How to use your voice when teaching online

Several teachers have reached out to me over the past few weeks asking why their voices feel so tired after a day of teaching online.

Vocal fatigue is common for teachers, whose job requires them to use their voice an extraordinary amount during the day with few moments for vocal rest (school teachers even have to use it at recess and lunch time whilst on duty).

So, I thought this was interesting. Teachers talk all day, so why is talking online making their voices tired?

There are a few reasons your voice may be feeling tired or sore at the end of a day of online.

1. You may be over-compensating

It’s highly likely that the main contributor to vocal fatigue from online teaching is coming from a tendency to over-compensate.

In a face-to-face environment, you rely not only on verbal communication but your physical presence in the room. You can signal to students with a gesture or even a glance.

Teaching online is totally different because physical presence is removed and there’s a boundary between you and the learner. You may start to overcompensate with your voice in an attempt to ‘reach’ students and connect with them through the new medium of video conferencing.

This would, in turn, place extra strain on your voice as you try to be louder or more animated than you ordinarily would in a face-to-face environment.

One teacher told me that he feels his online classes are ‘not as good’, so he’s trying to mask his insecurities by being extra upbeat and animated. It only took a couple of days before his voice was giving away exactly how he was feeling – he’d exhausted himself and had barely any voice left.


The challenge is to trust that whilst your teaching is different when delivered online, you remain a good teacher! Students are also adjusting to the new environment. Remember that less is more, trust that your energy and your lessons will reach you students. 

Also, make use of the camera – experiment with how your facial expression could do the work your body language might normally be doing in the classroom.

2. You may be talking more loudly than what’s required

Whether you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, most in-built microphones these days are very effective. Although it might not be up to the task of recording an interview or podcast, unless your inbuilt microphone is damaged or you’re standing a few metres away, you can trust and rely on it to be working well.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need to speak clearly! As always, a microphone will only pick up the work a speaker is already doing. Always put the emphasis on clarity rather than volume for digital environments.

You also don’t need to fill your whole living room, house or apartment with your voice. Speak to the group in front of you by speaking to your mic or screen, but don’t assume you have to be any louder in order for them to hear you. Unless they tell you otherwise, assume that they can hear you fine and you don’t need to be putting any extra effort into being loud or increasing your volume.


If in doubt of your audio quality, ask your students for feedback as to whether they can hear you or not. This will help you determine whether you need to dial up the clarity or volume.

Note that audibility and intelligibility are two different things. If your students say they can’t hear you, play with speaking more clearly (you could think of us as dialling up your consonants or putting more energy in your articulators). If increasing the clarity doesn’t change their experience, it may be an audibility issue rather than intelligibility.

You might also want to consider using a headset. I find headsets great for video conferencing as I know the mic is right in front of my mouth, plus I can hear the students more clearly, and I can gesticulate freely! Colleagues and I have worked out our favourite headsets at the moment are Logitech H800 Wireless Headset (hooray for Bluetooth) and Corsair HS45, but you could even opt for something as simple as Logitech H110 Stereo Headset.

If you’d prefer a desktop mic, the Rode NTUSB looks to be great value for money – it comes with with a desktop stand and will plug straight into your computer. The Rode NT1A condenser mic is also a crowd favourite and a great option if you have an audio interface and mic stand at the ready.

3. You may be using your voice more than you would in the studio or classroom

In an effort to make sure instructions are clear and your students are engaged, you could be speaking more than you would in a face-to-face environment.

Many of my colleagues in the voice profession have commented on the importance of clarity of instruction when teaching online. There’s unanimous agreement that our instructions need to be specific and deliberate. Clarity of instruction doesn’t necessarily mean giving more detail or speaking for longer, it can mean finding the simplest way to say what needs to be said.

This reduces the chance of confusion, which itself leads to frustration, annoyance or discomfort from the students. Confusing instructions also increase the vocal load of the teacher, as suddenly you’re explaining something more than you normally would.

Most significantly, clear instructions make the lesson easier for the students (who are experiencing the same amount of Zoom fatigue as their teachers). It takes the pressure off them having to dissect information that’s being delivered to them through a different medium than they’re used to.


Find the most simple, clear and direct way to give an instruction or explain a concept to students. Rather than ramble and draw out your explanation, pause and give them the space to ask questions.

Remember that students are getting familiar with this new learning environment too. They need space to comprehend information and take in instructions

4. Resist the temptation to fill every silence with your own voice

Silence in an online class can make you feel like the lesson isn’t landing, the students are losing focus or people are distracted. But perhaps these moments of silence are the same in-between moments that present themselves in any face-to-face class – only now they’re not filled with student chatter or background noise?

In an online environment, the background noise of a school or university disappears, and the silence can be overwhelming. The space you give students to comprehend concepts, respond to instructions or complete their work is crucial – not only to their learning, but to preserving your voice (and probably your wellbeing!).


I know some teachers who are using the Pomodoro technique – teaching for 25 minutes, then giving students a 5 minute break, so it’s 25 mins on and 5 mins off. You could invite students to put some music on in short breaks like these, or you could play some music and the students hear that. Music or no music, any sort of break in a class is a chance to build in moments of vocal rest.

You could also embrace the silence! Rather than racing to fill every pocket of silence with your own instructions or talking, get familiar (and comfortable) with the silence. This is certainly a challenging one when teaching online, as I know a lot of teachers are feeling a need to fill every little moment of the class to keep students engaged. The best solution is probably to investigate and strike a balance.

5. Have a look at your working-from-home set up and check that it’s supporting effective voice use

One singing teacher told me this week that she injured her neck in the first week of teaching online because she insisted on putting her laptop up high on top of her piano because she didn’t want to have a double chin.

