Smiling, sticking your tongue out and breathing differently can all change the way you speak
From bedtime stories as young children, right through to adults in a business meeting, we feel safe with and believe speakers who have confident, relaxed and warm voices. But often in pressured work situations nerves get in the way and the voice coming out of our mouth sounds tense and tight.
Panic not. Here are five simple exercises to transform your voice easily so you can sound confident – even when you don’t feel it.
Exercise one: stick your tongue out
This is the simplest and the best single voice exercise. When we get nervous, or when we are tired, the back of the throat can tighten up. The tongue can even feel as if it’s being pulled backwards. This exercise will help you open your throat.
Stick your tongue out as far as you can and try to say the whole of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. Stick with me – this does work.
Now speak normally – you will notice that your voice feels stronger and more open, and often deeper and more resonant. Try this exercise before making a phone call. The person you are calling won’t have seen you sticking your tongue out.
Exercise two: push a wall
Stand and face a wall. Place both hands on the wall about shoulder height and push really hard, as if you’re trying to move the wall a couple of metres in the direction you’re pushing. This will release tension from your upper chest caused by nerves.
After pushing, stand normally and try counting aloud from one to 10. See how much more relaxed your voice sounds.
Exercise three: breathe
Sit forward on a chair with your hand on your lower stomach and, as you breathe in, try to breathe ‘into’ your hand. Try not to breathe into your upper chest but into your hand, almost as if you are making your stomach larger.
Breathe in for a count of three and then breathe out for a count of three. Do this three times. It takes 18 seconds.
In that time you will have lowered your heart rate – good for nerves – and aligned your breath with your emotional centre, which is located in your lower gut.
Try this the next time before you present – you’ll find your voice is calmer and more centred.
Exercise four: articulation
Having done your Humpty Dumpty tongue exercise, you can continue to ‘take your tongue to the gym’ with some articulation exercises.
Don’t try to make them sound conversational. Try to hit every sound, every consonant – almost over-articulate them. Then, when you have got your tongue around them, you can start to speed up. Here are a few but you can find plenty more online:
Round the ragged rock
The ragged rascal ran.
Betty bought a bit of butter
But she found the butter bitter,
So she bought a bit of better butter
To make the bitter butter better.
How much wood could a wood-chuck chuck,
If a wood-chuck could chuck wood?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream!
All I want is a proper cup of coffee
made in a proper copper coffee pot.
I may be off my dot, but I want a cup of coffee
in a proper coffee pot.
Exercise five: smiling
Smiling really does change the sound of your voice. If you don’t believe me, try recording yourself.
First, with a completely straight face, record yourself saying this sentence: ‘Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I’m glad you’ve all turned up as I’d feel pretty stupid if I were standing here talking to myself.’
Now try recording the same sentence with a smile on your face as you speak. As you listen back you should find that the one with a smile in the voice is more engaging and has more energy and variation of tone. There are occasions when smiling is not appropriate, of course, but it really does change the way you sound and the way the audience will react to you.
Ultimately, we want the audience to believe what we are saying and that means having a relaxed voice. Try these five exercises and see the different impact your voice can have at work.
Robin Kermode (one of Europe’s leading communication coaches).