In my dream society….

In my dream society, all members have a voice. Everyone has a space to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings. Freedom of speech is the essence of the place I’d like to inhabit. In most ways, this is in place in the world I inhabit. However, the difference between my dream world and reality is that everyone has the ability to understand the power of their voice. Not just in the content, but in the vocal mechanism itself.

Through teaching for the last ten years, it has become apparent to me, that most people think that individuals are gifted with a beautiful speaking voice. A voice that eases into their listener’s ears and transports us with their stories, awakens us with their ideas and moves us with their view. Maybe some people are lucky to have been born with this skill. However I believe that everyone can unleash this marvellous power and use their voice to their full potential, if they are shown how.

In my dream society this is something we would teach to children as part of mainstream schooling, so as adults they contribute to society confidently and freely. In the world we inhabit, children may access this through extra curricular activities. Those who practice the creative and expressive arts are more likely to have confidence in their voice.

As adults in the society we live in, we can feel the divide between those who have accessed this and those who have not. However we perceive it as raw, unlearnable talent. This is it not the case, a clear, confident, authentic voice is available to us all, if we choose to engage with training that explores and deepens our understanding.

In learning these things, we free our voice. In freeing our voice, we share our ideas. In sharing our ideas, we evolve and grow our communities.

My dream society isn’t as unattainable as perhaps it first seems. Maybe yours isn’t either.

Are you listening comfortably?

A big factor in improving outgoing communication skills, is improving in coming communication skills. You will be a more effective speaker if you are a better listener. When I talk about listening, I’m talking about more than the ability to receive words from the mouth of others. I’m talking about our ability to read a situation, and hear more then the words that are being spoken. Take some time and reflect on some of the following areas, and ask yourself ‘Am I really listening?’

Posture

How are you stood? Are you stood or sat in a way that is receptive to information? Are you huddled over? Are you arms or legs crossed? Where are you looking? The ground, the ceiling? At the person speaking? How aware of your body are you? Take the time to reflect on these things at various points during the day. It doesn’t take long. Just check in with yourself.

Try standing feet hip width apart, feet parallel, going directly ahead of you. Knees soft, not bent or locked. A sense of widening across your hips and shoulders. Spine lengthening up to the ceiling and shoulders dropping down your back. Arms gentle dropping dow your sides. Let’s call this position neutral. It may feel a little uncomfortable, if it does, its a sign that you don’t stand like this habitually which most of us don’t. In this position, however, you are ready. To speak, to move, to respond and to listen. You will be able to hear what’s going on with a much greater understanding. This position allows your breath to flow with greater fluidity making it easier for those messages to reach your brain. Try the opposite. Try standing feet together, knees locked, buttocks clenched, shoulders hunched, hands making tight fists and head stuck forward. Bring you attention to your breath? How does it feel? Shallow? Tight? Restricted?

Now soften all these things and find that neutral position. Check your breath now. It should feel softer and easier.

The Mechanics of Breathing

What do you actually know about breathing? More specifically what do you know about the way you breath? The above exercise should enlighten you as to the way a constricted body stops us breathing effectively. Bring you attention to your breath. If it helps, lie down on the floor. See the image below.

 

imagescacm6h8bYou may what to put a yoga mat beneath you, but ideally you are lying on a solid surface such as the floor. Your head needs to be slightly raised in order to have alignment through your spine and neck. A book or a yoga block are useful. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees hip width apart and pointing up the ceiling. This position flattens your back into the floor. Your hands can rest on your stomach or by your sides.

Bring you attention to the centre of your torso, How much can you feel the air travelling in and out? Are you sucking, or dragging or pulling big gulps of air or are you taking very small breaths? Take a look at this picture below.

breathing-diaphragm

How much can you feel you abdomen expanding as your breath in? What is the quality of this movement? Is sharp and forceful? is subtle and soft? Take your attention to the out breath. Are you pushing out powerfully, or is it quite weak? Imagine your diaphragm within your body? Imagine it like a jelly fish, floating on the tide. It contracts downwards as your breath in and relaxes upwards as your breath out. Try not to change it or alter it, find this gentle rhythm.

We have two groups of muscles that we use when we breath. Primary muscles (essential for full breathing) and Secondary muscles. The primary muscles sit lower in the torso and do most of the bulk of the work. These muscles are generally large and strong as they must work over 22,000 times each day. The diaphragm is in this group of muscles and  like the heart, works relentlessly without fatigue. The secondary muscles are higher in the body and act as auxiliary helpers. They give us adaptability in the way that we breath. These muscles are smaller and more delicate. They can act powerfully for short periods of time, such as catching your breath after running fast. They tire easily and quickly.

