The other day, just after I had finished talking to her, my student said to me, “You have a funny voice.”
O-kay. No one had ever told me that before. So my voice is funny. Is it ha-ha funny or weird funny? I wondered.
I asked my student, “How is it funny?”
“Well, it goes up and down like this when you talk.” She replied and proceeded to demonstrate how I talked.
Ohhh, I thought. She meant I had a sing-song voice - but really? Do I really? I had never thought that I did and no one else had told me that I did.
I know that I spoke high in my throat from reading many years ago the book called ‘The Right to Speak’ by Patsy Rodenburg. Apparently, the way we speak is influenced by our parents. I hadn’t realised it before I read the book but my mum actually talk this way as well. The problem with speaking this way is that the vocal sounds we produce stay in our head and throat. It doesn’t get pushed out into the mouth and then outwards into the world. It makes it hard for others to understand our words.
This is a problem especially for teachers who need to command a room full of students. I remember during my high school prac teaching, my supervisor told me that my voice was not loud enough. I needed to project it out so the students can hear me and pay attention. My voice needed to be more commanding.
So for my next lesson I tried to be more commanding but afterwards I felt really drained and tired. I didn’t feel good about all the shouting that I did. My supervisor told me that I sounded really angry. I told her that I was only trying to make my voice louder like she suggested but it hadn’t felt right. She said there’s a difference between yelling and commanding. Yelling is when you’re using the top of your voice whereas commanding is when you lower it and it starts deep in your stomach. Well I wished she had told me that before! I knew I had sounded like a raving mad person.
Over my teaching years I have been working on projecting my voice so that when I need my students to hear me, I wouldn’t have to scream. I have gotten better and these are some of the things that helped.
1. Before you want to project your voice, take a deep breath.
2. Open your mouth when you say the words. This will help you to pronounce the words clearly instead of mumbling them. It lets the words out of your mouth.
3. Lower your sound. High pitch sounds tend to originate in the throat. You’d want to originate your sounds from the centre of your stomach.
4. Use your breath to push the words out. That deep breath that you took should launch your words.
5. Push the sounds into your mouth and onto your lips then upwards and outwards in an arc.
At first, it requires concentration but with practice, the whole process becomes automatic.
When I talk, I still use the top of my throat which probably lead to the sing song effect that my student mentioned. It’s a hard habit of a life time to get out of. At least I can command a small room when I need to. As for commanding an assembly hall or conference room, I’d still need practice and probably voice training!