As the lead webinar moderator for Xtalks, I have trained my presenting voice to sound smooth, approachable, confident and authoritative. I was a voice over talent, TV and radio news announcer prior to joining Xtalks, and I am going to share with you the techniques I used — and still use — every day to ensure my voice is ready for a great vocal performance. You will learn these easy techniques to get your vocal cords fit, just like if you were hitting the gym.
I have been doing these simple daily exercises every day for 10 minutes to perfect my voice. In as little as two weeks you will see a significant change in your voice and start hearing compliments on how great you sound and how your voice made the webinar more enjoyable and engaging to listen and watch.
Before you start any of these exercises, your assignment is a fun and simple one: record your voice. Find a paragraph to read out loud, then review your voice. Identify what you want to change. If you have no idea, check out Xtalks webinars and find a speaker you enjoy. Imitate their cadence, tone and volume to help improve your own speaking abilities. Once you have your list of objections and goals, you can try the following speech exercises to take your articulation to the next level. Do your articulation exercises every day and hear your speech improve, with webinar attendee engagement increasing along with it.
How to Speak Clearly While Engaging Your Audience
Use the following points to ensure your presentation is clear and engaging:
- Use pauses effectively. Breaks in your speaking can be strategic ways to emphasize certain points and allow you to organize your thoughts before speaking. When you pause during your presentation, it gives your audience time to think about your last statement. It denotes the seriousness or importance of the subject.
- Watch for unnecessary words. Try to eliminate filler words from your speaking, such as “um,” “like” and “okay.” These words do not add substance to your speaking and may distract your audience.
- Practice pronunciation. When you listen to yourself speak, you may notice that certain words or sounds present challenges for you. Practice saying these words each day, focusing on each syllable and sound and emphasizing the correct part of the word.
- Speak at the right volume. If you have a soft voice, you must add more volume. Besides a monotone voice, a soft voice is another sure-fire way to get rid of an audience. Choose an appropriate volume when speaking to others. This will mean projecting your voice, so try recording yourself and practice increasing your volume without sounding like you are yelling.
- Develop confidence. Increased confidence can help diminish your nervousness. Reducing your anxiety can improve your focus, recall and ability to speak clearly and directly. A critical component of speaking well is to feel confident in your knowledge and ability. So practice, practice and then practice some more. If you have a fear of public speaking, reduce your anxiety by doing things that make you feel good about yourself. Try exercising, painting, writing or simple breathing and meditation techniques to ground yourself and keep you focused on your delivery. Find activities that give you a mental boost so that you feel more confident.
Diction and Articulation Exercises
The first step in our vocal warm up is voice articulation exercises. These diction and articulation exercises will help you train your lips and mouth. Just like athletes do warm-up exercises and stretches before a major event, a speaker’s warm up is just as important. Why? Well, vocal exercises train the tiny muscles in your larynx, improving muscle coordination and reinforcing new speaking habits.
Many people don’t realize what their speaking voice sounds like when they are presenting to an audience. Imagine you are an audience member who is excited about joining a webinar to hear about a timely and relevant topic from experts. But when the webinar begins, the speaker is talking too slow or too fast, they’re too quiet or they’re speaking in a monotone.
When presenters show up with little energy and personality in their voice delivery, they send the message that they are not confident or comfortable speaking to a group. With this type of delivery, no matter how interested the audience is in the subject matter, within five minutes they will get frustrated and discouraged and will drop off from the webinar. They make the decision that listening to that webinar is just not worth 60 minutes in their busy workday.
There are a few factors that contribute to poor articulation. Sometimes people don’t realize that they’re speaking through tightly pursed lips and a closed-off mouth, preventing them from speaking clearly. Doing these simple articulation exercises will encourage your lips and mouth to physically function as best as possible for vocal expression.
To speak articulately is to speak clearly. Articulators include the lips, teeth, tongue, jaw and palate. Fixed articulators — like the teeth — remain still during speech. Active articulators — like the tongue — move to produce sound.
There are other factors to speaking clearly, such as posture. Good posture increases breath capacity and sustainability, both of which are needed to make sound. But today, our focus is on articulation.
Articulation is the act of vocal expression. Strong articulation involves knowing how to use the appropriate rate of speech. Are you speaking too fast which will make it difficult for the audience to understand you? Speaking too slowly may imply you don’t know your content. This combined with a monotone speech pattern will only make the whole presentation boring.
Generally, a conversational speaking tone is between 120 and 150 words per minute. Once you know your rate, you can make a conscious effort to either speed up or slow down to get to a pace that is engaging for the audience and comfortable for you. Vary your rate during your webinar presentation to accentuate a section and give more emphasis or importance to key points. Talking faster can show passion and urgency, while talking slower can show seriousness and help you emphasize a point.
To improve articulation, try varying your pitch throughout your speaking to sound more natural and conversational. Your pitch refers to how high or low you speak. People respond better to more soothing, melodic speakers who incorporate a range of high and low tones.
I highly recommend that you record your voice and identify what you want to change. If you have no idea, check out a few of our Xtalks webinars and find a speaker you enjoy.
So, let’s get started with our first exercise. Your articulation exercises should include the following:
- Body stretches. Side stretches are great for expanding your rib cage and making your lungs feel like they are full of air.
- Breathing exercises — the hissing exhale. As part of your vocal warm-up routine, try out this next breathing exercise. Start by inhaling for an amount of time you feel comfortable with, and then when you exhale, produce an “sss” hissing sound. Each time you do the hissing exhale, switch up the amount of time that you’re inhaling and hissing, aiming to go longer with each hiss until you find yourself beginning to run out of breath.