There are few things more daunting than seeing yourself on camera all day, every day, day after day. It’s no wonder some teachers have opted for the most flattering camera angle as opposed to the most ergonomic set up!

She quickly realised how ridiculous her concern about a double chin was, but only after she injured her neck and was wondering why her voice was so tired and scratchy.

When it comes to using your voice efficiently and effectively, alignment and breath are key.

In a classroom or studio you’re probably standing, and chances are you’re moving around a bit. You may not always have the best posture when standing but at least you’re not leaning over a laptop or slouched at a desk.

Working from home, you might be sitting at a desk or table delivering classes to a screen that’s requiring you to gaze up to it or lean over to it. Preferably, your camera will be at the height of your head so that you can keep your head and neck in alignment. If your head and neck are off balance, that’s going to put extra strain on your neck and shoulders, restricting your breathing and disconnecting you from using your voice functionally.


Find the balance between a camera angle and lighting you can cope with, and prioritise your alignment so that you’re not stretching your neck forward or slouching in your spine.

Any moments you can build into the day that allow you to stretch your neck or shoulders will be beneficial as well.

If you’d normally go between standing and sitting when teaching, aim to have the same variety in your online classes.

6. Make sure you are breathing

One of my colleagues from New York remarked recently that on a trip to the supermarket, he felt tension in the air, and he looked around and observed that everyone was holding their breath. (A voice teacher’s trained eye can quickly notice when people are holding their breath or breathing shallowly).

This phenomenon of holding your breath through the pandemic was also observed in David Marr’s article on The Guardian, One day we will tell stories of the virus, a time when we held our breath passing people on the street.

Sadly, in Australia, it feels like after going through a summer of being scared of the air due to bushfire smoke, we’re now scared of the air due to the virus.

I’m finding myself frequently holding my breath on my morning walks through Carlton Gardens and on trips to the supermarket, and whilst I thank my impulse to survive, I remind myself to reconnect to my breath when I’m back in my teaching space (aka my living room).

It’s important to acknowledge we’re not only shifting to teaching online, but doing so in the midst of a global pandemic that comes with a range of its own demands. You’re not only learning to teach online, you’re also processing what’s happening in the world, in your institution, in your family and with your students – all of which as a singular concern could be discombobulating and disconnect you from your breath.


Whether you teach standing or sitting, take a moment to check in with your breath before teaching. You can place a hand around the level of your belly button and focus on breath moving your belly out into your hand as breath comes in, and your hand moves in towards your spine as breath leaves.

Low and slow. That’s all you need to remember.

If you can take this moment to centre your breath before class, you’ll be more likely to be using good breath support when it comes to teaching.

I’ll be interested to hear how your next week of online teaching goes and whether these tips made any difference!

When Jacinda Ardern speaks, people listen. Why?

Edit: This article follows a conversation I had on ABC Radio Sydney about the role that Jacinda Ardern’s voice and communication plays in conveying trust, building rapport and being an admirable leader.

Jacinda Ardern has been thrown into the global spotlight over the last week and has spoken with composure and compassion. Her response to New Zealand’s worst ever mass-shooting has sparked interest internationally, as people watch and seem captivated by her balance of authority and honesty.

How does she do it?

Let’s look at this clip from the first press conference she gave after the events on Friday 15 March. Ms. Ardern comes across with clarity and conviction as she speaks directly to New Zealanders, conveying authority and authenticity:

How does Jacinda Ardern convey authority?

1. Speaks at a slow and deliberate pace

In this clip, and in many of her speaking engagements, Ms. Ardern is not afraid to take her time. She proves that speaking slowly draws listeners in and makes them pay attention.

In a world that is fast-paced and quick to change, this can seem counter-intuitive – lots of people think that you need to speak quickly to hold people’s attention before they lose focus and move onto the next thing. But in fact, speaking at a slow pace conveys certainty and builds trust.

2. Uses pause effectively 

The words that have become synonymous with the events in Christchurch are “they are us” and “one of our darkest days”.

It should come as no surprise that Ms. Ardern emphasises these key phrases in the very first press conference, allowing the words to stand out and for people to latch onto them.

Ms. Ardern pauses around these phrases, emphasising their meaning and conveying the importance of this part of her speech.

3. Speaks at a controlled, low pitch

This speech has a tone of seriousness, understanding and certainty. The tone is created by the slow pace and use of pause already mentioned, and is supported by the low, steady pitch of Ms. Ardern’s voice.

We know that Ms Ardern’s voice has variety and colour from other media appearances, like her jaunt on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and her impromptu speech at the teachers’ rally. However, her use of a consistently lower pitches in this press conference helps convey the magnitude and severity of the events unfolding.

 4.   Downward inflections on statements

Ms. Ardern’s voice is noticeably shaky and trembling in parts of this speech, however, she doesn’t deter from conveying the information she has at hand.

At times like this, some communicators reveal a lack of trust in themselves or the information they’ve been provided by (subconsciously) saying statements as questions, using a rising inflection.

Ms. Ardern’s downward inflections convey her certainty and her trust of the information she’d been given to communicate. She has certainty in everything she says.

5.   Uses inclusive language

Throughout this speech, Ms. Ardern uses inclusive language such as ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’. It appeals to the public and speaks directly to the hearts of all New Zealanders.

The pace, vocal dynamics and inclusive language Jacinda Ardern uses allows her to speak with conviction. It has served her well in building trust and rapport with her audience in recent weeks.

If you’re interested in developing your own voice and communication, you can get in touch for information about training options, including private coaching and group training.

Edit: It is undeniable that character and context also play a role in how people perceive Jacinda Ardern and the way they hear her message. However, it is important to acknowledge the role that strong communication plays in inspired leadership. Ms. Ardern’s voice and communication have allowed her to express herself meaningfully, with conviction and compassion.

