I’ve been worrying about – well thinking about anyway – my voice. Well not just my voice, you understand, but voices in general. This has all come about because at a fabulous concert I went to last week (a tribute to the music of someone I once knew and even played guitar with when we were much younger!) there was a woman (Krystle Warren) with a voice of such power that it blew the audience away whilst another singer (Vashti Bunyan) had such trouble projecting – even with a microphone – as to be almost inaudible. And then, while i was idling my time away at London’s Heathrow airport yesterday, reading tweets @dudeneyge tweeted about a new iPhone App (which I instantly downloaded) called ‘Voice Band‘ which allows you to turn your voice into an instrument and record it – though in a busy airport terminal I was unable to try it out for fear of instant social ostrazisation. And then, as my plane roared over the Atlantic I got to thinking…
All of which is a long way of saying that as presenters, and as teachers,probably the most precious thing we bring with us is our voice. If it’s not working properly we are sunk. If people don’t like your voice they’re going to find it difficult liking you or what you are trying to say. What if your voice isn’t loud enough or if it is too loud? Years ago when I was running a workshop in Hamburg one of the participants suddenly interrupted and said ‘you are speaking too loudly’ – not my favourite memory (and I suspect I often shout in conversation by mistake too).
Enough of the mea culpa! The question is what do we do to improve, keep, train, nurture our voices? If anything. And is good vocal production God-given or the result of training and ‘fitness’? Do we always breathe from the diaphragm and get a good quantity of air flowing through when we want to project? Can we project?
There aren’t many books about this in the language teaching world, though Alan Maley’s ‘The Language Teacher’s Voice‘ is an exception. But we do know that very hot, very cold drinks don’t help, alcohol may not be too good for you, and shouting without proper breath control is dangerous.
I have always thought that I was lucky because of being made/encouraged to sing in choirs for years and years when I was small, and singing is a wonderful voice training activity. But singers – real singers that is – do warm-up exercises before they perform, and actors do both vocal and physical warm-ups too.
Do conference speakers? Have you ever walked past a room and heard a plenary speaker signing scales and arpeggios or rolling the first three sentences of her/his talk around to get their voices ready? I haven’t (and I don’t by the way!) But maybe I should.
So I guess the questions that interest me in this post are:
1 What does a ‘good’ conference voice sound like?
2 What advice can we give to people who want to improve their vocal performance – who want to project better/speak louder?
3 How do you/should you look after your voice?
Oh – and do you hate most microphones as much as I do?