By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast.
Jimmy Cannon is a UK-based voice coach, singer, and saxophonist who helps people get heard — literally speaking. Whenever he talks to people, including his clients, the first thing he notices is the sound of their voice and how they’re engaging. For instance, when he was featured in one episode of The UnNoticed Podcast, he noticed that my on-air voice had higher energy and a more expanded pitch range and dynamics compared with my off-air voice.
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Your Voice Should Depend on Circumstance and Environment
The way you modulate your voice should depend on the circumstance and environment.
If you’re pitching or selling a product, you need to create some energy and engage with the audience. If you’re speaking to around 500 or 600 people, you have to use your voice as a core instrument and inject an element of performance. When you’re presenting, there has to be a variety in dynamics, pitch, and tone of voice so you can express yourself and communicate your message better.
Whenever you go on stage, Jimmy emphasises that you have a responsibility to communicate with the audience. There’s this expectation that you have to meet what your audience needs.
Before doing a talk or taking a Zoom call, you have to prepare and warm up your voice — get the gears in motion and get the oil moving around the engine.
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One of the first things you need to do is to drink water. Hydration is key in activating your vocal folds, which are folds of tissue (about two centimetres in length) in the throat or larynx whose vibrations produce sound. If you put two fingers just above your Adam’s apple, and you transition from a “sh” sound to a prolonged “zh” sound, you will feel what is called resonance or your vocal folds moving together. If you put too much air over these folds, you will end up straining your throat.
There are people who drink coffee and feel a certain narrowness in the throat. The same sensation is felt if you get nervous before speaking. By warming up your voice and using the correct muscles, it can keep the throat more relaxed and open. This is why it’s important to let the air go.
Exercises to Try
To warm up your voice, there are a couple of exercises that you can try. One is called the lip trill, which helps take the energy away from your throat. You can do this by putting your lips together and producing a horse-like sound (a prolonged “brrr” sound).
Another is the tongue trill, which helps in increasing your vocal range. This is done by continuously rolling your R’s, putting the middle of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
You can also use your fists to give the bottom of your cheekbone a massage. This will help loosen up the jaw and the surrounding area.
Breathing is Key
When Jimmy voice-coaches a client, the first session is spent on breathing. Breathing is key in making your voice heard more effectively. However, the majority of people are not doing it correctly. Though we’re breathing correctly when we were still babies, things change when we get about six months of age when our body starts to change the way we breathe. If you observe babies who are lying on their stomachs, you will notice that their lower back raises when they’re taking a breath in.
To properly breathe in, you should let your belly out (instead of tucking it in). Let your diaphragm drop and contract to allow your lungs to expand. When you exhale, your diaphragm should relax, pushing the air out of your lungs and through your windpipe.
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When speaking, think about how much you’ll need for each phrase. As much as you need to control the amount of breath that you’re taking in, you also have to control the breath you exhale. Doing so will help you control where the breath goes and which parts of the body it will resonate with. By resonating different areas of the body (there are seven areas of resonators, with head, chest, and throat as the most common ones), you can produce different tones and emotions when you speak.
As mentioned, these changes in dynamics, pitch, and tone can help you keep your audience engaged.
Take Your Perception Into Account
When you’re speaking, it’s vital to think about your perception: What is your self-observation about your voice? From there, exercises can be done to correct your speaking.
During my interview with him, Jimmy asked me to share what I think about my voice, to which I mentioned that I am speaking too much through the nose — not from the chest. He shared that I’m resonating with my nasal passages. However, the actual phonation is coming from the throat.
In this case, if you don’t allow your throat to relax and you don’t breathe properly, your vocal tract (a passage in the body that starts from the upper part of the vocal folds to the edge of the lips) will narrow, making it more difficult to speak. To widen your vocal tract, access a bit more phonation within that area and allow your jaw to relax a bit more. You can use your abdominal muscles as well to create more pressure and open up areas of resonance. Knowing how to breathe in and out correctly will further help you access these areas.
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As a pro tip, Jimmy recommends focusing on the inhale. Put your hands on your belly and breathe in very slowly through your nose for about eight seconds. Then let it out with a “ha” sound. This will make you feel more relaxed and subsequently give you more resonance and a wider dynamic range of voice.
To learn more about how Jimmy can coach you about your voice, visit www.jimmycannon.com.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.