With modern living and work conditions we quite often neglect to keep these primary muscles in good shape in order to maintain good breath support. There are those, who do actively work the abdominal muscles when it comes to exercises, but their is preference in society for men and women to have toned flat stomachs and stomach crunches are quite oftened practiced to achieve this. The problem with working the muscle group in that way, is that it is actually restricting the muscles. We need strength and flexibility, which is why yoga or pilates is a much better exercise to practice for improved flexibility, strength and breath support.

Good breath support will enable you to receive information better as well as speak with greater clarity.

Take your Time

A huge factor that effects our ability to receive information, is the fast paced cycles of living that we are placed in. Our minds are a huge vat of soup, with all sorts of ingredients floating through them. Deadlines, childcare, loved ones, meetings, emails, appointments and people. In her opening chapter of her book Presence, Patsy Rodenburg (Voice coach, Theatre Director and Writer) tells us how anthropologists research shows us that we really only capable on connecting with 400 people in our lifetime. If you apply this to modern, urban living, it is clear that we could easily come into contact with 400 people in a day. Then there are online platforms in which we receive information about others. Social Media is a wonderful things but we know that while we have increased connectivity, our appetites from human contact and communication are  possibly not fulfilled. We increasingly feel removed and lonely.

It is not always possible to reduce the amount of people you come into contact with in a day. However, it is possible to switch off. Turn off your phone for an hour everyday and do something you love. It could be reading, or writing or crocheting a new hat. When meeting friends, place you phone on silent and keep it in your pocket or bag. When it comes to eating, leave you phone in another room. While it may not reduce the people you are coming into contact with, or the pressures of your time, it will make you feel more present. Part of the process in slowing things down is allowing yourself to take your time.

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Sylvia Plath

 

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher and Storyteller based in South Manchester. to find out more about her work, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk.

 

 

Nerves and Public Speaking

Your mouth goes dry. Your legs start to shake. The butterflies are fluttering in your stomach. It’s today. In ten minutes, you are going to stand up in a room full of 25 colleagues and give the report and findings of the last 6 months of work. Your boss is there. Her boss is there and his boss is there too. All the nights you’ve worked late, missing drinks with friends or skipping bedtime stories with your children. The extra work at weekends missing birthdays and barbecues, it all culminates in this 15 minute presentation. What if people don’t listen? What if I sound really boring? What if i go really high pitch or forget what I’m saying? What if my voice let’s me down?

These are common thoughts and feelings that nearly everyone has before they stand up to speak in public. Usually publicly speaking is a reserve or when the odds are quite high. Making a sale, feeding back to a board or making a speech at a Wedding. They are moments when we want to feel most connected to ourselves and our audiences. These are moments when we want to feel authentic and accessible. The pressure we put on ourselves to deliver a ground breaking speech worthy of an Oscar is incredibly high and often understandable.

Here are a few ideas to help you combat those nerves and feel ready to connect.

1. Breath. Breath. Breath and Breath again.

Those butterflies are more then just strange fluttering feelings. Those knots in your stomach are directly effecting your muscles that control your breath. Your diaphragm needs to be able to drop down into your torso like a parachute filling with air or a jellyfish moving through water. If you are finding that your stomach feels tight and uncomfortable or uneasy, the just take a few minutes to focus on your breath and think of it filling your body from the ground up.

2. Find your feet.

What are you feet doing? Are they providing a secure platform on which your body can rest upon? Are you rocking through your feet in an agitated manner? Or are you putting all your weight back into your heels?

Take a breath. Close your eyes if you can or it helps. Imagine you are stood on a sandy beach in barefoot. The sand is warm and golden and dry. It shifts to accommodate a footprint of each of your feet. Your toes, the balls of each foot , through the arches and back through the heel. Feel the sand supporting your weight and giving your foot as much contact with the ground as possible.

3. How am I stood?

Are you stood with your shoulders hunched forward. Are your legs as close far apart? Are your buttocks clenched? Are you tensing your jaw? Are you locking your knees?

