How we communicate reflects how we feel about ourselves personally and professionally. It is the basic need to relate and be understood. Anything that stands in the way of us speaking is, at best, frustrating and, many times, haunting and dreadful. Sadly, the worst-case scenario is the way most people feel about public speaking. The scary truth is that any verbal communication is a form of public speaking. Becoming aware of what the obstacles are and learning to overcome them requires turning to a speech coach.
Putting a name to the feelings that we all experience when speaking is the awareness and mindfulness that a good speech coach can provide.
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Speech coaches fall into two categories. Some coaches help you with your ability to speak clearly and fluently, and some coaches help you with your presentation and public speaking skills. The word speech represents both. Therereally is no average speech coach, as the needs, expectations, and services rendered depend on the individual. Putting a name to the feelings that we all experience when speaking is the awareness and mindfulness that a good speech coach can provide.
Improving Your Voice
Part One of this article will focus on how to improve the overall sound of your voice. If this is your priority, then you are seeking a speech coach’s assistance in voice enhancement. It should not be confused with a speech impediment that requires speech pathology. Additionally, a vocal coach or voice coach usually refers to someone who helps you improve your vocal performance. Most of their clients are singers or performers in some areas of the performing arts. Voice enhancement is voice development that can range from wanting to improve your projection and tone, to wanting to reduce an accent for clarity and impact. See if you can spot your personal need (or needs) in the following examples.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that the faster you talk, the smarter you sound. Some believe that the faster you talk, the more exciting you will sound.
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Fast-talking can be hard for an individual to recognize due to many of the misconceptions there are about speech. Feeling the need to fill up the space between words and sentences with sound can be part of the problem. You may also feel like your brain is just trying to keep up with your mouth. You may anticipate that your listeners won’t understand your message, so you need to repeat it several times at a very fast pace. Many individuals mistakenly believe that the faster you talk, the smarter you sound. Some believe that the faster you talk, the more exciting you will sound. Many non-native speakers think that speaking quickly is how you speak smoothly. At some point, you realize that none of these common justifications for speaking quickly leads to desired results.
Speaking too softly and not being able to project your voice is a very common vocal complaint. Always being asked to repeat or always being asked to speak up can erode your confidence. It can lead to a decrease in the desire to speak at all! When you do muster the courage and energy to raise your voice, it can sound like you’re shouting at your listeners. You have a feeling of diminished presence and a lack of confidence in your ability to share your thoughts and perspectives. You worry that you will be perceived as weak, noncommittal, or even unsure. At times your voice can sound breathy or puffy. The thin sound of your voice limits your freedom to express yourself, and you worry that the discomfort you feel is visible, and maybe misinterpreted as disagreement with another’s point of view. You wonder why many of your conversations tend to be short and lack engagement.
I Hate the Sound of My Voice!
Many voice complaints have to do with the feeling that a voice is too high or too low. These feelings are connected to the response of others to the sound of your voice. Men often complain about their voices being too high. They want to avoid being mistaken for a woman over the phone. Many women say they wish their voices were not so low. They have a similar problem in that they often like a man over the phone. Having a high, childlike voice is also a common female vocal complaint. These unintended perceptions can lead to feelings ranging from discomfort to embarrassment. You may have become aware that you speak in a monotone. This describes a speech pattern in which all of the words have a similar pitch, and all of the sentences have the same rhythm.
Are You Sure?
Sounding unsure or uncertain comes from a presentation or conversation lacking a natural flow.The disruptions could consist of starting and stopping, searching frantically for the right words, and the use of filler words, such as: like, uh, um, okay, and you know. At times it feels like your mind can’t keep up with your mouth. Along with that feeling, nothing that you’re saying seems to end definitively. In an attempt to connect your spoken ideas, you end each sentence on a rising pitch as if you are indicating to your listener that there is more to come. The problem is that everything you say starts to sound like a question, such as, “I could tell you more? Maybe?” Increasing volume, pace, and the amount of information have no positive effect. Nothing that you say seems to come out the right way. You feel like you desperately need to connect with your listeners, but you don’t know-how.
You sense a lack of connection, even though you know your content very well. This is unexpected feedback with undesirable results.
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We all have moments when we feel like people do not understand what we’re saying. Consistently feeling that you must repeat yourself or that you have to explain further can interrupt the flow of your speech and cause you to lose confidence. Often, you get the feeling that people are staring as if they’re not following you, only to find out later that your listeners received a different message than the one you intended or that they disregarded altogether the importance of what you said. You notice that there is seldom any follow-up engagement after you speak. You sense a lack of connection, even though you know your content very well. These feelings are unexpected feedback with undesirable results. You feel like you must do more, that you must try harder. The truth is you need to do less – with more precision.
One Tool Box
The good news is that you only must work with one set of tools to improve your voice and speak clearly. To reduce your rate of speech, you need to focus on deliberate breathing, coordinated gesturing, and embracing the concept of being a “master of the pause.” Increasing the volume of your voice requires that you speak in a relaxed way that doesn’t sound like shouting. To accomplish this, you must integrate deliberate breathing with long vowel sound recognition. Improving the tone of your voice so that you no longer hate it uses the same tools that you use to project better. Long vowels and good breath support are the foundation for the rhythm of a stress-timed language like American English. Non-native speakers need these tools to speak with the rhythm and cadence most listeners expect to hear. Filler words begin to disappear when anyone focuses on integrating breathing into the rhythm of their speech. Getting your point across clearly comes down to using personal characterizations, called Bumper Stickers, and establishing a strong framework, called a Hierarchy of Ideas.
A speech coach will show you how to use your speech tools to achieve a bigger result. You can glean quite a spectrum of insights from just one session with a qualified speech coach, but it takes consistent work to change awareness into repeatable speech behavior.
Part Two of “The Mindfulness of Speech” will dive into how a speech coach can adjust the way you look at public speaking – from dreading it to leveraging it. The process starts with finding a coach who prioritizes awareness and mindfulness.