RedElf (Elle Fredine), photographer, published author, educator, with over thirty years experience directing and designing for theater
Speaking is a Necessary, Essential Skill for Performers
Learning to speak well is an essential skill if you wish to be a performer unless, of course, you dream of following in the slippers of Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime. Anyone who wishes to pursue a career on stage, or in front of a class, would do well to learn how to use their basic instrument - their voice.
While thumbing through the course calendar one Fall looking for an interesting and useful class to round out my timetable, I was attracted to a description of a single term class 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, presentation skills, group and solo projects, and, best of all, was open to all faculties. As an undergraduate student in the Education program, this was music to my ears.
"What a great course for a student teacher," I thought.
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Can Class on Public Speaking be Fun?
It did turn out to be a great course for a student teacher, but it certainly wasn't at all what I thought it would be. There were quite a few Drama students signed up, far more than 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" than towards 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.
I threw myself into the projects with dogged determination, logging many hours of after-class rehearsal and preparation to memorize speeches and help choreograph the multi-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 I wasn't "enjoying the class".
Internally, I was dumbfounded but I had long since learned to school my features to reveal very little when dealing with faculty staff. They took it badly when a student fell on the floor hooting with laughter, or answered one of their suggestions with "Say, what?!" I dutifully expressed my gratitude for her enlightening remarks, and reassured her I would indeed endeavor to "have more fun" with the remainder of the class. She was pleased with my response.
She wanted me to enjoy the class? I was fully prepared to work my butt off, but this woman 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 to do. The expression "Go big or go home" became my motto. I stopped putting so much into preparation, and began to concentrate more of my efforts on the performance aspect of the projects.
"Well, of course - It's a performance oriented class," you might say...and you would be right. My training though, as a future educator, was on communicating content, with a heavy emphasis on the content, and not on the communicating part of the transaction. Changing this focus was a major paradigm shift.
Changing Your Attitude Can Improve Your Courses
In the end, I did get a lot more out of the class, and I did actually enjoy myself. It's all in how you set your mind.
One of the tools that helped me was watching the videos of the group projects. Most of my classmates were experiencing the shock of hearing themselves as others heard them for the first time - and it can be quite a shock. As a singer, I was already used to hearing my 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 the first-hearing shock, I could listen to my voice objectively. I could hear where my enunciation wasn't clear, and where I needed to vary the pitch, the rhythm, and raise or lower the inflection.
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How Does Your Voice Sound to Someone Else?
One of the first things you need to do to in improving your speaking voice is to actually hear how you sound. Others hear us mainly through their ears, and a very little through their head bones. When we hear ourselves speak, we are in fact hearing our voice resonating inside our own head - inside our oral, nasal, and sinus cavities - as well as hearing it with our ears.
Next time you have a cold, and your head is all stuffed up, listen to how different your voice 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. Many of us are a bit mike-shy, so it is well that there is a way to reproduce this effect without 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 than a 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 flatten your ear, nor close off the opening entirely - leave a small opening. Speak the same sentence while cupping your ear.
Hear the difference?
That should give you a pretty fair idea of what you sound like to others. This is also very useful when you are singing, to check your pitch.
Hearing your voice as others hear it, once you get over the strangeness, allows you to hear 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.
Help With Speaking Clearly...
One of the easiest ways to improve your speaking voice is to improve your clarity of speech. Often referred to as "diction", your enunciation, the way you form your words, says a lot about you. Regional accents aside, when you speak clearly, people can follow your message more easily.
A Helpful Exercise
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 clarify your 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 be instructed to keep their eyes closed, and the leader should use a firm, clear tone and persevere to the end. Try the exercise once and you will understand what I mean.
To test your enunciation before doing the exercise, read a few sentences from a book, or from anything you have at hand - the text printed on the back of a cereal box will do.