Accent Acquisition: How do you acquire a new accent?

In my recent article I wrote about how acquiring a new accent can achieve more effective communication. This is because when some accents are heard in different contexts, they can be challenging for a listener to understand.

Although accents are not a true indication of education, intelligence or authority, some people do wish to change the way they speak in order to be perceived in a different, or more accurate, way. I work with clients to help them acquire a new accent that will better serve them in an Australian context, rather than ‘modify’ their existing accent or diminish it in any way.

What makes some accents difficult to understand?

We all find some accents more difficult to understand than others, and it’s due to three elements: speed, the way certain vowels and consonants are pronounced, and the intonation pattern (you can read more about these in my recent article).

How do you learn to pronounce key vowel and consonant sounds?

The pronunciation of certain vowels and consonants can be challenging to work on. Every language is made up of different sounds, and there are sounds in certain languages that don’t exist in others. This means if a speaker has learnt English as a second language, they have not only learnt a new language, they are continually challenged to use their tongue, lips and soft palate in a different way than what is required in their first language.

A voice coach can give you the tools and training you need to acquire a new accent.

The first stage is to learn how a sound is formed, and how to physically make the sound.

A common sound to learn is the ‘w’ sound, for people with accents in which the ‘w’ either doesn’t exist or is pronounced as the ‘v’ sound.

Another, for people with accents from Asian countries, is the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds which often don’t appear in Asian languages.

Then, of course, it’s all well and good to use that sound in isolation, but you need to learn to use it in practical ways. Let’s say you’re learning the ‘th’ sound. You would work with your voice coach on:

  • Learning the sound in isolation (“th” is made by placing the tongue on top teeth)
  • Saying it between vowel sounds (e.g. “oo-th-oo-th-oo-th”)
  • Saying it in nonsense words (e.g. “ootht”)
  • Saying it in real words (e.g. “think, three, theme”)
  • Saying it in short sentences (e.g. “think of three themes”)

Learning new sounds isn’t easy, and the length of time it’ll take for a person to confidently make new sounds depends on how strong and flexible their articulators are (mostly the tongue and lips). I often advise to expect approximately six one-hour teaching sessions with plenty of practice in between.

How does one strengthen their articulators?

Well it’s a case of your articulators hitting the gym, so to speak! Common articulator exercises I’ll prescribe include:

  • ‘Cleaning your teeth’ with your tongue
  • Poking out your tongue and moving from up to your nose then down to your chin
  • Doing a ‘duck face’ then smiling, and repeating
  • Curling your top lip up to your nose
  • Lifting and dropping your bottom lip

All these exercises greatly help to activate these key sound-producing body parts. Another activity I strongly encourage my clients to dedicate some time to is working through some delightfully ridiculous-sounding tongue twisters. Not only will tongue twisters work your articulators, they’ll probably give you a giggle which is great to keep you relaxed and positive in your learning.

Would you benefit from acquiring an accent?

Many people go through life with multiple accents and think nothing of it, they simply change according to the environment they’re in, or the people they’re around. It can even happen mid-conversation, and it’s called ‘code switching’. It can be highly beneficial in situations in which it’s important to communicate clear meaning, particularly on the phone.

Accents are a beautiful reflection of culture, identity and upbringing, and are certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but at times it is necessary to learn a different accent to aid your communication in a different cultural context or professional environment.

If you feel that you’d benefit from acquiring a new accent, you can book a time to speak to one of our team at Viva Voice and learn about our voice coaching services.

Accent Acquisition: How acquiring a new accent can achieve more effective communication

Hearing different accents is one of the joys of life in a multicultural country. 

I love the exploration into someone’s culture that an accent invites, it enriches the soundscape of our streets and adds to the fabric of our communities. With that in mind, it sounds counterintuitive that I would work with clients who want to ‘change’ their accents, as I believe their accent is an important part of their identity.

Instead of ‘accent reduction’ or ‘modification’, I offer clients the possibility of acquiring a new accent that could serve them better in an Australian context. I call this accent acquisition

Clients, usually professionals, come to me for a few reasons related to their accent:

  • They feel they’re not being properly understood
  • They report that people tell them they sound like they’re from a particular country, when in fact they’re not
  • People assume they are more, or less, educated than they are

Quite often my clients working on accents are in the health industry, in which they need to communicate meaning very accurately to the public, and in roles where there is an emphasis on communication such as university professors or lawyers. Often the problems are heightened with phone communication, when non-verbal communication can’t assist to relay a message.

You might think that the best approach for a client having difficultly being understood, would be to reduce or minimise their accent, but in fact that’s not quite right. What I do with these clients is I teach them to acquire a new accent. Their native accent is always there, but they have a new accent in their communication toolkit that can better serve them in an Australian context.

It would be nice to think that accents don’t matter, but they do. Listen to comedian and actor Bill Bailey give his humorous, but accurate, take on the power of accents (skip through to 9’55):

Let’s dig a little deeper into what an accent is.

An accent is a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, and is usually associated with a geographical area. Accents can be national or regional, and distinguish elements of speech including:

  • Rhythm
  • Intonation
  • Pronunciation of vowels and consonants
  • Phrasings (how words are grouped together)
  • Inflections

Think about the famous and lively Spanish accent. It’s very fast with short vowel sounds, which means it ends up with that short, sharp, fast sound with equal stress on every syllable.

Our own Australian accent, on the other hand, is flowing and long. It’s quite a nasal accent and us Australians don’t move our lips much when we speak (perhaps so as not to let the flies in?). It has a drawl-like quality and reflects our national laid-back attitude.

What makes some accents difficult to understand?

