I have always struggled with calling myself an Elocution Teacher. I worry that it conjures up images of elitist communication captured in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw in the journey of Eliza Dolittle. I have always felt that it makes me sound like someone who was “fixing” someone and getting them to the “correct” way of speaking and behaving. Like I was some strict, straight backed authoritarian who would tell you right from wrong. This is a world away from the Voice work that I practice and actually seems like this is not a process in which you would learn to love your voice.
Elocution is merely ‘the art of careful public speaking, using clear pronunciation and good breathing to control the voice’ (Cambridge Dictionaries Online). When I look at this dictionary definition, I completely see that this is all incorporated in my voice work. However that is not the entirety of my practice as a Voice Teacher. There is an increasing awareness of authenticity in the way that we communicate. People want to feel like they are heard and communicate in a way that allows them to express themselves freely. They want their voices to be credible and ultimately they want to feel confident. Many of my students seem deeply unhappy with their voice. They are very hard on themselves and feel like their voice lets them down.
Here are just some of the ways I think we can improve our relationship with our voice.
- Your Voice is Your Friend
Easier said than done, but I really do believe that telling yourself how your voice should sound and what constitutes a good voice is actually very unhelpful. I always encourage my students to cultivate a mindset of non-judgement. Treat it like a best friend. You would forgive your friends for making small mistakes, you would be fair and you would listen. You would encourage. You wouldn’t call them boring or flat. Imagine your voice is your friend.
- Explore your voice with interest.
The elements of our body that we use to speak are fascinating. From your tongue to your diaphragm , your pelvic floor to your shoulders and your jaw to your toes, there is so much to explore. Imagine you are an adventurer who is off to unchartered lands, excited about what they might find.
- Listen to your voice.
Whether you are singing in the shower, calling to a mate across a busy road or preparing for a presentation, listen to your voice. With the spirit of non judgement you will hear so much wonderful stuff. I encourage students to find some time to read aloud every day. It might be poetry or the news or stories to your children. Anything. Just get used to the sound of your own voice. Think about it’s shape and colour. What do you like about it? What’s it like hearing yourself?
- Don’t let others tell you that your voice isn’t good enough.
This may seem counter intuitive for a voice teacher to be saying this, but I really believe that someone commenting on another person’s voice is really damaging and unhelpful. We wouldn’t pass comment on someone’s appearance or gender so why is it ok to pass comment of your voice? Your voice tells your story. Everywhere you’ve lived, how your mother talked to you, your personal and your professional life. You don’t pick the voice you have but with a bit of love, understanding and work, your voice can flourish and unfold.
- Have fun.
Coming at voice work with a sense of play is incredibly helpful. It’s really easy to feel embarrassed and let down by your voice, but what if you were a child discovering your voice for the first time? Find that sense of fun, allow yourself to be taken by surprise by your voice. Voice work can be very funny. It involves making strange sounds and pulling weird faces. It’s incredibly relaxing and rewarding but only if you are willing to have fun.
Your voice is as strong as the breath that carries your words to their listener. We regularly take our breathing for granted as supposed to marvelling at the fact that it is an amazing network of muscles, organs and tissue that work together to make our body function. We pick up some pretty unhelpful breathing habits throughout our life. Take some time to bring your attention to your breath. Notice the way it comes into your body. Notice the way the breath travels out. Find that moment when the in breath turns to out breath. You don’t need to tell your body to do this. You don’t need to control it or hold it or push it or suck the breath in. You will just breathe and provide your body with this incredible sense of flow. Each breath is giving you life. It’s the rhythm to which we all live by. It’s reliable and strong and full of opportunity and promise. It’s the foundations that your Voice is built upon.