- Open your mouth with your lips and teeth slightly apart
- Stick your tongue out as far as you can without straining - your tongue will remain stuck out for the entire exercise
- Beginning with the letter "A", pronounce the letters of the alphabet as clearly as possible, in sequence, adding a letter to the sequence with each repetition: "A", "A,B", "A,B,C", "A,B,C,D", "A,B,C,D,E", and so on 'til you speak the entire alphabet with the last repetition
- Retract your tongue to its normal position, and, as quickly as you can, repeat the entire alphabet once more, opening your mouth and stretching your lips to over-enunciate each letter in an exaggerated manner
Two Tongue Twisters
Using Tongue Twisters to Improve Diction and Enunciation
Now that you have finished your warm-up, re-read the same passage. You will be amazed at how clear and crisp you will sound, compared to your first efforts.
Another way to accomplish this is to repeat tongue twisters and nonsense rhymes. Any simple poetry will do the trick, though, as long as it requires you to repeat similar words or phrases. Tongue twisters can be great fun to try and say as quickly and clearly as possible.
She sells seashells by the seashore, but the seashells she sells are seashells no more.
I'm not sure why the seashells are seashells no more, but that really isn't the object of the exercise.
Misty, moisty was the morn, dreary was the weather, when I met an old man dressed all in leather;
Dressed all in leather against the snow and rain, with "How do you do?", and "How do you do?", and "How do you do?" again;
With "How do you do?", and "How do you do?", and "How do you do?" again.
This second piece is for enunciation as much as speed - the repeated greeting is quite a workout for the lips, if the words are pronounced correctly and distinctly.
Slowing Down Improves Your Speech
Another way to improve your speaking voice, is to make an effort to speak more slowly, especially when trying to impart information.
Most of us, especially North Americans, tend to speak very quickly - too quickly for ease of communication.
Speaking more slowly will have two effects - it will make you more intelligible, more easily understood, and it can lend more importance to what you are saying. Think about it - this technique is often used by actors to convey a significant plot point, or push home a particular feeling.
I don't recommend speaking slowly as a habit though, for you will begin to sound as if you are constantly making "pronouncements" rather than speaking, and, after all, it is only one of the techniques at your disposal.
Sing, Sing, Sing to Develop Your Speaking Voice
Another technique to develop your speaking voice is to sing - that's right, sing! Singing opens your throat and causes you to listen to the pitch and rhythm of the sounds you are producing. This kind of exercise will also help you develop your ability to hear the variations, or lack of them, in your speaking voice.
Rather than singing a song though, go back to the sentence or two you spoke when you cupped your hand around your ear to really hear your voice, or grab that cereal box again, and sing the sentences. Use any tune you like or just chant the words on the same note.
Will Singing Feel Funny At First?
This probably feels a bit silly because we're not used to bursting forth in song as if we were characters in a musical. Give it a shot though, and listen to your voice. Sing a few of the words more quickly than the rest, and then sing the next few more slowly. Sing the sentences again, first in a high voice, and then in a low voice.
Now, speak the sentences in the same ways that you sang them. Listen to the variations in your voice as you speak the words more slowly, and then more quickly, and again as you vary the pitch of your voice from high to low as if you were still singing the words.
This kind of vocalization stretches and improves your speaking voice in the same way as it does your singing voice.
When To Breathe and How to Breathe Properly
Singing not only stretches your voice, it can help improve your breathing. While singing, you take a deep breath to sustain each musical phrase to its end. Sustaining each phrase, or thought, to its end helps make sense of the words you are singing.
Sing a verse or two of a familiar song as you would normally expect to hear it. Now repeat the song, but instead of stopping to breathe at the end of each phrase, try stopping for a breath in the middle of each line. You can hear how this artificially breaks up the lyrics, the thoughts of the song, so that it soon begins to sound nonsensical.
Phrasing is important not only for singers but for speaking as well.