We all find some accents more difficult to understand than others, and it’s due to three elements: speed, the way certain vowels and consonants are pronounced, and the intonation pattern (the highs and lows of pitch).

To get your head around intonation, think about Indian languages – these are spoken with lots of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. Intonation patterns can throw an English speaker’s ear out because in the English language we don’t convey meaning via intonation. You can understand, then, how speaking English with an Indian accent that retains that ‘up’ and ‘down’ can be difficult to understand.

Difficultly in understanding some accents is not only about mispronounced words, it’s about misinterpreted meaningWhere one accent may use tone, another may use volume, so it’s easy to see how one sentence could have different meanings depending on the emphasis put on certain words.

Interestingly, it’s not necessarily people for whom English is a second language who are difficult to understand. I’ve worked with clients for whom English was their first language, and indeed they were educated in English, but their phrasing was unusual and specific to the area or country in which they were raised. They needed to learn to phrase their sentences slightly differently to be better understood in Australia.

Take a listen to this snippet of audio which is from a client who recently came to see me. From Nigeria, English was his first language but as you can hear, he was a little difficult to understand in an Australian context:

Can an accent alter the perceived authority of a person?

It can, and it does!

All communication is cross-cultural, meaning it concerns the language and culture of the person speaking but also the person listening.

In Australia, we associate very fast speaking, and also high pitch, with uncertainty, lack of authority or nervousness and anxiety, whereas in another culture these two characteristics of speech could be perceived quite differently.

We all have the perception that speaking ‘well’ indicates that an individual is educated and intelligent. That is a myth. In some accents, for example, the ‘th’ sound is pronounced as the ‘f’ sound and it’s nothing to do with education, it’s merely a result of growing up in a particular area of the world.

Although accents are not a true indication of education, intelligence or authority, it’s easy to understand why someone might wish to change the way they speak in order to be perceived in a different, or more accurate, way.

Let’s return now to our Nigerian friend and take a listen to him reading the same passage as you heard earlier, but applying the new sounds and phrasing he learned in voice coaching:

I think you’ll agree the second recording is much easier to understand.

Accents are a beautiful reflection of culture, identity and upbringing, and are certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but at times it is necessary to learn a different accent to aid your communication in a different cultural context or professional environment.

If you feel that you’d benefit from acquiring a new accent, you can book a time to speak to one of our team at Viva Voice and learn about our voice coaching services.

Let’s finish where we started, with another video from Bill Bailey, this time on the accent of his current home in West London. Enjoy!

How to be convincing and charismatic by speaking with conviction

I recently worked with a client who gave me permission to share her story, and I’m doing so because I believe others will relate to, and learn from, her experience.

My client, a highly-qualified doctor, was noticing something about how people were hearing her – or weren’t hearing her well enough. When the time would come in her daily shift to handover to the doctors on the next shift, my client couldn’t seem to get them to listen.

As you can imagine, the information she had to share was important, such as medical histories and patient statuses. Her colleagues just didn’t seem sufficiently engaged in what she had to say, or if they did and then questioned her, she would feel challenged, and find it difficult to justify her decisions.

Let me assure you, this doctor is as qualified, experienced and knowledgeable as her peers, and what this comes down to is the ability to talk with conviction.

The way you speak can absolutely enhance your perceived level of knowledge and authority, and it can also dramatically undermine it.

Let’s explore how that can happen.

Some people speak in a way that is self-diminishing. Do you do any of the following?

  • Saying statements as questions. Think Valley Girl or the Kardashians, it’s all about the rising inflection at the end of a sentence. It’s also called up-speak and it’s a very common issue I come across in my work.
  • Swallowing words at the ends of phrases. This is when you start strong, but you drop away by the end of the sentence. It comes across as unconvincing to say the least.
  • Using filler words (like, so, um, you know, I mean…)
  • Speaking quickly and racing through your words, giving the impression of wanting to get things over and done with (so you can run in the other direction, perhaps?)
  • Fidgeting. This is often about making yourself small, meek and dare I say it, invisible
  • Cowering when challenged instead of calmly justifying yourself, and trusting in what you have to say
  • Avoiding eye-contact

It wouldn’t surprise me if you read through that list and thought – no, I don’t think I do any of those! The thing is, just like the doctor I told you about, often we don’t have a sufficient level of self-awareness to allow us to recognise these things in ourselves, but instead, we  can notice how people react to us.

Do people listen to you? Do they pay attention and really hear what you’re saying? Do they believe you, and hold your opinion in high esteem?

Clients don’t typically come to me complaining that they’re not speaking with conviction, but rather, they say things like ‘I know I’m not very good’ or ‘I don’t feel confident’ or ‘I sound too young’.

Often people speaking with a rising inflection have no idea that they’re doing it, but once it’s pointed out to them, they notice it all the time in themselves and others!

What does speaking with conviction sound like?

Let’s firstly dispel the myth that a low-pitched voice is a voice of conviction or authority. It’s not that low-pitch is good and high-pitch is bad. The key is to avoid getting stuck in either one of those scenarios – the high-pitch voice that lacks gravitas, or the low-pitch voice that is dull and inaudible. Ideally, you’ll speak with a mixture of low and high pitch within your natural range; a variety appropriate to the emotion and energy of what you’re saying.

A person who conveys knowledge and authority is one that:

  • Speaks at a measured pace
  • Uses a variety of tone (not monotonous)
  • Finds the points in sentences that are worthy of emphasis
  • Pauses at strategic moments to draw people in (this is quite an advanced move!)

I feel as though I frequently reference Oprah and Obama as wonderful examples but that’s for good reason! Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes, for example, is a masterclass in conviction, using pause and variety of tone, and gesture, which I’ll come to. Obama uses pause to create incredible suspense and impact.

