If you were competing in a sport or playing a musical instrument or singing on stage you would take care of your body and your instrument. You would do this by warming up and stretching your muscles or by practicing beforehand in the warm up room or by fine tuning your instrument (guitar, violin etc). Opera singers warm up their voices and get their deep breathing going before every performance.
Conversely most people before a presentation or speaking at conference just go on stage and speak and hope that everything is OK and will work. They assume that their voice is ready, that it will not quiver with nerves, that they won’t get a dry mouth and that their voice will just last for a full 90 minutes of a keynote speech. This is not the always the case.
When doing public speaking it is important to know that your voice is your instrument of your trade and should be warmed up, prepared and protected, the same as an athlete would prepare or an opera singer would prepare. Here are 6 tips to help you prepare your voice for your next public speaking assignment.
- Warm up. You should always warm your voice up before speaking, as a singer or actor would do. Simple exercises include humming, reciting a few tongue twisters and saying a few words that encourage you your mouth to open wide and move your jaw. Yawning is also a simple and quick way to warm up and loosen your jaw and tongue.
- Drink water. Importantly drink water a couple of hours before speaking to hydrate your vocal system, but also sip water during your presentation, especially if it is any length of time. I would always have water up front with me when speaking. A good time to sip water is when your audience is undertaking an activity or sharing with the person next to them or undertaking some other activity you have asked them to do.
- Don’t drink milk. Especially don’t drink milk, soy lattes, and flat whites if you have a nervous quiver in your voice. The milk protein can have the effect of coating the vocal apparatus and exacerbating the quiver or shake in the voice.
- Breathe deep. Many people when speaking use shallow breathing, just using the top half of the lungs. Good quality voice that resonates and requires less effort comes from diaphragmatic breathing, which is deep down in the lungs. This is the type of breathing that opera singers learn and use when singing. To conceptualise this, think of your lungs as a balloon. When you breathe in, the balloon should fill up. When you breathe out the balloon will deflate and collapse. To practice this, lie down and puts some books on your tummy. As you breathe in the books should rise, as you breathe out, the books should fall.
5. Use Tic Tac’s. Tic tac’s are really good for preventing dry mouth which may come about from nerves and anxiety. The tic tac gives us a fresh breath and promotes production of saliva, which moistens the mouth. The Tic Tac is small and does not interfere with our speaking or pronunciation.
6. Drink Pineapple juice or apple juice. Speech pathologists advise me to drink apple juice or pineapple juice before each presentation. This is what singers do and it lubricates and lessens the nervous quivers and the strain we put on our voices if we speak for a long time.