Useful Technique For Speaking
You can also use this technique when you speak. Each sentence or phrase is a thought, or an idea. Pausing for breath at the end of a phrase or thought makes the sense of what we are saying very clear. Breaking your phrases in mid-thought can begin to erode the sense of what you are saying. As well, sustaining a sentence or phrase through to its end keeps your voice from trailing off before the thought is finished, which can make you sound vague or weak.
Breathing properly, especially taking a few deep breaths before you begin speaking, can also relax you. This will automatically drop your pitch and reduce any signs of nervousness such as voice tremors.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Of course, any program of self-improvement requires that you actually practice these exercises. They will feel odd at first - Oh, all right! Some of them will feel downright silly! They will, however, in the long run, help you to improve your speaking voice.
Not just for public speaking!
Some other useful hubs on Theatre...
- Directing For The Theater: The Basics - It All Begins With The Play
So you want to direct Broadway show? Well, working with your actors is only part of the picture. You must first deal with script analysis; character analysis; set, props costume, lighting and sound design; and a mountain of other details before any a
© 2010 RedElf
RedElf (author) from Canada on February 22, 2014:
Thanks so much! It helps to have a good voice to start with, but we can all improve from wherever we are right now.
RedElf (author) from Canada on May 17, 2012:
You are most welcome, cablemanagements, and good luck. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.
S K Sinha from India on May 07, 2012:
Great Hub ! My most of the time goes with training a team on different IT and Management modules and I am successful in that but I am never satisfied with my voice. Trainees love to listen me because my approach is different but not at all to my voice. I never mastered that... your article may give me another motivation to rectify myself. Thanks !
RedElf (author) from Canada on March 28, 2012:
Thanks so much, RTalloni, and you are so right about how we present ourselves through our speech having such an impact on how we are perceived. Glad you enjoyed the hub!
RTalloni on March 26, 2012:
Great opening to an interesting hub--"She was pleased with my response." :)
Thanks for sharing some of what you learned in the class and offering us these exercises to enhance enunciation. Developing our speaking voice really is important for everyone, not just drama students. Thoughtless diction can indicate self-satisfaction to a prospective employer, disrespect to family and friends, and it reflects on more than just our character--even representing us as less educated than we really are. Great hub!
RedElf (author) from Canada on February 17, 2012:
Shayani, with practice and using relaxation techniques, you can and will release that deep, full voice.
What is it that releases it when you sing? You said you "sing with all your heart" - can you make that kind of deep connection with your character?
When you sing with all your heart, you are not nervous or stressed - you are totally connected with the act of singing. Think about how you FEEL when you sing and see if you can apply those feelings (and that relaxed state) to your scene work.
RedElf (author) from Canada on February 17, 2012:
Thanks, Jess. It's so easy to do the same-old, same-old - it's always great to change things up a bit.
shayani on February 14, 2012:
Wow, thanks for the info, I am in Intro to Performance and i need to improve enunciation and this is so helpful. I also have a question; when I sing , this deep full voice comes out when I just sing with all my heart. I like my voice then. But I am wodering whether I can bring this voice out when I perform my scene?
Jess on February 13, 2012:
Very good advice. I've been singing for years and found this to be a refreshing reminder of the dynamics of our voices.
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 31, 2012:
sabrani44, you are most welcome. The alphabet exercise is definitely a favorite of mine.
sabrani44 on January 31, 2012:
What an amazing hub! Great exercises that I will definitely have to try. Thanks so much for sharing.
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 06, 2012:
hoteltravel, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Welcome to HubPages! I believe we should all try to have as pleasing a voice as we possibly can. I was approaching the course like a typical education student - work hard, and figure out how to ace the course - not to enjoy the course. The prof was proven right in the end, though.
hoteltravel from Thailand on January 05, 2012:
Thanks for the great info! Whether one is aspiring to be a singer, actor, public speaker or just a normal person, it is always nice to have a pleasing voice. This hub gives hope to those with not-so-great voice. Your prof's comment that you need to enjoy the class is thought-provoking.