Another great example is the NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardon. If you look up her ‘speech to teachers’ on YouTube, you’ll see how clever she is. Watch her awareness of her audience and their concerns. Her tone and language are inclusive and highly effective. Does she fully believe in what she’s saying? I’m sure she does, but if she didn’t speak with conviction, I wouldn’t be so sure of her authenticity.

How can you speak with greater conviction?

Awareness is far and away the key factor! Awareness of other speakers (what captivates you about some, and what goes wrong with others), awareness of the reactions of the people you’re speaking to (yes, pay attention!) and finally, of course, self-awareness.

I’m not suggesting this level of self-awareness comes easily, and if you’d like help you can always get in touch and I’ll let you know how we can work through it together.

In the meantime, some actions you can take right away to improve your conviction are

1. Study and emulate

Watch the examples I gave – Oprah, Obama, and Jacinda Ardon. There is huge value in closely and mindfully watching, listening to, and emulating great speakers. Often we get so engrossed in these wonderful speakers that we don’t pay attention to their technique (and rightly so).

2. Use gesture

I frequently assist clients to use gesture in their speech. Gesture can be valuable to prevent, or make sure of, the build-up of nervous energy, when being very still can make matters worse. If you learn to use gesture deliberately, it can help you emphasise certain points.

3. Read out loud

This is one of my favourite ‘homework’ tasks to set my clients. Follow the punctuation in the text and use it to guide you, especially to practice your…pause! Reading out loud to children (or just reading children’s books out loud to yourself!) is brilliant as you can easily invite colour into your voice as you change your voice to follow a piece of dialogue, for example. Many children’s books even have visual guides as to what to doooo with your VOICE! (Like that!). Harness your most animated and expressive self.

4. Record your voice and listen back

Another great exercise is to record yourself speaking (reading a passage of text, for example) and listening back. You’ll be amazed how you actually sound versus how you think you sound.

5. Practice your presentations OUT LOUD!

This brings me to a point about practicing your actual presentations or speeches out loud. It’s baffling how many people turn up on the day of a presentation, having not once ever practiced their talk out loud! Writing to read and writing to speak are two very different things, and it’s imperative that your presentation is written for you to speak. You may even wish to start by saying what you want to say, then writing that down. And be sure to practice out loud, putting into action your expression and varied pitch with no upward inflection.

6. Ask for feedback

It’s important to feel comfortable to ask people for feedback, particularly in a situation in which you’re giving a formal presentation in the workplace. Be sure to ask a trusted person, and tell them prior to the presentation that you would appreciate their feedback.

7. Give your vocal folds a workout

Your vocal folds are like elastic and if you haven’t stretched them, you’ll have a flat and monotonous voice. This often happens with office workers in open plan offices, in which people are trying not to be too loud and everyone ends up with meek voices.

To ‘exercise’ your voice and develop a variety of pitches, start reading some text with a low pitch, then deliberately start the next sentence with a higher pitch, and on you go and then back down again. You can also try saying ‘yes’ ten times, but each time has to be different.

If you feel a little uncomfortable practicing or doing voice exercises at home or at work, don’t be concerned, simply follow the lead of one of my clients, he practices each day in his car.

8. Practice pausing

I mentioned earlier about the element of ‘pause’ in speech being an advanced move. We are all so accustomed to never being quiet in a still, un-stimulated way, that it’s almost impossible for many people to use ‘pause’ in a sentence without feeling terribly uncomfortable! So how about you start by introducing quietness into your every day and get used to the moments of quiet. Leave your phone in your bag when you’re waiting for the train, turn off the radio, just be still.

As Mark Twain said, “the right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

And on that note, good luck in working your way through the stages of self-awareness, exercises and practice, on the road to speaking with sufficient conviction to do justice to your knowledge, experience and ideas.

Are you ready to take your speaking skills to the next level?

Voice training isn’t a box you tick once and you’re done. If you’d like to keep refining your skills, get in touch for information about our different levels of voice training for professionals.

Are you new to Viva Voice?

If you’d like to find out how to work with me to develop your voice to its most powerful, start by booking a 15-minute Voice Analysis Call.

Ever been told to speak from your diaphragm? Here’s what that means.

Have you ever noticed how a little kid breathes? They’re amazing, unencumbered little breathers. They breathe with their whole bodies; even their legs seem to move!

As those children grow up, stand up and start spending their lives wearing tight clothing, working on computers and driving cars, their breathing becomes more and more restricted, and they lose that beautiful and natural ‘whole body’ breathing they once had.

You might wonder what on earth a child’s breathing has to do with speaking and the voice. Well, in fact, breath is the voice, and I’d like to teach you how to improve your voice by learning to breathe fully and deeply from your diaphragm so that, in a sense, you’re speaking from your diaphragm.

What does ‘speaking from your diaphragm’ mean?

Have you ever been told to ‘use your diaphragm’ when you speak? Or perhaps to speak ‘from your stomach’?

What people mean when they say these things is that they want you to breathe low and deeply, as if into your belly, and use that breath to speak.

Of course, you can’t actually breathe into your belly. You can only breathe into your lungs, and what enables you to do that is your diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a muscle attached to the bottom of your rib cage; it looks a bit like a silky parachute, and it divides your body in two. It’s attached to your rib cage all the way around.

When you breathe in, your ribs move outwards, and your diaphragm moves downwards. When that happens, the organs underneath the diaphragm are pushed out of the way, which gives that feeling of breathing into your belly. As you breathe out, the diaphragm releases upwards, and your belly moves inwards once again.

So, although air can only go to your lungs, you can (and you should) actually feel each breath in your whole body.

Your diaphragm is the key to breathing, and breathing is the key to your voice.

