One of the most famous orators in the history of ancient Athens was Demosthenes. He became one even though he didn’t show much promise at the beginning. He was a child of poor health; he suffered a number of illnesses that caused a severe speech defect. He babbled and others mocked him for years. Fascinated by a certain Athenian orator, he decided to challenge his limitations. He devised a series of exercises to improve diction: he put stones in his mouth, gave speeches while facing the wind or running up steep slopes. The painstaking, backbreaking exercises brought amazing results: he became the most respected speaker of Athens and one of the most influential politicians.
The story of Demosthenes is still an inspiration for many and proves that we are able to eliminate the limitations we are born with or acquire later in life. Beginner speakers are often heard to say: “I am not able to engage my listeners because my voice is too weak”, “If only I were born with a voice like a radio presenter or actor – it would be a thousand times easier for me” or: “My voice is too weak, it makes people think I have no charisma.”
However, the best radio presenters and actors did not receive their perfect-sounding, loud and expressive voice as a gift. They all worked on it in acting schools or at voice emission workshops. And everyone – no matter how good or bad their voice is – can improve their voice. At least to some extent. It requires regular and intensive practice, but the first effects can already be heard after a few months.
There are two main factors in voice quality: voice emission and speech organ motor skills. Voice emission is the complicated process of voice production, which includes breathing, phonation, resonance and articulation. The work on improving voice emission consists primarily in learning the correct work of the muscles of the chest and larynx, which will make the voice coming from inside our body more sonorous.
Working on the motor skills of the speech organs consists in exercising the muscles of the face, tongue, lips, jaw and palate. By forcing these organs (called articulators) to exercise, we train them in the same way as we train biceps in the gym. Systematic practice strengthens the articulators and so the words become clearer and louder.
If you feel that your voice could do with some improvement, contact a speech therapist who will prepare a set of exercises just for you. Working with a professional who takes a close look at your speech apparatus and the way you speak and then recommends the right course of action is one of the best investments you can make to become a great speaker.
If you think that working with a speech therapist is not a necessity for you, work on your voice regularly doing the exercises below. Exercise daily for at least 15 minutes. You should hear the first effects after a few months.
Voice emission exercises
(1). Take a deep breath through your nose (a diaphragmatic breath) and, while exhaling through your mouth, pronounce the following vowels until you run out of breath. Articulate each sound slowly. It should sound a bit like humming.
EE… (like in bee word)
AH… (like in up word)
EH… (like in end word)
OH… (like in on word)
OO… (like in soon word)
(2). Take a deep breath through your nose (a diaphragmatic breath) and, while exhaling through your mouth, pronounce the following sounds slowly:
(3). Take a deep breath through your nose (a diaphragmatic breath) and then count from one up on one breath. Professional actors can count up to 70, the average person up to 40.
Speech organ motor skills exercises
(1). Draw large circles with your tongue in your mouth – first to the left, then to the right.
(2). Stick your tongue out of your mouth and try to reach alternately your nose and your chin. Exercise until you get tired.
(3). Stick your tongue out of your mouth and try to reach alternately to the left and right cheeks. Exercise until you get tired.
(4). Bring your lips forward and shape them into an O shape. Then spread them into a wide smile and then return to an O shape. Repeat until you get tired.
(5). Vibrate your lips like a you are mimicking the sound of a working engine. Make it loud and really fast.
(6). Tongue twisters – repeat the following sentences, trying to speak both quickly and clearly:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Betty Botter bought some butter but she said the butter’s bitter.
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
She sells seashells by the seashore.
How can a clam cram in a clean cream can?
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?
How many cans can a canner can if a canner can can cans?
I have got a date at a quarter to eight. I’ll see you at the gate, so don’t be late.
If a dog chews shoes, whose shoes does he choose?
Near an ear, a nearer ear, a nearly eerie ear.
Nine nice night nurses nursing nicely.
Wayne went to wales to watch walruses.
Which witch is which? (x3)
Red Buick, blue Buick. (x3)
Red lorry, yellow lorry. (x3)
Thin sticks, thick bricks. (x3)