I had the TV on some sweet C-SPAN over the weekend, watching these super-bright college kids giving speeches at a DC conference. Aside from reflecting that zero of my college weekends were spent giving sophisticated talks on the U.S. Constitution, I noticed that some of the speakers spoke in conspicuously breathy tones, their voices a little unsteady and sometimes quavering.
Ah, I though, speaking in public. In front of a TV camera, no less. Before one of the first speeches I ever gave, I remember fighting to keep my voice from busting into an outright squeak. I had downed two cappuccinos mindlessly, thinking the caffeine would give me a certain energy. It did. I had buggy eyes, sweated and probably set a record for saying the word “Like.”
When nerves start permeating your speech, the effect can be distracting. Even the message of the most brilliant speech can be lost if all the audience hears is anxiety. Here are some public speaking tips to keep your voice smooth:
Practice. Basic but true. The more familiar you are with your material, the more secure you will feel. You will be less anxious, more calm and natural when delivering your speech, and it will show in your voice.
Sing. When I began to do public speaking on a semi-regular basis, I borrowed some choral tricks to keep the quaver out of my voice. One was to join the words of the speech at points. The effect is that your voice will sound smoother. Just remember to enunciate the words to avoid Mumbleville.
Deep Breathe. Also called diaphragm breathing, deep breathing is marked by expansion of the abdomen (rather than the chest) when inhaling and exhaling. To get into diaphragm breathing put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Slowly inhale though your nose or pursed lips. As you do, push your belly/ stomach out and feel your stomach expand with your hand. Try singing “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” while exhaling air from the diaphragm. Your shoulders should stay put when you diaphragm breathe.
Acknowledge it. Evading or pushing away the fact that you are nervous unfortunately won’t quench it, or keep its effects from your body. Consciously identify your anxiety and where it hits you the most in your body. Remind yourself that you are nervous but are prepared, and that you and the world will go on as always before, after and during your speech! Try to channel the nervous energy into excited, motivated and fun energy instead.
Keep your fire. In an effort to control my voice, I used to push the tone low and space out my words. The effect was a Lauren Bacall-ish robot with little to no spirit. And I still said “like” way too much. Evolve your speech so it sounds mellifluous, but not overly mellow. And, of course, still authentic to you. Spend a few moments thinking about how you’d like your voice to sound. What characteristics do you wish to project? How do you want others to feel when they hear you speak?
Adopt a ritual. Pinpoint some little ritual or exercise or habit that will calm and connect you to the room, the audience and the material beforehand. If pre-speech makeup or hair is involved, use the time to breathe and smile.