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Presentation Skills: caring for your voice

When You're Presenting, Your Voice Can Be Your Most Important Tool.
Here Are Five Tips On How To Care For Your Speaking Voice.

Your voice is a powerful but delicate instrument. With the right care, you can both protect your voice and use it to your best advantage. Start by caring for your voice with this five-step approach.

One: Breathe deeply.
You can speak only as well as you breathe. The voice, after all, is a wind instrument. You need to supply it with ample air in order to power your talk. Before getting up to speak, find a place where you can pause quietly for awhile. Do a few breathing exercises. Take deep (diaphragmatic) breaths to supply your voice with air.

Beginning speakers often hurt their voices because they aren't breathing deeply enough. When you breathe in, your stomach should push out. When you breathe out, your stomach should push in. Place your hand on your stomach when you're practicing your presentation. See if you're bringing air all the way down into your diaphragm.

Breathe deeply even as you make your way to the front of the room. Pause for a few seconds and breathe as you look around the room. Taking even one additional deep breath will help your air supply and give your voice more support.

Two: Learn to relax.
Tension in your upper body diminishes the power of your voice and can cause hoarseness. Over time, it can adversely affect your throat and can lead to vocal chord damage that is sometimes serious enough to require surgical repair. Through vocal warm-up exercises, you reduce tension in your shoulders, neck, and throat. As you exercise, allow your body to breathe naturally. Relax your body and let whatever tautness is there flow out each time you exhale.

Three: Condition your voice.
Try some tender loving care on your voice. Try gargling, which helps assure that your voice is in the best possible condition. This is especially helpful if you happen to have a cold on the day you're presenting. A teaspoonful of salt and a teaspoonful of baking soda dissolved in a cup of warm water make a simple solution that will wash away phlegm, allergens, and other irritants. After you gargle, coat and soothe your throat with a cup of herbal tea or decaffeinated tea, with plenty of honey.

Four: Hydrate.
Drink plenty of water before and during your talk. Talking for long periods can dry out your vocal apparatus, making it more prone to damage and fatigue.

Avoid foods and beverages that impair your voice.

Avoid spicy foods, which can increase the production of stomach acids.

Avoid alcohol, which dehydrates. Alcohol, of course, can also impair your performance (not to mention your judgment.) And avoid caffeine, which also dehydrates. Besides, it's a diuretic, and as such can cause other problems.

Be aware of any medications you may be taking, such as allergy pills, which can dry out your throat. If you must take your medications without exception, it becomes even more important to hydrate before you speak.

Five: Empower Your Voice.
There are several ways you can do this. One of the best things you can do is get a good night's sleep. You'll have more vocal energy and will avoid sounding tired.

Once you've begun speaking, open your mouth wide. You can't have a big sound unless, to put it bluntly, you have a "big mouth." And do use large gestures. Besides helping you to emphasize a point, large gestures from your shoulders actually reduce upper body tension and empower your voice.

For more info on caring for your voice, read our article Your Voice Is A Precious Instrument.

This Issue

To learn how to use your voice to your best advantage, attend our presentation skills seminar, Executive Presentations. You'll learn delivery techniques, body language do's and don'ts, how to structure and pull together a winning presentation, and lots more.

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