Take a breath. Bring your feet to hip width apart, your knees soft. Imaging your have a light travelling all the way up your spine from your tailbone to your head. As the light passes through each vertebra, it creates warm pockets of light and space in between each one. From the tailbone, to the small of the back, up through the arch to the middle of the back. Up in between the shoulder blades, into the neck, head and beyond. Feel your shoulders and your buttocks gently letting go and dropping down the back of your body. Imagine the light travelling through your jaw creating space between your teeth.

4. Mind the the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.

Some students  tell me they quite often trip over their words or under up feeling that they are rushing and enunciating badly. A good way to combat this is to look to give yourself time to warm up before a presentation. It could be your car on they way to work, or before you leave the house or in a quiet corner of your building. Tongue twisters are an excellent tool for getting you mouth and teeth moving. Tip is to not rush them and do lots of different ones. Take the time to really get your moth around the words. These exercises also help to move the sound forward to the front of the mouth. Try this one:

What a to-do to die today, at a minute or two to two;
A thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo, at twenty to two,
A rat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tattoo.
And a dragon will come when he hears the drum,
At a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two.

5. Breath. Again. Seriously.

I believe the number one tool to combatting nerves is to observe the breath. You will breath in and out until your die. Its a reliable mechanism and if you cultivate a positive mental attitude towards your breath it will support you back. Your breath needs space and respect to flourish. If your suck and out the in breath, the muscles which should support your stomach will be neglected or overworked. if you push the air out to hard, you’ll find that you run out of steam quickly and will suffer fatigue and vocal clumsiness.

Take your time. Observe the flow of breath in and out of your body. Only speak when you feel comfortable and assured by the certainty of breath.

 

Follow the link below to hear comedienne Jo Brand talk through dealing with nerves.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/speaker/improve/fear/

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

 

Freeing the Voice

If you can engage with Voice work, you can find yourself being liberated in ways that you could not imagine. Looking at someone’s voice beyond the mechanics, we can find the entire story of the individual. Where they came from. How they were formally educated. What their relationship is to the world around them. These things on there own are subtle nuances that encourage or limit self expression. However if you put them together they give us out vocal identity. It easy to bracket vocal identity off as something different and to that as the rest of your character.

Robert Ebert, a film critic who lost his lower Jaw due to cancer, said:-

I felt, and I still feel, a lot of distance from the human mainstream.’

Ebert talks of his struggle to connect with the world around him. In his 2011 TED talk Remaking my Voice, Ebert tells us “All my life I was a motormouth. Now I have spoken my last words, and I don’t even remember for sure what they were.” Ebert lost his voice over time, not in one moment. He wouldn’t have realised that the last words he spoke would be just that. It’s a good example of how we take our voices for granted.

Freeing your voice is freeing you sense of self.

Any vocal exercises you try are not simply a trip to the mechanics in which your voice is tinkered with, but they are a way of deeply exploring your identity. Plenty of people will make off the cuff remarks about how people should sound. Men should speak low and strongly. Women should speak softly and in a higher register. These concepts are rigid and destructive. Think of the images we are shown by the advertising industry of how men and women should look. Most people understand that these images do not broadly represent the diversity amongst how we all look and this is incredibly destructive. This is applicable to our interpretation of how people speak. Most people can think of a time when someone passed comment of their voice, normally its wrapped up in someones accent being inaudible. So people are mocked because of where they are from? ! This is clearly and totally unacceptable.

What’s also interesting is that people will often speak of their voice in a negative light. When we listen to a recording of our own voice, its common to recoil at how we sound. Like when you look at a photograph and you see all the things that you don’t like about the way you look. You are hyper vigilant in your observation of your flaws. Most of the world is not. There is a wealth of information to be read of quietening your inner critic. A good place to start though is just notice your voice. When you notice your voice, notice if you have judged it. If you have judged it, notice how that makes you feel. Now try and think about when you need your voice for something really important. It might be a presentation at school or work, it might be a eulogy at a funeral or it might be telling someone that you love them. We all want our voices to feel and sound authentic in those moments. Every time you cast a judgement on your voice, you are distancing yourself from being able to speak in an authentic manner.

Starting from today, start thinking of your voice as part of your identity. Start treating yourself with dignity and compassion. Start respecting yourself and pave the way for others to hear you.

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Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

Your Voice and Marginal Gains

Watching the Team GB race in the men’s team pursuit and win gold was magnificent. The atmosphere in the Velódromo Municipal do Rio was electrifying as the the cycling team whizzed round battling it out with Australia. Not only did Bradley Wiggins make history by coming the first British athlete to pick up 8 Olympic medals, but they also achieved a new world record time. Day seven at the Rio Olympics was an exciting one with Team GB picking up medals in rowing, dressage, trampolining and swimming.

