April 2, 2014

Sound Confident Speaking in English

Have you been asked to repeat yourself in English? What are all the possible reasons for this, in your mind?  

For most people, the first reason they feel they are being asked to repeat has to do with "accent." They feel the sounds are distorted or not coming out in the "right" way. While some should certainly work on a neutral accent, for some the phonetics are not the problem. In such cases, the problem can be attributed to volume. The person simply isn't speaking loud enough. 

What happens when we don't speak loud enough?
When we do not speak loud enough, others (in the audience or over the phone) may not be able to hear us. When some of us speak too low, we may sound to native speakers as though we are mumbling. If our voice is too low, to others we will appear weak, not confident, and timid. To improve this element of our voice, it's important to raise the volume. 

Do's and Don'ts

Don't: 
  • Don't shout
  • Don't place the microphone closer to your mouth (this causes an echo and amplifies the problem)
Do:
  • Breath deeper to pace yourself (look below for exercises)
  • Relax yourself before speaking (breathing deeper can help during delivery)
  • Prepare what you are going to say in advance (as time realistically dictates)
  • Open your mouth/jaw more to get the sounds out (phonetic clarity)
The videos that follow are by voice coach Jay Miller. These are techniques that I often demonstrate to my clients to help them improve their voice quality and neutralize their accent while interacting with foreign counterparts.

This first video, Project Confidence: Making Your Voice Sound Confident, introduces some of the problems people face while speaking that give the wrong message. Even if we say all the right words, but we don't deliver them with the right pace, speed, tone, volume and resonance, the listener will not believe that we are confident. They may even believe we aren't telling the truth! To understand what elements to avoid to have a confident voice, watch this video, and the videos following this.

Next, Your Strong Voice: Strategies for a Stronger Voice highlights how relaxation helps us to create a powerful and amplified voice with resonance.


Third, Breathing Exercises: Breathing Relaxation Techniques, demonstrates breathing exercises that causes us to build our awareness of our breath in various areas of our body. While many often find breathing exercises to be a bit of a strange addition to speech improvement, do not discount their importance. Breathing exercises help us to become aware of our breath, speak with more resonance, and pace ourselves more naturally. The more we can control our breath, the better at speaking in English we can be. Also, over time, we will become aware when we are speaking too fast, too slow, too loud, or too softly and be able to change our approach in the moment for better outcomes. The deeper we breathe when speaking in English (ideally from the abdomen), the more confident and relaxed our voice sounds; the more we can convince others with the sound of our voice.

Lastly, this video, Crucial Speaking Skills: Resonance, brings together the concepts described above. As Jay mentions in this video, "You'll never feel resonance in any part of your body that isn't first relaxed and breathing." From minute marker 2:20, Jay shares some exercises to test resonance by uttering various sounds. There are other various sounds in English that can help to test resonance and vibration. Sustained sounds like the English V and the English Z when pronounced properly are great litmus tests for resonance and echo in the body. (Click those links for tutorials on those sounds for more information.)

These videos are perfect starting points for improving the quality of our voice. The first step in any process of change is awareness. Change takes times. Now that we have reviewed these videos and lessons, next time you find yourself in a situation where these skills are useful, your awareness will remind you that more practice and preparation is required. Many of these exercises just require a few minutes of your time everyday to improve and perfect. I have worked with clients who have shown dramatic improvements in as little as 3-4 weeks practicing these techniques for 5 minutes everyday. It does take a commitment and a desire. With commitment, drive and awareness, you can make the change, too!! The results will be out of this world, believe me!

Related Posts:
Avoid uptones in the Indian accent while speaking in English  
Listen and shadow various monologues in English (male and female voices)  
Why listening is a critical skill to better speaking

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