- Descending on nasal consonants. Another useful trick that any singer, voice actor or speaker should have in their toolbox is the ability to open up passages to descend on a nasal consonant sound. There are three nasal sounds in American English pronunciation: the ‘m sound’ /m/, ‘n sound’ /n/ and ‘ng sound’ /ŋ/. For example, words that use the /n/ nasal sound are: nine, name, no, golden, nose, think, noon, when and now.
- Fricative sounds. Fricatives are characterized by a “hissing” sound which is produced by the air escaping through a small passage in the mouth. Fricatives in phonetics produce a consonant sound by bringing the mouth into position to block the passage of the airstream, but not making complete closure, so that air moving through the mouth generates audible friction. Some of the main examples of the fricative in the English language are “f,” “v,” “th,” “s” and “z.” Try saying each of these sounds, and you will notice a pattern in how your mouth is moving.
- Stretching exercises for your mouth, tongue and lips. Try lip trills and flutters to help loosen facial muscles and get your vocal folds warmed up. Performing a loose and gentle modulating hum is a nice way to ease in your facial muscles, as well as create space for resonant sound. Humming and lip trills get your resonators going, which, in turn, helps restore your vocal tone quality. Lip trills are sometimes referred to as lip rolls, lip bubbles, or lip buzzing. It can be challenging to do if you’re a beginner, and it takes some practice to be able to pull them off for an extended period of time. The good thing is, they’re very much worth learning.
Lip trills can also help remove some phlegm out of your system with the constant vibrations from the mouth. It’s a good way to clear your throat out without the abrasiveness of coughing or actually clearing your throat. The key to doing good trills is keeping the air flowing consistently throughout the scale that you’re trilling on. If you don’t provide enough air, you will lose steam. If you provide too much air, you will still lose steam. Trills are not to be done quietly. This exercise requires a good amount of air and resonance from your voice for you to do them correctly.
Gently push your cheeks so that your lips make a slight pout. Produce a gentle lip trill, holding it for as long as it feels relaxed and comfortable. Stop before you run out of breath and stop if you feel any discomfort or tension. Repeat the lip trill 10 times.
It is encouraged that you sing loudly, but try not to place the sound too low, but rather keep the breath support low and keep the airflow and sound high towards your face.
You will notice in time the lip trills can help even out your vocal range with the consistent breath support provided as you go up and down several scales over the course of a few minutes.
- Tongue twisters. If you don’t articulate or enunciate clearly, no one is going to understand a word of what you are saying. There are a number of troublesome consonants that you’ll want to master your pronunciation before you start your live webinar event. Use these four classic tongue twisters:
- A big black bug bit a big black bear
- She sells seashells by the seashore
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
- Unique New York, unique New York, unique New York
Some examples to look for lip exercises:
- Bubble, babble, pebble
- A big brown bear
- Hip hop, tip top, tip top, popcorn
- Yawns to increase vocal range. Yawning naturally drops your jaw and regulates oxygen, while extending your soft palate. It relaxes your throat muscles. It relaxes your vocal cords. And as soon as they relax, the tone drops. The lower your voice is, the better you sound. Learning how to properly do a yawn-sigh can be a wonderful trick to add to your vocal warm up toolbox.
- Step 1: Open your mouth as if to yawn.
- Step 2: Slide all the way down from the top of your vocal range to the lowest grumble you can muster.
- Step 3: You’ll know when you bottom out. Start with the left then the right then a full mouth yawn. Try to increase the number of yawns per day. For example, day one and two you muster 10 yawns then increase to 15 and 20 and so on. You should only do this exercise a few times as a part of each vocal warm-up routine. It’s often best to leave mouth yawns until the end when you have already exercised your voice.
- Tongue and teeth exercises. The tongue is a muscle and like any other muscle, it needs a regular workout which includes stretching and strengthening. A strong and flexible tongue also helps improve one’s ability to speak. Stick your tongue out as far as possible and say a few sentences. Try to say a whole nursery rhyme like Humpty Dumpty. Do this a few times. Now speak normally. You will notice that your voice feels stronger and more open, and often deeper and more resonant. Stick with me — this does work.
- Articulator warm up. Take your tongue to the gym with some articulation exercises.
Now for this exercise you don’t try to make them sound conversational. Try to hit every sound, every consonant — almost over-articulate them. Then, when you have got your tongue around them, you can start to speed up. Here are a few, but you can find plenty more online:
- Round the ragged rock. The ragged rascal ran.
- Betty bought a bit of butter. But she found the butter bitter, so she bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better.
- Finally, my favorite exercise to see immediate change, smile. Smiling really does change the sound of your voice. If you don’t believe me, try recording yourself. First, record yourself with a completely straight face. Now try recording the same sentence with a smile on your face as you speak. As you listen back you should find that the one with a smile in the voice is more engaging and has more energy and variation of tone.
With these diction and articulation exercises, you can effectively refine your vocal presentation to deliver a webinar with the perfect cadence, tone and volume. When you take the time to learn how to use your voice correctly, your audience will stay engaged and see you as a confident webinar speaker. As an added bonus, they’ll be able to understand more of what you’re saying, and be more engaged with you, your organization and the content you’re presenting — so don’t forget to practice, practice, practice!
If you’re interested in hosting a webinar or learning more about Xtalks’ marketing and content services, be sure to reach out to our team here.
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