As you approach your vocal transformation, understand that we all have a voice that’s meant to be shared. Don’t allow yourself to be daunted by the work that lies ahead. Instead, imagine all that you can do with the power of voice in every area of your personal, professional, and public life.
It begins with building your confidence. Yes, I know, it’s easier said than done. As you will learn, even the biggest movie stars get stage fright, but they have tools in their toolbox to overcome it.
These deceptively simple practices may not be altogether new to you. They may even seem obvious.
Nevertheless, the more intentional you are about these practices, the more you will find that they center you. And being centered, for me, is the ultimate confidence booster.
Find your tribe or village and a mentor. Connect with those who make you feel safe enough to be your truest self.
Set realistic physical exercise and nutritional goals. Establish a routine of self-care, and verbally affirm yourself every day, because physical and mental wellness serve your instrument.
Surround yourself with natural beauty. Then commit to reading engrossing literature, listening to great music, and seeing inspiring artwork. These actions will take you out of your own head
Embrace the mistakes. Believe that when you fall it’s an education and not a punishment. It’s not a setback so much as it is a setup for success.
Be forgiving, kind, and gentle to the ones you love and, most of all, to yourself.
Tilling the Soil
Relaxation is the foundation for deep rib, diaphragmatic breathing. To achieve maximum results, commit to doing this exercise first thing every morning. It takes 3–5 minutes to complete. These simple steps will create a more relaxed and available body, from head to toe, on which to build the principles of breath, voice, and articulation:
Lie on the floor, flat on your back, with the back of your head propped easily on a one-and-a-half-inch-thick book and with your legs lifted and resting on the seat of an armless chair.
Make sure that the small of your back is connected to the floor and that the weight of your legs is being completely supported by the chair.
Now adjust your head on the book to ensure maximum distance between your earlobes and shoulders. Feel long through the neck and spine and wide across the chest.
Breathe gently and slowly through the nose. While breathing, bring attention to each part of your body, from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes.
Become aware of where tension is being held in your body. If it’s your head, rotate it gently from side to side. Or your shoulders? Wiggle them gently to initiate the release of tension.
With your awareness on each body part, gently rotate, wiggle, or shake free from the stress and tension that is being retained in your muscles and limbs. Be very thorough. There’s no rush.
Once you’ve finished, remain still and quiet, giving yourself permission to just be. Feel the weight of gravity connecting your head, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, back, and hips to the floor. Feel a similar connection of your thighs, knees, calves, ankles, and feet to the chair. Keep breathing deeply and effortlessly. Give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing. This moment of silence is golden.
Gently float your fingers to your head and begin to massage your face, sinuses, jaw, temples, forehead, and scalp.
Breathe as you physically and psychologically let go of the tension.
After a minute or two, release your hands down to both sides, palms facing up, and enjoy the peace and quiet of your mind.
Trauma Is a Bitch
Establishing relaxed breathing, the way the body was meant to breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, is essential to your vocal power. But you may be holding on to something huge, like past traumas, or simply the minor stresses of the day. Whatever it is constricting your body and preventing you from taking full advantage of a deep breath, no matter how large or small, it shows up in the body as tension. And tension is not your friend! So, let’s begin with ways to quiet the mind and relax.
Lying on your back on the floor, imagine that you are lying on the warm, crystal-like sands of a Caribbean beach. Notice the sunlight as it sparkles on the turquoise water. Feel the coconut suntan oil glide onto your skin. Hear the waves as they gently lap onto the shore, and smell the jasmine as it hangs in the humid air. Let the flavors of the tropics—the honeyed sweetness of mango and the refreshing tartness of passion fruit dissolve onto your tongue.
Really allow your imagination to go there. Imagine the sounds, the colors, the light breeze, and the warmth of the sun. Feel the beams of sunlight on each isolated portion of your body, from your head to the tips of your toes. Feel the heat from those rays melt away tension. Feel the solid mass of tension become liquid and flow into the ground beneath you.
