Sep 21 2017

Exercise: How to jump start your voice without saying a word

Published by under Executive Presence,Vocal Health

I don’t have to tell you that your voice is attached to your body. And I probably don’t have to tell you that your body needs exercise. But what kind of exercise makes your voice work better? And how does a full-body workout compare with vocal warm-ups for getting your voice going?  Will weight training improve your vocal strength as well as your bi-ceps? What about yoga? Pilates? Cardio?

The benefits of exercise on the human body are well known. They include increased blood flow, improved oxygen, faster muscle contraction and relaxation, and greater economy of movement, all of which are essential for a strong, resonant, healthy voice. It makes sens that a regular exercise routine will greatly benefit everyone, singer or no. However, some forms of exercise are better for supporting your voice than others.

Yoga and Pilates. When it comes to breathing and posture, there is no better physical activity for vocalists than yoga. Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath, which practitioners say is the source of our prana, or vital life force. Pranayama is part of every yoga practice worth its salt. Similarly, Pilates practitioners constantly work with breath. This practice encourages lateral breathing, wherein air is directed into the sides and back of the ribcage. This is a wonderful technique for singers to learn and can be combined with some extension of the belly for greater airflow and to direct muscle tension away from the shoulders, neck and throat. However there are at least three types of breathing used in Pilates and each has merits for the voice.  Both Yoga and Pilates encourage body alignment and abdominal strength, as well as a strong core. All of these areas help the voice to be stronger and more flexible.

Weight Training. This form of exercise is great for strengthening bones and bulking up, but discouraged by voice practitioners because of the excess pressure imposed on the larynx during extreme exertion; vocalists who use weights in their exercise routines should make sure they do not need to hold their breath during training. I find it fascinating to discover, however, that the best breathing technique for weight lifting is also the one that is best for vocal use– inhale deep and low and use the lower abs to support exhalation.

Aerobics. Running, walking and other cardio activities are great for heart health as well as for breathing and endurance.  A 2015 study at the University of Houston showed that aerobic exercise is not only good for the body but a very effective vocal warm up, at least as beneficial if not even more so than the traditional vocal warm up alone. In the study, participants were given a cardio workout for 30 minutes and maintained a target heart rate between 55% and 70% of maximum. The results were better sound pressure level, increased airflow during voicing, improved aerodynamic power and other characteristics of improved vocal functioning. Thus, researchers concluded that aerobic exercise could be used in place of a regular vocal warm up if you don’t have time or appropriate space for making all those strange sounds that vocalists do when they warm up.

Put it all together: The study in Houston also suggested that it’s nice to have something you can do to warm up your voice when you can’t make sound. If you don’t mind the stares when you are jumping around backstage before a keynote, aerobics is the perfect solution! However, in 2005, researchers reported that combining physical and vocal warm up is even better for voice users than doing either alone. This makes sense since developing a voice takes much more than just warm muscles; part of the work of a warm up is to assist in maintaining vocal skills, and how you use your voice in a warm up is probably the way you will use it to speak or sing.

A warm up routine that sings:

  1. First, get in shape with regular exercise in Pilates, Yoga, at the gym or through regular cardio workouts. Participants in the Houston study who were fatigued by the aerobics did not derive the same vocal benefits from it as those who were more fit. Ask you doctor for help with this if necessary.
  2. 45 minutes-1 hour before you need to use your voice, complete a 30-minute cardio workout at a pace that allows you to hold a conversation.
  3. Continue by going through a series of vocal warm ups, allowing no more than 30 minutes to elapse before you must use your voice to sing or speak after warm ups.

For more resources to help you create a healthy voice, take a look at the following posts:

Help for Tired Voices: the 5 habits of a healthy voice

How to Water Your Voice

Energize it: Feed Your Voice

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Aug 03 2017

How to speak when you’re put on the spot

Published by under Content,Delivery,Public Speaking

We’ve discussed the necessity to practice to be a better communicator, but many of you have told me that you love speaking extemporaneously; to your mind that means you would be better off not practicing.  Practicing may take the joy out of something that you really like to do, to shape ideas as they come to you, to put new ideas together and form them on the fly. In fact, that is a great skill.  However, a skill is usually developed with some guidelines.  This is where improvisational comedy, or “improv” comes in. People who are good at it have learned through a lot of practice to adhere to some rules even though they are still speaking extemporaneously.  Although there are many variations of these rules, (after all, this IS improv!) here are some  from the Improv queen, Tina Fey:

  • Say “Yes.” As a speaker, this means to respect what others have said and to start your talk or conversation with an open mind.
  • Yes isn’t enough. Say “Yes, and…” This can apply to presenters and public speakers as the responsibility to add to what others have said rather than start with remarks on a completely new topic or ones that don’t reflect what has gone on in the room before you spoke up.
  • Make statements. Be committed to your ideas. Have a point of view. Speak clearly and with confidence.
  • There are no mistakes. Be open to opportunities that present themselves. If something appears to go wrong, what can you do with that to make lemonade?  When the power went out at a Chris Botti concert I attended, he seized the moment to walk into the audience and give an “unplugged” concert that had the audience transfixed and gave the artists a standing ovation.

The skill of improv is a great tool for leaders who have to think on their feet all day. It can help you be more aware as well as more innovative. It can help you be better at extemporaneous speaking. Think about it. How would the conversation change or what would happen if you just say “yes?”

Another rule of improv that some use is “don’t practice.” At first glance this may seem to reinforce that you will improvise best when you don’t prepare, but, in fact, improvisors do exercises around all of these rules and practice over and over to be able to be clear and think on their feet so that they can do their work well.  They do exercises to be aware of what they are and are not doing. Practicing makes them stronger and more able to think quickly on their feet.  Here’s how practicing can create more skills for extemporaneous speaking:

  • By practicing to eliminate filler words from your talk, you have to pay more attention to how you say what you say.  Doing that makes you more aware in general.
  • By practicing to eliminate indirect language you have to pay closer attention to whether or not what you are saying is accurate and whether or not you are committed to your own ideas.  Eventually your use of language improves in its meaning and you are much more able to express yourself clearly.
  • By practicing to bring in elements that engage others, you have to pay more attention to human connection and what makes others tick.  You have to listen more because you now require that you connect rather than be detached.
  • And by practicing aloud what you are going to say in a presentation or conversation, you allow your brain to use the ear/brain feedback loop and do its job of helping you to build more logic or more persuasion or more motivation…whatever you set as your intention.

Thus, the bottom line here is that in order to be at your best when you are asked to speak without much time to prepare, you have to prepare to speak. In an article on Forbes.com, Andy Boynton, Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, says that improv can teach us “how to perform better, how to collaborate, how to build ideas,” all of which are essential skills for being a speaker who can speak well when put on the spot.

A book on improv that you may find interesting:

Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madsen

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