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 03, 2012:
jeyaramd, so glad you found some good information here.
jeyaramd from Mississauga, Ontario on January 01, 2012:
Performance over preparation is a great moto for business presentations as well. Its very relevant. I have garnered a lot of valuable information from just reading your hub. Thank you for sharing.
RedElf (author) from Canada on October 29, 2011:
Enlydia Listener, thanks so much for your comment. I hope some of these ideas work out for you - and not just at four in the morning :D
Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on October 29, 2011:
I'm really glad I found this today. I have difficulty speaking in front of people...even people I know, so the exercises might help. I did sing part of your article and found it to be quite fun. But maybe that is because I got up at four in the morning...and needed more sleep. (smile)
RedElf (author) from Canada on March 22, 2011:
Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, fmg! Nice to meet you!
funmontrealgirl from Montreal on March 21, 2011:
Must put this into practice. I would love to have a good voice.
RedElf (author) from Canada on February 25, 2011:
Thanks so much, kethyjewel. Welcome to HubPages.
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 28, 2011:
I have a naturally soft voice, and was handicapped by extreme shyness. Sounds like you overcame your soft-spokenness as well! Good for you.
Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on January 28, 2011:
Very nice article. I wish I'd had something like this before I began to speak at company-wide meetings for clients! I have a very soft voice, and I had to learn to project it so everyone could hear what I was saying.
RedElf (author) from Canada on December 28, 2010:
Thanks so much for stopping by to comment. You made some great points about Toastmaster's, too! Thanks so much Pixienot!
Pixienot from Clarksville, Indiana on December 25, 2010:
RedElf, I was delighted in your article. Being new to hub pages I was unaware that you were a singer. Good for you! I loved what you had to say on "speaking" and you are right on!
I was a Toastmaster of Toastmaster International for several years.
I highly recommend this organization for anyone who truly wants to learn to speak in public and not have to be self conscious.
Of course we all are self-conscious in the beginning, but at TI we give our speech and then someone else evaluates us by pointing out our strengths, a weakness and another strength. Believe me, you can become a professional speaker if that is your desire.
I love speaking in public. Toastmaster's International gave me that avenue to discover my potential.
I enjoyed the entire article and chuckled at singing my words. Me, who was told from age seven, "Please stop singing." I sing for joy, but I know better than to try to sing in public, unless it is church. There - God has a great filter! Looking forward to reading more of your work.
RedElf (author) from Canada on October 24, 2010:
You certainly raise some good points about content, munirahmadmughal. Thanks for your comments.
munirahmadmughal from Lahore, Pakistan. on October 24, 2010:
"How To Develop Your Speaking Voice" is an excellent and informative hub. Voice is a great Divine gift. It is an instrumentality using many other instruments and the inner thoughts become open by menas of it. It is the environment, place, time and occasion that are to be kept in view in the matter of adjustment of high or low pitch. Physio-biological aspects are of great significance in this behalf but the reception of voice and its appreciation by the listners is the main thing. in other words how much is your voice impressive? Impressiveness will come when you speak the truth truthfully. Every word we utter has got an impact and that impact depends upon many open and hidden factors. Transitory impact created by false statement canot become a match of a permanent impact caused by ultimately proved true speech. Purpose of all voice is conveyance and conveyance is to inform another of some thing or some event. The grace and splendour in it lies in its truthfulness. A true voice is natural. An untrue voice is unntural. Others have problems, some of them express while others do not do that. If you speak the truth the impact will be providing solutions without asking. If you tell lie you will add to the miseries of mankind which is not befitting a human being who is the Crown creation of God on the earth. Our voice must be a call to bring boon and happiness to the fellow beings. A sincere word patches and heals while an insincere word tears and hurts the feeling. Dignity of mankind requires from the voice to voice for the repsect of human rights, removal of the economic disparities, bringing light of education to the remotest corner of the globe, provinding health an dmaking the atmosphere pollution free. Rule of law comes by democratic principles which are based on mutual consultation and participation in solving human problems. We must play our role honestly, sincerely and truthfully. It is our role which will develop our speaking voice.