As this heavy solid melts into liquid form and flows away, feel a light, airy breeze flowing through your body and dissolving any residual tension. You are feeling lighter, and you are also becoming Lighter . . . Brighter . . . Remain here for a few moments, basking in the sunlight. Then slowly roll over onto one side and come up into a sitting position.
Remain sitting for a moment or two, and wiggle your upper body to ensure that you are still relaxed. Begin to come to a standing position by hanging your upper body over from the waist and slowly rolling up as if you were stacking one vertebra on top of the other. Your head should come up last. Once standing, vigorously but gently shake out. Now settle in again . . . Take a deep breath . . . You are on your way . .
Hear What They’re Hearing
Now that we’ve addressed the physiological challenges that can lead to vocal distractions, let’s talk about the intellectual and emotional impediments.
Free yourself to take a more visceral approach to the images of the story. When you come across the word “blue,” what do you see? The sky? The ocean? A blue crayon? Simply seeing the word “blue” spelled out won’t cut it. You need an image to create an emotional connection and draw your attention out of your head and into the imaginative heart of the story. Color your narrative.
Take that speech, presentation, or piece of reportage and map out the images beforehand. Go through the written text and assign visuals to the most important verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Think about these images and how they make you feel. Develop a visceral connection to the story as you practice your speech in front of the mirror, in the shower, or in the car—wherever you feel most comfortable speaking out loud.
As always, remember to slow down and breathe! Take your time, using an entire breath for each thought, and a new deep breath will naturally emerge for every new thought.
When you get out of your head and take this more visceral approach to the story, enabling yourself to see the story, you will naturally connect to your authentic voice. When you have the visceral connection through imagery, along with the breath, all those other pesky vocal distractions will simply fall away.
I have some amazing life stories, as do you. When we tell them, we typically don’t have to be told to breathe, phrase, or stress the right words. We just do. However, when the setting is less spontaneous or we must speak truth to someone else’s words, the task becomes a bit more challenging. You must now remind yourself to breathe, to phrase, and to stress important words so that your delivery sounds authentic and extemporaneous. Your imagination is your secret weapon.
Find a monologue from a play that resonates with you. It can be a classical or contemporary piece. Visit the Monologuer at Backstage.com for suggestions.
Whatever passage you choose, be aware of the operative or important words of the story, such as verbs, nouns, and adjectives. They have the most value and should be appropriately stressed. Verbs and nouns typically require primary stress, and adjectives require secondary stress, depending on your interpretation.
Pay attention to how the story’s action is revealed in the verbs. Its characters, objects, and location are shared in the nouns. Adjectives describe the nouns.
Allow yourself to fully visualize these elements of language so that they become more than just words on a page.
Remember, the spoken word is vastly different from the written word. We write letters, words, and sentences, but we speak phonetic sounds, visual images, and thoughts.
Powers of Persuasion
Taking your voice and speech to that next level of powerful communication is often a matter of making a few effective adjustments to your tone. You may articulate the words to perfection, delivering thoughtful content that can certainly be understood on an intellectual level. But for your words to land with impact, the listener must receive the same bravado you had when you were rehearsing in the shower. How do you make a lasting impact on an audience? How do you elevate a speech to truly connect with your listeners? By setting an intention before you speak, bearing in mind the arc of your story, and practicing.
Use a short intention phrase with a powerful action verb to describe how you want to impact your audience.
Remember the arc of your story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Your intention phrase, particularly the verb, is at the core of your story and will give you the added power and vocal gravitas needed to impact your audience.
Practice your speech out loud, imagining the faces of your audience in all parts of the room. Find out if you will be delivering your speech behind a podium with a fixed mic or if you will be gracing the stage freely with a handheld mic. Either way, you should practice in a space that allows you to move freely but without excessive gestures. Also, find a prop, like a bottle of water, to simulate holding a handheld mic. It is imperative that your mouth remain close to the handheld mic at all times; you must never shift your head away from the mic.