It’s important to keep in mind that there is no one correct way to breathe. You breathe differently according to the situation and the activity. But when it comes to speaking, diaphragmatic breathing is essential.

Breath is so important for the voice because it is the voice. Try this; put your hand directly in front of your mouth and read the following out loud:

The sound I’m making now is created by breath passing through the vocal folds, causing them to vibrate.

Did you feel the breath on your hand? Without enough breath, your vocal folds will never vibrate enough to make much sound. So, it stands to reason that to have a powerful voice, you need to take a powerful breath.

Are you deep breathing with your diaphragm? Try this test.

Do you think you tend to breathe fully and deeply, using your diaphragm? Or are you what we call a shallow breather or a chest breather?

Let’s do a quick self-assessment. You can do this while sitting at your computer if you like.

  • Sit quietly and observe your breath. Where do you feel movement?
  • Put your hand on your chest. Do you feel it rise and fall?
  • Put the back of your hand on the back of your rib cage. Do you feel movement?
  • Put your hand on the side of your ribs. Do you feel your ribs expand?
  • How about your belly? What do you feel there?

Your observations are telling you how you’re breathing, which parts of your rib cage are expanding nicely and which are fixed or tense.

You can try the same exercise in front of a mirror. Ideally, you’ll see movement in your belly, but if you see movement mostly in your throat or shoulders, this is a red flag that you need to do some work on your breathing, if you’d like to have a powerful voice.

Another little exercise – this one is particularly good if you’ve discovered that you’re not feeling your breath right down to your belly – is to lie down on your back and pop a tissue box on your belly. When you’re lying down, you’re not holding yourself upright or holding your belly tight. See the difference as your belly raises the tissue box up and down effortlessly with your natural breath. This is what it is to breathe low and deeply, and this is the feeling you want to continue when you stand.

If you regularly practice yoga, you might think that you’ve got this breathing business all under control, and you’re half right. In yoga, you’re taught to control the breath – in with a pose, and out with a pose. Conversely, when you’re speaking, you don’t want to control the breath; you want it to be natural and free-flowing.

So you’re a shallow breather…

If you’ve realised that you’re not breathing as low and deep as possible, the bad news is that you’re missing out on accessing your best natural voice, the one that commands attention and conveys authority.

A shallow (or chest) breather only uses a small part of the lungs, and not enough breath for the voice means

  • restricted volume,
  • vocal fatigue from trying to be louder without enough air (the muscles are working extra hard),
  • increased nerves from breathing quickly, and
  • potentially speaking at a higher pitch than necessary, due to tension in the body.

To demonstrate what shallow breathing is doing to your voice, imagine you’re lifting something heavy–imitate the strain of lifting.  Do you feel how the tightness comes all the way into your throat? Now try to speak while you’re ‘lifting’ the object; do you hear the acute tension in your voice?

Alternatively, try sucking in your stomach in and talking. It doesn’t sound like your best voice; does it? You might consider thinking twice about the pants you choose for your next presentation!

If you’ve discovered that you’re not breathing in the optimum way, don’t despair. We can work on this, and the good news is that there are some solutions you can implement right away.

What you can do today to learn to breathe fully and speak from your diaphragm.

Diaphragm movement is involuntary. You can’t control whether it moves or not, but you can control the abdominal wall, and as you’ve learned, this needs to be flexible in order for the organs to make room for the diaphragm to move down and allow for the influx of air to create a lovely sound.

Think about all the things you do in a day: You’re at a desk. You’re on a computer. You’re driving. You’re looking at a device. Most things we do involve having our hands in front of us, which often results in our shoulders rotating forward and slumping, leading to our bodies being restricted and our breath staying up high in the body. This isn’t much of a problem at the time, but it becomes an issue when you stand up and walk into a meeting or presentation because you continue breathing like that, and it’s terrible for nerves and volume.

This is a classic problem my lecturer clients have. They sit and read and write for hours, then hop up to present to a room of hundreds of students, and unsurprisingly, find they have no power in their voice.

Luckily, there is a relatively quick and easy fix! Before you need to go to your meeting or presentation – and you can do this while you’re still sitting – put your hand on your belly, and breathe to your hand. Take 30 to 60 seconds of deep belly breathing to prepare your body. It’s a transition from being in one frame of mind to another.

Posture, balance and the ease of correctness.

When you are relaxed, at ease and breathing effectively, you will feel a state of balance in your body. You won’t be leaning forward or backwards. Your weight will be evenly distributed over both feet, and if you’re sitting, you will feel both seat bones on the chair. If you’re not in alignment, your ribs will not be flexible on both sides.

Consider your posture as well. If you’re slouching forward, your front ribs won’t be able to open, and you won’t be able to fill up your lungs all the way. If you tend to bend a little backwards or if your back is tight, your back ribs might not be moving at all. Any tension limits the flexibility of the ribs, and ideally you want your ribs to be flexible and be able to expand.

Breathing should feel easy, and it actually shouldn’t be loud. Most people, when they sigh, take a deep breath and sigh loudly. For me, this is an obvious indicator that they have a ‘closed’ or tense throat!  When your throat is relaxed, your airway is open and you’re breathing with your diaphragm; no one needs to hear you breathing.

Try yawning, slowly and deliberately. Think about yawning sideways and outwards, and feel your soft palate at the top of your mouth expand. This is the feeling you want in order to allow enough breath to create a powerful voice.

You know now that breathing deeply and fully, using your diaphragm, is essential for accessing your most powerful voice. Awareness is a significant factor in improving the voice, so I’m sure that the next time you need to use your voice to create an impression, you’ll be more mindful of your breathing and the fact that your breath is your voice.

