the back wall and take in all the space in the room. This will help you to automatically project your voice to fill the space, instead of only talking to the front row (or your shoes).
- Too nervous to make eye contact? Look at their ears instead! Most people can’t tell.
- And if you forget a word or a sentence in your talk, just take a slow breathe and move on. It happens to everyone.
But my favourite part of the class was Justene telling us that feeling nervous or scared is utterly normal and to be expected. No, it isn’t a comfortable feeling by any standards. But that energy can help you give a better, and more interesting presentation.
So thank you Justene Knight for the brilliant class. I never would have through that such simple things like posture, tension in your body, or warming up the muscles in your face could actually change the sound and reach of your voice. And for anyone wondering if they should give voice training a go – yes do!