The big day of your presentation is almost here and you’ve been doing your best to ensure everything goes as planned. You’ve prepared your PowerPoint slides, rehearsed your speech a hundred times, visualized yourself wowing the audience and them fawning over you (well maybe this is going a little overboard), and now you should be all set…right? Wrong. You forgot to prepare something major – your voice! For speakers, your voice is your most important instrument to communicate with the audience. Yet, it is often the one area neglected before giving a presentation. If singers prepare their voices before a performance, shouldn’t speakers do the same? Absolutely!
Here are five easy ways to cultivate your best speaking voice before you take the stage.
1. Get some Zzzs. Adequate rest is important for your overall health, in addition to your voice. Our voice, like the rest of our body, needs time to recover and get revitalized. Vocal wear and tear can gradually happen, and getting 7-8 hours of shuteye is an easy way to bring your voice back to optimal levels.
2. Exercise. Many people warm up their limbs in the morning by stretching, and you can also give your voice a little “workout.” Many speakers warm up their voices by humming, which get the vocal cords working. Tongue twisters are another great way to improve your diction, as they help strengthen the muscles involved in speech. A good one to try is “The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue.” See if you can say that a few times! Some speakers also take singing classes, as they are good for vocal strength training too.
3. Breathe. Breathing is just one of those things that…well…we don’t have to actually think about doing. We just do it. But you do need to be particularly aware of how you’re doing it when you’re a speaker. The way you breathe from your diaphragm, the major respiration muscle beneath the lungs, affects how your voice sounds. Taking full, deep breaths into your abdomen – instead of shallow chest breathing – will produce a more rich and resonant tone. Breathing from your diaphragm also helps your vocal cords avoid unnecessary strain, and brings down your heart rate. You can check out this excellent illustration by the Cleveland Clinic on the proper technique for diaphragmatic breathing.
4. Drink up. Cheers! Have a drink – of water. Take a lot of drinks of it, actually. Often, people (not just speakers) aren’t as hydrated as they should be. It’s important to drink water regularly throughout the day, and it should preferably be room temperature. Ice water can tighten or chill vocal cords. It’s also good to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks as they can make your throat dry. Alcohol in general is not a good idea since you want to maintain your train of thought. Carbonated or fizzy drinks can cause acid reflux and negatively impact your voice. There’s some debate around whether it’s ok to consume milk and other dairy items, as it’s said they create excess mucous which obstruct your vocal passages. To be on the safe side, you may want to avoid dairy right before you start speaking.
5. Say no to citrus. There’s no denying the health benefits of fruit, but from a vocal perspective – citrus fruits can be drying and irritate an already sore throat. Fruits that have a high water content like melons are the better option. A little lemon and honey added to water can be very soothing for your voice though. Even better when added to tea!
Your voice is a huge asset in helping you deliver your message in a powerful and memorable way. You don’t want to be memorable for the wrong reasons though! A little preparation and mindfulness will go a long way in ensuring your vocal quality.
What else would you add?