Blog post by Ellie Simes, Social Co-Ordinator
Our speaker this week was Victoria Woodward, who, after a host of experiences focusing on language, breathing and performance (being brought up bilingually, playing recorder to grade 8, studying English Literature and becoming a professional actor) went back to university to complete an MA in Voice Studies at The Royal Central School of Drama in 2008.
Victoria’s fascinating and very engaging (as you might expect!) talk covered how we use our voices in public. As young babies, we automatically use our breath and our bodies to make very loud noises whenever we need something. However, as we grow older, we control our voices to help us fit in to society. While this helps society function (who wants to be on a tube carriage with people screaming about how hungry they are!), it means we tend to lose touch with our bodies and breathing, losing some of the power we have over our voice.
Victoria’s mission is to restore this power and get the people she works with to become the best version of themselves. As a vocal coach she works with all sorts of people who need to use their voice for their professions; actors, politicians, teachers, priests and even clowns!
We had a chance to try out some of the exercises Victoria uses with her students as we went through a vocal warm up. It was great fun and a real chance to rediscover your voice, but perhaps not the sort of thing you’d want to do in public! It involved some humming and aaahing, beating of chests, wiggling of tongues, making horse noises and tongue twisters.
Most people find the idea of speaking in public somewhere between mildly alarming and absolutely bloody terrifying. Unfortunately, it seems there are plenty of occasions when you’re called upon to speak in front of a group; whether it’s a presentation or big meeting at work or a personal celebration involving speeches.
Thankfully, I feel better prepared now, as Victoria shared her top tips on getting through such occasions with success. Definitely a list to treasure and review before the next time you stand up in front of a big group!
Top tips for speaking in public
Power posing – Before your speech stand with your feet apart, arms in the air and shoulders relaxed, like a starfish. Hold the pose for 1-2 minutes. Over time, this ‘Power Pose’ will lower your stress hormones and fill you with a calm confidence (it sounds odd, but does work wonders – maybe one to do in the privacy of the loo).
Breathe through your belly – Put your hands on your belly and take a big breath. Feel your stomach expand and deflate as you breathe. Breathing with your belly allows 60-80% more air to enter your lungs.
Touch your hands – Feel your fingers, palms and rings. Having a physical connection to something helps you focus on the moment and can be very calming.
Top tips for presenting
As the message an audience receives is conveyed 60% from body language, 30% from voice and only 10% from content, it seems a complete waste of time to bother to write anything down at all! Victoria definitely didn’t suggest we do away with planning (in fact confidence in your content really helps you follow all of the other tips) but she did point out that when presenting we should really focus on our body language and voice too:
At extremes, body language can display an aggressive bluff (feet wide apart, chest out, hands on hips) or an apologetic denial (feet one in front of the other, shoulders hunched, arms protecting yourself).
It’s best to aim for a centred approach with your feet, knees and hips all in line.
Drink plenty of water – it helps your vocal chords do their work.
Take the ‘ums’ out – Close your mouth when you reach the end of a sentence, then an ‘um’ can’t escape.
Embrace the pause –
Slow down – Especially at the start, when people are getting used to your voice. It takes 20-30 seconds for people to ‘tune in’ to a voice.
Vary the tone of your voice – Use a range of pitch, speed and volume to emphasise your words and keep the audience interested.
Be you – You can be funny or be serious or a bit of both, but reflecting your personality will make things easier and more genuine.
Find your authentic passion – if you’re not enthusiastic, how will anyone else be?! Find a reason to be excited about what you’re saying.
Focus on your message.
Speak in short sentences – it’s hard for an audience to follow lengthy ones
Know your audience – what do you want them to think, feel and do at the end of your speech?
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
Thanks to Victoria for coming along to give us a taste of vocal coaching and for all her top tips!
Check out her website here: http://victoriawoodwardvoice.com/