May God Almighty bless all.
RedElf (author) from Canada on June 11, 2010:
You are too much! Thanks so much for the much-needed laugh!
epigramman on June 11, 2010:
I developed my speaking voice loudly , proudly, defiantly - yet with an open mind AFTER I was cleansed and baptized by your hubs!!!
RedElf (author) from Canada on March 27, 2010:
Thanks so much!
JoeyIntoci from New Jersey on March 27, 2010:
Great hub!!! :)
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 26, 2010:
Thanks so much, Enelle! I had a lot of fun working on it! I think you'll enjoy the singing exercises ;)
Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on January 26, 2010:
Some really great tips on improving your voice - excellent hub, well written and great layout! Thanks for the tips - I will definitely be trying them out!
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 25, 2010:
I've heard great things about Toastmasters. Several of my friends went and loved it!
Laura Deibel from Aurora, CO on January 25, 2010:
Good advice. I personally found Toastmasters to be of great free help in getting comfortable speaking in front of others. I tried this to learn to live with the "butterflies" before doing Orals at University and it *really* helped.
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 24, 2010:
Hey, Paradise7! Nice to see you again - so glad you liked this one, too.
Right on, Mike. I was on the debate teams in high school, too. Some were much better coached than others, but I learned a lot about persuading from those exchanges.
Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on January 24, 2010:
I nice hub on a topic close to my heart. In high school I took debate to help overcome a fear of public speaking, and I partnered with a fellow who had a rich, full, marvelous speaking voice. He won debates as much with the sound of his voice as with anything he said. I actually tried to imitate his speaking style and eventually found my own.
I don't speak in front of groups often any longer and sometimes lapse into monotone, but when I try, I can summon the spirit of that high school debater and win over a crowd.
I would also like to say that the ability to speak well in front of a group is a tremendous skill to posses, and will help in many career endeavors.
Thanks for posting, and I apologize for rambling about debate so much.
Paradise7 from Upstate New York on January 24, 2010:
Yep, I'm saving this one, too. Thanks, elf!
RedElf (author) from Canada on January 24, 2010:
Hey, ethel! I think almost everyone hates their speaking voice when they hear for the first time. It does take some getting used to. I first heard mine at age 12, decided I hated it, and set about changing it all on my own. It took me years, later in life, to undo the bad habits I unwittingly taught myself in my attempted make-over. Since then I have concentrated on improving the basic tool, rather than trying to sound like someone else. :)
Thanks, hypnodude. Dale Carnegie is fantastic - so is joining Toastmasters. Thanks so much for the boost!
Too true, GL. I find after so many years, I still don't like some things about my voice, but I am well-used to it ;)
You are most welcome, Hh. So nice of you to stop by and comment.
Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 24, 2010:
This was so interesting especially about all these technics. Thank you.
Hillary from Atlanta, GA on January 24, 2010:
You have some excellent advice here Redelf, particularly the part on breathing and content. I studied acting and public speaking for many years and although I found work, I still cringe at the sound of my own voice! Even when we develop good speech it's so easy to slip back into those bad habits.
Andrew from Italy on January 24, 2010:
This hub is great RedElf, not only how it is organized, but for its content too :).
I love public speaking, since I joined a class from Dale Carnegie's school. His book is something I recommend to everyone.
When I was at school I was pretty scared about talking in public: you know, red like a tomato, almost speechless, feeble voice, etc. So when I had a chance I went to this course and it has been great. It's true, a bit of public speaking can make wonders.
Very good hub, I love it. Rated, bookmarked and stumbled.
Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on January 24, 2010:
Interesting Hub. I hate the sound of my voice so may check out some of your tips. Have already treid the cupping of my ears whilst reading that part of this Hub. Yes you are right.