How to Develop Your Speaking Voice

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    How To Develop Your Speaking Voice:

    Exercises to Help Your Enunciation

    Learning to speak well is an essential skill if you wish to be a performer unless, ofcourse, you dream of following in the slippers of Marcel Marceau, the famous Frenchmime. Anyone who wishes to pursue a career on stage, or in front of a class, would dowell to learn how to use their basic instrument - their voice.

    While thumbing through the course calendar one Fall looking for an interesting anduseful class to round out my timetable, I was attracted to a description of a single termclass in public speaking. At least that's what it appeared to be from the write-up. Offered

    by the Drama Department, the course purported to cover vocal production, presentationskills, group and solo projects, and, best of all, was open to all faculties. As anundergraduate student in the Education program, this was music to my ears.

    "What a great course for a student teacher," I thought.

    Image from www.mbd2.com

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    It did turn out to be a great course for a student teacher, but it certainly wasn't at allwhat I thought it would be. There were quite a few Drama students signed up, far morethan there were of us - lowly student-teachers-in-training from the Education Faculty -so the professor decided to slant the class more in the direction of "performance" thantowards plain old public speaking, as advertised.

    Several of my fellow teaching colleagues withdrew after the first week, but I was never

    nothing if not stubborn. I wasn't prepared to give up on the class.

    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    I threw myself into the projects with dogged determination, logging many hours ofafter-class rehearsal and preparation to memorize speeches and help choreograph themulti-person movement pieces.

    Mid-term interviews came and though my marks were adequate, I wasn't prepared to

    hear what the prof had to say.

    She was concerned that I didn't seem to be "connecting with the material" and that Iwasn't "enjoying the class".

    Internally, I was dumbfounded but I had long since learned to school my features toreveal very little when dealing with faculty staff. They took it badly when a student fellon the floor hooting with laughter, or answered one of their suggestions with "Say,what?!" I dutifully expressed my gratitude for her enlightening remarks, and reassuredher I would indeed endeavor to "have more fun" with the remainder of the class. Shewas pleased with my response.

    She wanted me to enjoy the class? I was fully prepared to work my butt off, but thiswoman wanted me to enjoy myself.

    It took me a while to sort out what she meant, but it finally hit me - I knew what I had todo. The expression "Go big or go home" became my motto. I stopped putting so muchinto preparation, and began to concentrate more of my efforts on the performanceaspect of the projects.

    "Well, of course - It's a performance oriented class," you might say...and you would beright. My training though, as a future educator, was on communicating content, with aheavy emphasis on the content, and not on the communicatingpart of the transaction.Changing this focus was a major paradigm shift.

    In the end, I did get a lot more out of the class, and I did actually enjoy myself. It's all inhow you set your mind.

    One of the tools that helped me was watching the videos of the group projects. Most ofmy classmates were experiencing the shock of hearing themselves as others heard themfor the first time - and it can be quite a shock. As a singer, I was already used to hearingmy voice played back, from many rehearsal and recording sessions over the years, so I

    was able to concentrate on the visual aspect.

    As well, because of not experiencing thefirst-hearingshock, I could listen to my voiceobjectively. I could hear where my enunciation wasn't clear, and where I needed to varythe pitch, the rhythm, and raise or lower the inflection.

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    Path of sound waves in the ear - pages.cpsc.ucalgary.ca

    Vocal apparatus - cobweb.ecn.purdue.edu

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    Really Hearing Your Voice

    One of the first things you need to do to in improving your speaking voice is to actuallyhear how you sound. Others hear us mainly through their ears, and a very little throughtheir head bones. When we hear ourselves speak, we are in fact hearing our voiceresonating inside our own head - inside our oral, nasal, and sinus cavities - as well ashearing it with our ears.

    Next time you have a cold, and your head is all stuffed up, listen to how different yourvoice sounds. That's because there is very little space in which your voice can resonate,so it sounds very different from what you are used to hearing.

    To the rest of the world, our voices sound quite different from what we are used to

    hearing. We can easily verify this by speaking into a tape recorder and playing it back.

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    Many of us are a bit mike-shy, so it is well that there is a way to reproduce this effectwithout sticking a microphone under your nose and pressing the "Record" button.

    First, speak a sentence in a normal voice - say anything you like, but make it more thana few words. Read something from the back of a cereal box. Now, cup your hand

    around the back of your ear, and pull your ear forward with your hand. Do not flattenyour ear, nor close off the opening entirely - leave a small opening. Speak the samesentence while cupping your ear.

    Hear the difference?

    That should give you a pretty fair idea of what you sound like to others. This is alsovery useful when you are singing, to check your pitch.

    Hearing your voice as others hear it, once you get over the strangeness, allows you tohear changes in tone and pitch that you might not otherwise notice. If you can hear what

    your voice is doing, it is so much easier to change it.

    Speak Clearly...

    One of the easiest ways to improve your speaking voice is to improve your clarity ofspeech. Often referred to as "diction", yourenunciation, the way you form your words,says a lot about you. Regional accents aside, when you speak clearly, people can followyour message more easily.

    This exercise from that long-ago class is still my favorite warm-up. It works equally

    well for speaking or for singing to help limber up your lips and tongue, and to clarifyyour speech. I have since taught it to many of my own students, and they swear by it,too. The only draw-back to the exercise is that it is best performed in private.

    It can be used most successfully as a group warm-up as well, but everyone should beinstructed to keep their eyes closed, and the leader should use a firm, clear ton...