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Fundamentals in Public Speaking

By Elizna Odendaal

This article focuses on the importance of voice integration in any form of public speaking and explores how to go about achieving optimal voice integration in order to attain confidence when speaking.

You might be asking yourself, what is voice integration and why is it important?  Voice integration is the correct use of the body and the voice as an integrated whole.  It entails the knowledge of the voice and the elements required to attain good voice and speech production.  Voice entails relaxation, correct body posture, breath, phonation, tools for modulation, articulation, resonance and projection.  This article focuses on the tools that you need in order to achieve great confidence and believability whilst speaking.  We will focus on two aspects; Relaxation and Breathing.  Relaxation assists to attain a good posture and free the voice, and breathing to sustain the voice and calm one’s nerves. When these two elements of voice are mastered then one can achieve ultimate confidence and conviction in voice and speech production.

  RELAXATION AND BODY POSTURE

“Your tensions and limitations as a speaker come from lack of trust in yourself, perhaps you are over-anxious to communicate or too keen to present an image.  Perhaps you are trying to convince your audience of something about yourself you may even rely too much on what works for you and become too predictable… even if you have an interesting voice.  All these approaches lack true freedom” (Cicely Berry).

It is very important to truly believe in what you are saying and when saying it you do so with confidence and conviction.  Voice is a physical activity and is made in the body and by the body.  It is highly important to consider the state of your body when doing any form of voice work.  Relaxation implies feeling free, alert and ready for action without any unnecessary tension.  Arthur Lessac believes that relaxation does not imply floppy lethargic or dull, but is a constant harmony between the muscles in the body.

Relaxation is integrally part of the voice because our voices pick up the slightest feeling of unease.  As Kristen Linklater says; “Know your voice – it is strong, it’s a sensation, it’s resilient and it’s you. ”It is very important to note that tension in the body constricts the voice and makes it difficult for the vocal folds to produce optimal sounds but however there is a slight amount of tension needed to hold up the body.

Along with relaxation, a correct body posture is required in order for voice to be produced easily.  Posture is the arrangement of muscles and bones in the body which positions the body in its natural alignment.  It is very important that the spine holds up the body because if it does not then the muscles are required to do that job and will not be able to function at its optimal level to produce optimal sound.  If any part of the body is out of alignment, then another part of the body is required to take on that job which might cause a chain reaction and constricting the body of doing its job properly.

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Practical exercises for relaxation and body posture

Complete the Integration Checklists; check your posture in the different positions throughout the day and note an average for the day.  Do this for at least a week or until you are used to the different posture.
Standing  
  • Centre the body
  • Weight on balls of feet
  • Hips and shoulders in line
  • Check spine, head and shoulders for tension (head-tail integration)
  • ‘Snake’ gently through the spine
  • Massage the face and release the jaw
  • Find your breathing rhythm

 

Sitting  
  • Check the sit-bones
  • Hips, ankles and knees are 90 degrees
  • Check the spine and shoulders for tension
  • Check the head position
  • Release jaw
  • Soften facial muscles
  • Adjust table/ desk if necessary (just under elbow level)

 

Tense and relax:  Sit up straight, ensuring that there is no tension anywhere in your body.  Start from the toes working upwards checking each part of your body.  If you feel that there is stress in a certain area, tense that part and release.  Repeat until body feel relaxed and without tension.

Shaking the body:  Stand in neutral position and then start shaking parts of your body until your entire body is shaking, then come to a stop and experience the energy flow throughout the body.

BREATHING

“Voice is powered and carried by breath – breathing is the key to all voice work.  Know how to breathe and how to adjust your breathing” (Patsy Rodenburg).

The usual source of energy for out voice is provided by the airstream expelled from the lungs.  Although there are sounds that do not need air to be produced, almost every other sound requires breath in order to be produced.  The more we train the lungs to hold a mass amount of air, the richer and more powerful we can make speech.

Breathing is a two way process composed of inhalation and exhalation.  It is an automatic involuntary process.  The air falls in and flows out due to the action of the diaphragm and the rib cage.  Cicely Berry believes that people are drawn to a voice which vibrates and which has resonance.  Freedom is having no preconceived idea of a sound, no holding onto the voice you know, and no unnecessary tension in the body.

Adequate control of exhaled breath support also allows for control of volume without additional effort.  Good breathing will remove muscular tension from the vocal mechanism and re-direct it to the diaphragm and abdominal area.  Any form of tension, whether it is emotional, physical, inner or outer, inhibits successful communication.  Many people are in dire need of voice and speech work, as a result of their variety of habits that hinders the optimal use of their voices.  All these habits (and their consequences) add to the fear so many people possess; of speaking up in public or even in private.  If a person is self-conscious about his situation, it will inhibit his speech as it will create tension.  When tension resides in the stomach, the stomach muscles will be tense, and as a result the breath cannot fill up the chest totally, which will create shallow and uncontrolled breathing.  If the back muscles tighten, it stops the rib cage of opening, which will reduce the cavity of the chest, inhibiting the sound to resonate and will thus create a thinner sound.

If one experiences any added strain, created by stress, panic or grief, any of the tensions mentioned can snowball into big problems, but by understanding the cause and effect of the tension, a person will be able to work against it.  These tensions arise from the mistaken belief that the voice functions from the neck up, not deep rom the belly, from the support system.  Until the breath support system is in harmony with articulation, the voice will never be able to function properly and will always be restricted.

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Practical exercises for Breath Support

Complete the Breathing Checklists; check your breathing in the different positions throughout the day and note an average for the day.  Do this for at least a week or until you are used to the different breathing techniques. Breathing should be an effortless action so, be aware of reducing tension as you work through the Breath control Checklist.

 

Breath-support Checklist  
  • Check body integration
  • Centre the body
  • Weight either on the sit-bones or the balls of the feet
  • Place hands on ribcage and stomach and feel the expansion
  • Find your breathing rhythm
  • Gently breathe out on a “f” sound
  • Adequate breath for the amount of words/ phrases

 

Read the passage below as far as you can on one breath with good vowel sounds.  Make a mark where you get to and try and improve on a daily basis, until you can read through the passage with ease.

After the volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in the South Pacific in 1883, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, sunsets around the world were affected. Fine ash from the volcano, blown fifty kilometers into the stratosphere by the force of the explosion, quickly circled the globe. Even three months after the explosion of Krakatoa some of the sunsets in North American were so brilliant that on one occasion fire engines were dispatched in New York and New Haven to what were thought to be huge conflagrations in the western parts of those cities.