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However the GB cycling team is the one to watch with the women also beating the world record in the qualifying stages of the women’s team persuit. What are this remarkable teams secrets to success?  Sir David Brailsford, Director of UK cycling introduced the simple concept of marginal gains. By making small changes (however small), one could improve their overall performance. This concept was introduced to me by Dr Chris Whitaker. What struck my was that this concept developed by Brailsford is actually entirely the process of voice work.

Brailsford explains the idea of marginal gains to the BBC in 2012:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together…They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”

As a voice teacher, my job is to help you attain the voice that you feel more comfortable and confident in. We do this through looking at everything that effects the way you speak. Your Breath, Posture, Muscularity, Resonance,  Accent and Pitch. We then explore any patterns that feature in any of these different areas. For example we might discover that you slightly pause before breathing in. After working through exercises that explore and lift your vocal stamina we then slowly build all this different work together and you discover a more authentic voice.

The Olympics are exceptionally inspiring to watch and it’s easy to think that winning Gold is down to the work of the individual, but they all have coaches helping them achieve the physical prime.

So maybe you are looking to improve your presentations skills, or you diction? Maybe your hoping to lift you general performance in the work place. Voice work will help you to unlock potential and find authenticity in the way you communicate. Looking for some starting points? This post on Public Speaking: Preparation-Warming Up is as good as any.

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Bradley Wiggins demonstrating a good vocal exercise in warming up the tongue and improving facial muscularity.

Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Public Speaking: Preparation-Warming Up

 

A lot of clients coming through my door are looking to develop stronger public speaking skills.

keep-calm-and-prepare-for-public-speaking-speaking-quote-1024x768The most important thing to do that most people miss out is warming up. Here is a list of five useful warm ups you can do before any presentation when time is short and space is limited. There are lots of different exercises when it comes to Voice work. These are just some of my favourites. Ideally you would do these exercises in the space you are working in but sometimes that isn’t always possible. Its a good idea to practice them at home and see which ones work for you.

Exercise: Body Scan
Time: 5 mins
Purpose: Allowing you to relax and feel settled in your body

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Imagine that you have a ball of light entering through the soles of your feet. Imagine the light is travelling through all of the foot and up into the ankle.
  3. Continue to imagine this light traveling up through the body soothing the muscles and easing the joints. Through your knees, upper legs. In an across your hips.
  4. All the way up through the spine and in and across the shoulders. Through you stomach, rib cage, all the way up to your collar bone.
  5. Up through your neck and over the top of your head. Down through the face.
  6. Take your time with this exercise and enjoy the sensation of your body feeling warmer and softer with the direction of lengthening and widening with this warm light.

Exercise: Grounding
Time: 5 Mins
Purpose: Helping you feel rooted into the floor

When giving a presentation, it is very easy to come off balance and feel uneasy on your feet. This exercise looks at helping your feet make as much contact with the floor as possible.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Begin by rocking gentle through your feet from toe to heel. As you do so imagine each part of your foot coming into contact with the floor. As you do, allow the movements to go so you are going forward onto your toes and backwards into your heel. Check that you and not holding your breath or tensing your upper body as you do this. Take your time.
  3. Now rock from side to side through your feet. From The out side of your feet to the inside. Again, check that you are not tensing your upper body.
  4. Now think about creating a circular movement as you move through your feet. From the outside to the toes, to the inside and then then heals. Make these movements nice and gentle. Reverse the circle the other way.
  5.  Place your feet back on the ground and imagine you are placing your feet into warm, soft mud. Imagine your feet creating a perfect foot print as your feet make full contact with the floor beneath them.

 

Exercise: Breath
Time: 10 minutes
Purpose: Settling down any nerves and connecting to breath support.