If you’d like to learn to speak with impact in any situation, I offer private voice coaching for professionals. To get started, simply book your complimentary Voice Analysis Call.

The video below shows the movement of the ribs, lungs and diaphragm in everyday breathing. Having a visual to refer to can be useful in understanding how your body breathes.

Top takeaways from “The Power of Presence” with Amy Cuddy

For some time now I’ve been following the work of Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School. Cuddy’s work burst onto the global platform after her 2012 TED Talk, Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are. It ranks as the second among the most-viewed TED Talks.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to hear Amy Cuddy give a talk in Sydney presented by Business Chicks.

So what were the top takeaways?

1. If you don’t believe your story, no one will believe your story

Cuddy stated that when we lie, the biggest giveaway is that our body language doesn’t synchronise with what we’re saying. There is a conflict between the emotions, the voice and body language.

Whilst it may take a trained eye to pick up on conflicting messages between your body language and what you’re saying, even an untrained eye will unconsciously read the messages coming across from the speaker and have doubts.

People will often say ‘I feel fine when I’m talking about things I know and have a handle on. It’s when I’m not familiar with the material that I feel nervous and my voice sounds shaky.’

When you feel like that, it’s likely that your body language conveys your uncertainty, and that comes across to an audience.

You have to believe in what you are talking about, or at least believe that you are the right person to be talking about it.

An audience wants to hear the truth – they want to see the truth communicated in voice and body.

Your body will inhabit the physical space around you if you believe you are deserving of being there and speaking on the topic.

2. “We convince by our presence” Walt Whitman

Cuddy quoted Walt Whitman, one of the greatest American poets of all time.

This line comes from his poem Song of the Open Road (1856). The full line is

“I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.”

In voice and presentation coaching, and even in teaching, we talk a lot about “owning the space”, i.e. being physically present in your environment, and conveying confidence through your body language.

Whitman gives a quick and powerful reminder in five words.

3. Expansiveness conveys comfort and confidence

When we’re nervous or afraid, our bodies generally become smaller. As we feel more comfortable, our bodies relax and occupy a bit more space. Even our fingers spread to take up more space!

Consider a speaker you’ve seen recently.

Were they clutching a podium? Were there hands held tight in a fist?

Or were they gesturing openly, with their hands relaxed in front of them or gently resting on the podium?

These physical states are an indication of the speaker’s level of comfort.

4. 75% of children have an expansive bias at age four

Cuddy stated, “There is a difference in how adults carry themselves. Women and men carry themselves in a different way when it comes to expansiveness. Women are less expansive than men, but little kids are not.”

Cuddy talked about how young girls and boys run around freely, stand tall, do cartwheels, and take up space.

But Cuddy went on to share some research that indicated that from an early age, children associate expansiveness with boys.

She talked about a study where 4 – 6 year olds were presented with a series of side-by-side photos of wooden figurines. One figurine was in expansive, open position, the other was in a small, closed position. The children were asked to point to the girl and point to the boy.

Not one child said they couldn’t do it.

These were wooden figurines – no faces, no hair, no clothing, no gender.

Yet 75% of four year olds identified the expansive figurines as boys.

“By age 4, 75% of kids showed a male expansive bias, by age 6 it was 85%.

“But more alarming is this number: by age 4 it’s only 13% who have a perfect score, meaning that consistently through the whole survey they think the expansive one is a boy. By age 6, that’s nearly half of them.

“This tells us from a developmental perspective that they are learning this. They’re not born knowing this; we’re exposing them to images and messages that tell them this.”

5. Little girls aren’t afraid to take up space, but by age 11 – 12, girls become shrinking violets

Cuddy referenced a project called #StandLikeASuperhero that a father started when he saw his daughter’s posture changing as she started middle school. He wanted to encourage young girls to keep standing tall and taking up space.

Cuddy’s research shows that children are learning an expansive bias from early childhood, and this starts to affect girls around the age of 11 or 12.

What happens to girls’ bodies at this critical age also happens in their voices.

Thanks to the work of Carol Gilligan and others, we’ve known for some time that around puberty, girls become acutely aware of the social impact of how they use their voice and how they carry themselves. They change their voices and bodies in order to ‘fit in’ or be perceived in a certain way. The weigh up the social consequences of their behaviour.

Even the most confident, playful, expressive young girls can change dramatically around this age.

6. Girls need to see examples of women who own their strength and power, and not in an evil way

Since first seeing a poster for Wonder Woman earlier in the year, I’ve been talking about how important that film is for women, and especially young girls. It’s crucial for us to see women owning their physical strength.

Cuddy said the same thing, and took it one step further.

Cuddy used examples from children’s films to get us thinking about characters who carry themselves with power. She made the striking point that it’s usually the villains; that we often associate strong posture and powerful body language with ‘the baddies’.

Think about the Disney films you’ve seen and that children still watch today: there’s the Evil Queen in Snow White, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Cast the net a little wider and you can include characters such as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter, and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

If we associate strong body language and power poses with villains, there’s no wonder women shy away from using it day to day. We need to see examples of powerful female bodies who show strength unapologetically.

7. Don’t ever tell girls to stop

Cuddy is often asked how to get women speaking up in boardrooms and contributing more in meetings, and she has one answer: Don’t ever tell them to stop.

“Don’t tell your daughters to sit like a lady. Do not send them signals that they’re not supposed to speak as much or that they might be seen negatively if they step up and share an idea.

“Let’s teach our daughters to expand. To take up space. To express their ideas. To show their strength.”

8. Voice coaching has an important role to play

Cuddy didn’t say this, but everything that she did say reinforces the importance of voice coaching for many professionals, and the importance of speech and drama for kids.

It’s easy to say “don’t tell girls to stop”, but it’s hard to do that when environmental and social messages are so strong.

