The Care and Feeding|
of the Professional Voice
by Diane DiResta
Whether it's the rich, resonant tones of Richard Burton, the breathiness of Marilyn Monroe or the nasality of Fran Drescher, the sound of the voice conjures up an image—an impression—and can influence perception.
"You should think of the sound of your voice as inhaling the words and letting them reflect in the space behind you. Vowels shape the voice. You inhale the sounds rather than projecting them."
Speakers know how to use the voice for effect but don't always use the voice effectively. This can cause a variety of illnesses which can prevent speakers from doing what they do best—speak.
One of the bigger problems for professional speakers is laryngopharyngeal reflux, an inflammation near the back part of the larynx due to acid rising to that point. Thirty-five million people in the United States have acid reflux.
"This inflammatory condition causes the vocal folds to function less efficiently leading to vocal fatigue and poor projection," states Dr. Thomas Murry, clinical director, professor of speech pathology in otolaryngology at the Voice and Swallowing Center of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Columbia University. Reflux is most common among speakers because so many speakers are on the go, stressed and may have poor diets. Being aware of the symptoms of reflux can help speakers take preventative steps to take care of the problem.
The big five symptoms are:
Preserving the Voice
Lovetri shares, "The key to vocal fitness is good breathing and relaxed but dynamic use of body parts. Most people don't breathe adequately. To project your voice, torque up your breath."
Twila Thompson, director of The Actors Institute in New York, concurs. "The voice is created in the breathing, not in your throat." She suggests that speakers, "Practice breathing into the belly, pushing it out like a balloon, holding it for five to 10 seconds, then letting air go out with a sound for five to 10 seconds."
Another method she recommends for maximizing the voice on stage is "connecting with the audience and having an intention to reach them with every word you say." Thompson advises, "What is your intention in giving the talk? Should they think differently, challenge something? Having that intention is more than 50 percent of the issue."
Len Cariou, actor, singer and Broadway star of Sweeny Todd, shares how he maximizes his voice by exercising the lower extremities. He says, "By contracting the legs and buttocks, it focuses the tension in the lower body and frees the speaker to sustain the voice and speak freely." Cariou says preparing the voice is also about articulation. "You should think of the sound of your voice as inhaling the words and letting them reflect in the space behind you. Vowels shape the voice. You inhale the sounds rather than projecting them. Good diction allows one to speak at any level of volume and be understood."
You don't have to sound like James Earl Jones to have vocal impact. What is important, according to Susan Berkley, the famous voice of "Thank you for using AT&T" and author of Speak to Influence, is vocal transparency. "The voiceover artists who make millions of dollars pitching products on television and radio do not necessarily do so because of the quality of their voice, but because they know how to take the voice they have to enhance the message of the copy writer. I call this quality 'vocal transparency.'" She explains, "To have vocal transparency, you must first have the best possible instrument you can, so there are no 'sticking points' when people listen. Then, take the focus off yourself and place it squarely on the most important part of all: your message and your affectionate contact with the audience."
Making a difference in the lives of your audience is done with your instrument—your voice. With proper breathing, voice training and vocal hygiene, your voice will be strong, healthy and you'll master true vocal power.
Diane DiResta is a New York State licensed and certified speech pathologist, speaker, coach and author of Knockout Presentations. Her company, DiResta Communications, Inc., works with organizations that want to communicate with greater impact in the marketplace and with individuals who want to communicate more clearly.
Copyright Diane DiResta. All Rights Reserved.
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