Mistakes are often made in public speaking due to poor breath support. Think of a time that you maybe stumbled over some words, or perhaps jumbled up a sentence. Its highly likely that these things happened due to poor breath support. This exercise encourages calm and a feel of connection with your breath.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Bring your attention to your stomach. If it helps place the palms of your hands there. See if you can feel you diaphragm moving in and out. Try not to force the breath, just bring your attention to it moving organically. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
  3.  Look for the moment that your in breath peaks and moves into the out breath. Look for the moment that the out breath melts into the in breath. Notice that this pattern is always there and you do not have to force it or suck breath in or push breath out.
  4. Imagine your breath is waves in the sea. The in breath is the wave coming back and peaking the out breath is the wave crashing over and spreading out in front of it. Think of those small waves at the beach. Think about the water spreading over the sand.
  5. On the next in breath, imagine the air filling all the way through your torso. First in travels down into the stomach and fills it with air, then through your chest.
  6.  As the breath turns into the out breath imagine that you are sending it out and filling the room with it. Don’t force the breath out. Just imagine it filling the whole room. Check that you haven’t tensed any part of your body as you do this
  7.  Repeat the last two steps.
  8. When you feel that you are comfortable with the above, make a long “s” sound like a snake. Repeat a few times.
  9.  Now move to a long ‘z’ sound like a bee. Repeat a few times.
  10.  Now a long ‘f’ sound like waves crashing on a beach. Repeat a few times.
  11.  Now a long ‘v’ sound like a aeroplane.

Exercise: Laughter
Time: 5 minutes
Purpose: To actively open up the throat and engage the voice box.

When giving a presentation or a performance, some people feel that their throat goes tight. The following exercise should help you combat this.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Bring your attention to the inside of your throat just above your collar bone.
  3.  Now start a giggling sound on a ‘Hee, Hee’ and a ‘Hoo Hoo”. Imagine these sounds a bouncing from the diaphragm. in the middle of your stomach.
  4.  Notice if you can feel your throat opening. its a subtle change but it is happening.
  5.  Once you feel it happen, continue to giggle and count from one to ten. Notice the throat opening on each number you giggle.
  6. Once you feel confident at this, alternate between counting and speaking and see if you can feel that same sense of expansion as your speak the number as when you giggle it.

 

Exercise: Chewing
Time: 3 minutes
Purpose. To gently warm up your face.

Poor diction and pronunciation of words, can be due to a lack of energy in the face. This exercise helps you wake up the muscles in your face.

  1.  Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Imagine you are chewing a soft sweet of chewing gum. Start moving your mouth in this way. As you do move the lips in all sorts of directions.
  3.  Now imagine that the sweet is growing in size as you chew making the movements bigger and bigger. as you do this try and keep your mouth closed.
  4.  Now exaggerate the movements so that you are wrinkling up your nose and rotating your jaw as you chew.
  5.  Include your eyes and your eyebrows. So that you scrunching up your face and opening it up while you chew.

So there you go, 5 quick exercises to help you warm up for a presentation. I hope you find them useful. You can modify them in a way that maybe more helpful for you and think about working with different images then the ones I’ve given. It can be hard to not feel a bit silly when doing voice work but it’s also unpleasant when presentations go wrong due to poor vocal stamina. Try and cultivate an attitude of non-judgement about yourself while working. Find out more about what I mean in How to Love your Voice.

Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

Women Speaking with Authority

Last week, Women’s hour had a section on women undergoing vocal coaching. Addressing the issue head on presenter Emma Barnett talks about how women ‘can face deeply held cultural prejudices about the tone and depth of their voice, reducing their ability to have authority’.

First of all, I think it is important to underline that your voice is incredibly unique and it tells the listener the story of your identity. Any work that looks at ‘changing’ the way you speak should be done sensitively. Your voice can be put through training where the power of the vocal identity carries you through and above any bad habits that you pick up along the way. Bad habits that we all have.

A good starting point to find strength in your voice, is believing you have strength in your voice.

Easier said then done. I recognise that saying this sentence is a bit like saying that ‘chocolate cake is bad for me and I shouldn’t eat it’, as though that is enough to stop you eating it. However with discipline and believing that you have a choice about how you view yourself, a healthy start to exploring your vocal identity is possible.
It can be incredibly hard to believe in what you’re saying if you are worried about how your voice is being received. It undermines any sense of clarity and conviction. Nerves are tricky things and can make our bodies do strange things. Butterflies in the stomach soon lead to a lack of breath support which, in turn, leads to being unable to send enough oxygen to the brain in order to deliver your thoughts into speech.

What if you walked into the next business meeting or presentation, utterly sound in the belief that you not only have a right to be heard, but that people want to hear what you are saying?

Engaging with voice training, will no doubt improve an individual’s vocal quality. However changing the status quo on who should speak and how they should speak is something we all have to take a collective responsibility for.

Now, where is that chocolate cake?

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07lfkj5?ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbc_radio_4&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=radio_and_music

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk