This is the second installment in a four-part series of practices for effective verbal communication. You can read the first installment here.
While studying effective communicators and their presentations, I discovered something that is consistent from speaker to speaker: posture. Posture is an important part of effective communication, no matter if you are standing or seated. It is important for this reason- all of the vocal structures require space and support to work effectively and to sound as rich and full as possible. And the only way to create space around the vocal system is to practice an extended posture.
By extended posture, again whether standing or seated, I mean a posture that extends your spine toward the ceiling and propels your shoulders up and back; this opens up needed space for your lungs, diaphragm, and vocal muscles to function freely and without restriction.
We have all heard speakers whose voice sounds soft, or raspy, or ‘light’; these qualities are generally perceived to lack authority and sincerity, are not always taken seriously, and may result in the general feeling of timidity. Generally, these vocal qualities can be improved by proper posture; let me explain…
A) Stand or sit TALL. Extend your spine toward the ceiling, as if a strong thread was woven through your spins from your pelvis, and extended past the ceiling through a tiny opening in the top of your head. Stand tall toward the ceiling; sit tall and forward in your chair. Sometimes, as your lungs react to the new space, this posture may make you feel as if you need to cough. Also, it may make your shoulders droop a little, but don’t let them….
B) Shoulders up and back. Once your spine is extended, a gentle lift of your shoulders combined with a slight rearward motion will free space for your lungs and vocal muscles to work. However, this technique will only work if your spine is extended. If you practice this way without proper spinal extension, your voice may sound stronger, but will tend to have a throaty quality to it.
C) Breathe. Breathing is an important part of posture; however, when concentrating on breathing, our breathing may take on an unnatural pace and rhythm. So regular rehearsal of this posture combined with proper breathing will be necessary so it becomes second nature to you. Nobody wants to see you rehearse; everyone wants to see (and hear) you communicate with authority.
When you inhale with proper posture, an early tendency might be to let your shoulders, neck, and head rise with the inhalation process. Guard against this; it does nothing to increase your lung capacity or strength, and makes you look silly. When you inhale, think about expanding the bottom portions of your lungs, down by the diaphragm. A deep breath should make your belly rise and fall, not your shoulders. Again, this exercise should become part of your everyday communications routine. And yes, it is more difficult when seated; but it is not impossible.
Whether you are in a board meeting, a counseling session, presenting the next Tedx keynote or playing cards with the neighbors, these techniques can help you sound more authoritative, more resonant, and will give you a generally more pleasant voice.
The third installment in this series is Pronunciation.