In watching the speech and drama classes for school students at Viva Voice, I’ve seen even the most confident young girls change their body language dramatically as they enter high school. In attending Viva Voice, these girls are a part of an environment that encourages them to stand tall, speak up and share their strength, and yet something still tells them to take up less space. The advantage for these students is that their teachers identify what’s happening, and with extra encouragement and a safe, creative space to learn in, they bounce back into owning their space relatively quickly.

This is not always the case for students who aren’t a part of a similar learning environment, who don’t have the opportunity to nurture speaking skills from an early age. They may grow up to occupy less physical space, speak in a small voice, or not speak up at all.

That’s why voice coaching is crucial.

We are born with a free and expressive voice. We use it openly and expansively in childhood, but we are taught to be more measured and monitored in our voice use as we grow up. Some of us receive stronger environmental messages than others. Some of us need more help reacquainting with the expressive voice that we used to use so freely. Voice coaching is not about learning a new way to use your voice, it’s about reconnecting to a voice that already exists within you. It’s about allowing your voice to expand and take up space around you.

How to overcome the fear of public speaking

What do Adele, Geoffrey Rush and Jim Carrey have in common?

They all experience stage fright. You wouldn’t guess it, would you? You may experience a similar thing – a fear of speaking in front of groups of people. The good news is, you can overcome the fear of public speaking.

You might think that such accomplished performers would have their nerves in check, that they have nothing to worry about before a big show, but fear is not rational. Nerves and anxiety can overwhelm anyone when it comes to speaking in front of a group.

It might reassure you to learn that speaking in public is a common fear.

Research tells us that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death!

In 2012, a study by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Omaha concluded that the fear of ‘speaking before a group’ was the most commonly identified fear, in a list that included fear of heights, flying, financial problems, deep water and death.

What can you do to overcome the fear of public speaking?

First, you must understand what’s happening in your body when you experience nerves and anxiety.

When it’s your turn to speak in front of a group of people or in a new environment, your brain recognises this situation as a threat to your survival, and your fight or flight response is triggered.

Your body responds by producing a large amount of adrenaline, taking you into a state of high arousal.

The response is different for everyone – but it often means your heart rate increases, muscles tense, your breath becomes shallow or caught in the upper body, your mouth may go dry, and you might have a feeling of butterflies in the stomach.

Muscle tension quickly closes the throat and constricts the breath, often leaving you with a higher pitched, shaking or quivering voice.

These changes are what make you feel like your voice sounds different when you speak in front of a group of people.

There’s a wonderful quote from author Maryanne Williamson, “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn.”

Years of teaching people of all ages has taught me that we learn to fear speaking in public, it is not something we necessarily fear from a young age.

Many people I’ve worked with who feel an overwhelming fear of public speaking, often recall a particular moment when they experienced failure in front of a group of people, and it made their nerves more prominent from that point on.

This is the beauty of children being involved in drama, school plays and public speaking competitions – they learn to speak with confidence from an early age in a supportive, nurturing and positive environment, and bounce back quickly if a particular performance or event isn’t as good as another.

To overcome to fear of speaking in public, you must tackle these 4 myths, head on:

Myth 1: Speaking in public is dangerous

When I was training with world-renowned voice teacher Kristin Linklater, part of the teacher-training was to teach classes, and receive feedback from Kristin.

When it came to my turn one day, I was beside myself with nerves. I could feel my breath getting faster, I was shaking and teary with nerves, and my fellow trainees were as baffled as me that my nerves had completely taken over me.

Kristin asked a question and I couldn’t answer it – I had no voice. Then she blurted out, “Amy, what’s the worst that can happen?”

I considered the answer to that question, and realised how much I’d blown the whole situation out of proportion. Suddenly the whole room was in fits of laughter!

I was not going to die from teaching, nor was it going to be the end of my teaching career if I made a mistake!

Kristin wanted me to succeed – yes, she would critically analyse my teaching style and delivery, but her job was easier if I was on the right track.

It’s imperative to remind yourself that any mistake or hiccup in a presentation gives you something to work on next time.

Myth 2: The audience are against you

Think about the last time you watched someone do a poor job of speaking in public.

How did you feel as you watched them?

Most people say that they feel sorry for a speaker when they’re not doing a good job, and that they just want the presentation to end.

It’s uncomfortable for everyone in the audience if a speaker is not doing well for any reason.

Your audience wants you to succeed! They’re supporting you!

The audience are not your enemy. It’s more relaxing and enjoyable for everyone if the person speaking is at ease and doing a good job.

Myth 3: Nerves will make your presentation worse

There is no proven link between nerves and giving a bad presentation.

Nerves can actually be helpful – they psyche you up for your presentation and can help bring energy into your delivery.

Of course, deep-seated fear can push you over into irrational thinking. It’s about getting the balance right, so that nerves don’t morph into debilitating fear.

You should recognise your body’s physical response to fear, focus on your breath, and allow those nerves to give your presentation energy.

Myth 4: You have to be an excellent speaker and be funny

Your only job is to be yourself, speak clearly and present well. These are the qualities that make a strong speaker.

We pay attention to those who speak in a convincing manner, who deliver with authority; they radiate authenticity and we are drawn into their delivery.

That doesn’t mean they’re excellent speakers, it means they can express themselves clearly, concisely and with conviction.

Where to from here

You can learn to overcome your fear of public speaking, and use your nerves to your advantage.

The best news? There are benefits of feeling nervous! It shows you care about your audience, nerves can help you get ready for a peak performance, and can be a source of energy that you can channel positively.

I always recommend practical training with a qualified coach so that you can become familiar with these techniques in action, and practise in a safe, friendly environment.

Get help with public speaking.