Be Heard: 4 Steps to a Clearer and Richer Voice
A lot of people tell me things like “I feel like my voice it too thin”, or “I feel like people don’t hear me in meetings”, or “I don’t sound as authoritative as I’d like”, or “I don’t have enough power or depth when I sing.”
I’ve compiled a few simple, but meaningful steps you can take in your daily life to help build a little strength and confidence so your voice will sound a little clearer and richer.
1) Find Your Feet
Bringing awareness to the bottoms of your feet touching the ground. This is a simple way to upright your posture, and gently activate your leg, abdominal and lower back muscles, while at the same time releasing your neck, chest and shoulder muscles. This creates more space in the body to allow for deeper inhales, and creates the strength and support we need on the exhale to create a more steady, clear, and robust sound.
When we operate from our low body we also feel more calm, balanced, open and fluid. Compare that to the anxiety, doubt, hurriedness, or stress we feel when we are stuck up in our shoulders, neck, and throat. Periodically noticing your feet touching the ground throughout the day will help you begin reset your mind/body connection, notice where you hold tension and help you release it, as well as help you feel more grounded and confident. Finding your feet before you have to speak or sing allows you to create a solid foundation and a strong voice from the ground up.
Step 1: Bring your attention to the bottoms of your feet touching the ground.
Step 2: Distribute the weight evenly between the balls and heels of your feet.
Notice how you’re already standing up a little straighter.
Step 4: Push your feet into the ground a little bit
Do you feel a little bit taller, and does your spine feels a little more spacious and less compressed?
Step 5: Keep some of your attention on your feet while you take 2 or 3 slow, deep breaths. See if you can inflate our belly a little when you inhale to encourage your shoulders to stay relaxed.
Doesn’t it feel good to stand up straight and breathe? 🙂
Step 6: Keep some of your attention on your feet while saying a sentence or two. If you’re not sure what to say, just read this sentence out loud.
How did it feel to speak in this posture? Was it a little easier? Did you forget about your feet once you added in the speaking part? What happened to your posture by the end of the sentence? Did it got back to its original slouchier shape? Go back to step 1 and repeat the sequence a few times and notice what changes to the ease of speaking and the quality and strength of your voice. Then add in Step 2.
2) Open Your Mouth
Although the sound of our voice originates in the throat, we do not control the voice with the throat. Inside your mouth there are hard things, like the teeth, jaw and hard palate, and there are squishy things, like the tongue and the soft palate. If we try to control the voice with the squishy things, our voice will quickly get tired, start to crack, feel weak or gravelly, quit working altogether, or otherwise do something to embarrass us or undermine our confidence or authority. To create a clear, resonant tone of voice, we need to essentially bounce the sound off of the bony things in our mouth, so it can launch out into the world. This requires an open mouth.
That’s not to say that the throat and tongue don’t have jobs. They change shape and move around depending on the consonant, vowel, volume, pitch, etc. This also doesn’t imply that the mouth will be open the same amount all the time. Different vowels require different amounts of space in the mouth, but we’ll talk about the details and nuances later. Most of us don’t realize that we’re barely opening our mouth at all, so for the purposes of what we are trying to accomplish today, simply noticing when and if your mouth is open will be enough.
Step 1: Stand in front of a mirror.
Step 2: Find your feet like you did above.
Step 3: Say “Hello, My Name is [ ___________].”
How fast did you say it? Did you mumble or were you clear? Did you feel lots of vibrations, work, or activity in your throat?
Step 4: Say the phrase again half as fast.
Did if feel easier? Did it sound clearer? Did you feel fewer vibrations, work or activity in your throat?
Step 5: Open your mouth approximately 2 inches from top to bottom.
Notice how weirdly big your mouth feels.
Step 6: Say the sentence again, very slowly, opening your mouth that big on every syllable. HEH-LOW, MAI, NAYM, ES….
That feels even weirder, right? Totally awkward and uncontrollable, yeah? Hang in there…we’re going somewhere good, I promise.
Step 7: Say the phrase one more time without thinking about how big your mouth is. Go nice and slow. Maybe smile a little.
Did it feel nice and easy and extra clear? Was your throat fairly relaxed and did it feel almost effortless to make the sounds?
Generally speaking, to create a clear, rich tone, you want the size of your mouth to be somewhere between your original delivery of the phrase in Step 1 of this exercise, and Forrest Gump telling his bus stop friend that he was running:
3) Inhale More Often
Breathing is a long and lengthy subject that we’ll dig into in later posts. For today, we’re going to bring attention to one simple aspect of breathing that will have an impact on the quality of your tone: Inhale More Often.
For creating a rich and clear tone, there are 4 good reasons to inhale more often:
- Your body creates sounds by moving air through your vocal chords. If no air goes in, no air comes out. Ergo, no sound is created.
- Oftentimes, when we feel we are running out of air as we sing or speak, we speed up and try to get all the words out as fast as we can. The problem with this approach is that not only do we end up running out of breath anyway, our words also trail off or fade away so we aren’t heard. On top of that, we start gripping the sound in our throat in an effort to regain control, which, as we learned above, will fatigue our voices, minimize our resonance, and completely undermine our control. The answer is not to rush through with what little air we have, but to instead give ourselves permission to take another breath.
- Breathing calms the nervous system, which helps us stay more relaxed and present. Every time you inhale, you get a little boost of “I’m fine. I can do this.” This makes us more confident going into the next sentence.
- Pausing for inhales helps us set the pace of what we’re saying, allowing us extra time and space to enunciate, as well as providing us with the time and space to be authentic and intentional with what we’re communicating.
Step 1: Find your feet.
Step 2: Read the following quote aloud.
“To find one’s center, and one’s own rhythm (of breathing, of moving, of being alone, and of being together with others) is the purpose, and the purpose is found in the process. This means the dropping of defenses, of body armor, of character armor, to become soft and pliant in one’s own inner being.”
Did you take a breath before you began? Probably not. Did you run out of breath somewhere along the way? Probably. Did you feel rushed or nervous? Maybe. Did you open your mouth? I doubt it. 😉
Step 4: Find your feet again.
Step 3: Read the following paragraph aloud, and breathe where prompted. (I suggest inhaling through your mouth for this exercise.)
[Inhale] “To find one’s center, and one’s own rhythm [inhale] (of breathing, of moving, of being alone, and of being together with others) is the purpose, [inhale] and the purpose is found in the process. [inhale] This means the dropping of defenses, [inhale] of body armor, [inhale] of character armor, [inhale] to become soft and pliant in one’s own inner being.”
It changes things to inhale more often, right? How did it change for you? Did you have more power? Were you more clear? Did you sound more confident or authoritative? What did you notice about the way the emphasis shifted? How hard was it to remember to inhale, even with the prompts? Did you feel more calm, relaxed or confident when you got to the end? Did you notice you were opening your mouth a little more without really thinking about it?
4) Slow Down
Our brain thinks at a rate of about 4 times faster than our mouth can speak. Imagine what will happen in that scenario when you are nervous or uncomfortable, and suddenly time completely warps around us. Believe it or not, when you slow down, you can say more. Why? Because it ties together the things we already discussed:
Find your feet:
When you slow down, you can take a moment to set up your posture and relax any muscles that are tight. You being from a place of feeling grounded and calm, while also creating more space to breathe. Because you’ll be nice and calm, you won’t fish around for filler words, like ‘uh’, ‘um’, ‘like’, etc, and you’ll get to your point in a more concise manner.
Open your mouth:
When we speak more slowly, we have more time to enunciate each syllable of each word. This allows the sound to resonate clearly out of our mouth and into the room. It also helps us pronounce everything more clearly, which enables the listener to understand us better.
Inhale more often:
Simply put, when you slow your pace, you have more time to inhale, and you don’t rush to the ends of phrases. You feel more calm and in control of what you are saying, and your voice comes out with less effort, and more authenticity, intention, spirit and color. Inhaling more often encourages us to slow down. Slowing down encourages us to inhale more often. Inhaling also reminds us to stand up straight. When we stand up straight, we have more confidence for opening our mouth. When we feel more confident, we speak a little more slowly and articulately. As these things continue to work together more and more, you will notice that your tone will continue to get clearer and richer.
Step 1: Set a timer for 20 seconds and read the above quote.
Were you able to fill the 20 seconds? Did 20 seconds go by quickly or feel like an eternity? Did you breathe? Did you open your mouth? Did you maintain your posture?
Step 2: Play with different lengths of time, and move the inhale prompts to different places.
How does the emphasis change? How is your posture affected?
Remember: Consistency Creates Consistency
There is an endless amount of information about how to speak more clearly and with more authority, and we could spend days and days digging into each of of these steps on it’s own. I hope though, that this has provided you with a simple, but meaningful way to start thinking about these things and get to building the voice you want.
To really get the clarity and richness you want, you’ll want to practice these steps regularly until they become muscles memory.
I’d love to hear about your experience with these exercises! Share your stories or questions in the comments, or email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org