Feb 152018
 
  • Good speakers are born that way.

  • Being shy will prevent you from being a confident speaker.

  • You need to have a theatrical flair to capture an audience’s attention

If you believe any of these statements, you’ll be relieved to know that these are merely generalizations. 

Being able to translate one’s thoughts into words and then speak phrases and sentences in a way that communicates effectively with other people is actually an astounding skill that only humans possess.  While birds may sing and dolphins emit sounds to their peers, only humans have the range and fluency we know as verbal communication.

But with this unique skill comes a range of abilities based on genes, nurture and practice.  Some individuals are truly gifted, captivating speakers: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King are known for their extraordinary speaking skills.  But for most people, early nurturing in storytelling families, practice in school and coaching are the keys to becoming a good speaker.

Can inherently shy individuals become good speakers?  There’s no reason people can’t prepare their thoughts and practice a presentation or the dialogue they can use when called upon to speak. Jessica Chastain, Lady Gaga, James Lipton, to name a few, consider themselves “shy” or “introverted” by nature. But that hasn’t stopped them from rising to the top of their professions as actor, singer, interviewer.

Practice in storytelling, even at the earliest ages, primes children to express their thoughts and experiences.  Even as adults, we enjoy a speaker who tells a story using natural speech melody, expression and body language.

You can achieve confidence as a speaker by learning the tools of “dialogue” to capture the interest of another person or many people and make any speaking situation a “give and take” process.

Too many people view public speaking as theater, yet most trained actors and accomplished speakers will tell you they learned the techniques of speaking in public despite their shyness, and in some cases, articulation or fluency difficulties. Consider this little known fact: Marilyn Monroe’s breathy voice was her technique for coping with a stuttering disorder.

Young children can be nurtured to become good speakers in their families and in school, while teenagers and adults can develop the “art” of speaking and gain confidence by coaching and practice.  

Great speakers are taught, not necessarily born that way!

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Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, writing, executive function skills and speech-language pathology.

 

Nov 102016
 
  • Myth # 1:  It takes years to become an effective public speaker.
  • Myth # 2: Nobody else seems nervous when they make a presentation.
  • Myth # 3:  Most good speakers are born with the “gift of gab.”
  • Myth # 4: Being forced to stand up in front of others in a public speaking class will make you a better speaker.

These myths along with many others seemed fixed in most people’s minds but they’re not valid.

Consider this scenario:  You have to make a company presentation in two weeks.  You’ve written your material and organized your slides.  But when you stand up to rehearse, it doesn’t come out the way you imagine.  Panic sets in!  Is it too late?

Working with an experienced speech coach doesn’t have to be a long, arduous process.   Sometimes I need to help a client reshape a presentation by editing material to focus on key points.  At other times the material and slide presentations have been developed to suit the audience and time frame, so our work concentrates on presentation skills. While it usually takes several sessions to prep for an individual presentation, you should have some concrete tools to use after the first session. 

In some cases a speech coach helps a client deal with nervousness and fear of making a presentation.  It’s normal to have some anticipation before speaking in public; indeed, the spurt of adrenaline that occurs when we engage in a difficult task can be channeled to infuse your speaking with enthusiasm and energy.  But for those individuals who find themselves tongue-tied or hesitant because of nerves, the process of understanding the important features of effective speaking can be liberating.

Does a public speaking class where you take your turn making presentations reduce nervousness  and improve speaking skills?  I have worked with many individuals who have tried peer-based courses or cookie cutter approaches without any gains.  For most people an individualized program with an experienced speech coach makes the critical difference.

 Developing a plan based on your individual needs, learning the skills that apply to you, practicing your presentation and receiving pointed feedback from a professional can change your thinking about the myths that hold back many people from seeking out speaking opportunities.  In our competitive professional world, lacking the skills to speak effectively in a public forum limits your opportunities.

Even last minute coaching can make all the difference in your public speaking skills and professional advancement.  

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Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, writing skills, speech pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 142016
 
  • Do you hear your voice on a recorded message and wonder, “Who is that?”
  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable with your voice and wish you could speak differently?

Of the many people who answer “yes” to these two questions, only a fraction ever see a speech pathologist or voice coach to improve the sound of their voice.  It is possible to develop a voice that reflects who you are and the imagine of yourself you want to project. Possessing a melodic voice with resonance is an asset on both personal and professional levels.

  •  What defines a “good speaking voice?”

Clear speech with standard production of all speech sounds is a prerequisite. In order to be clearly understood, your voice should be free of articulation errors, in other words, employ proper “diction.” For some speakers, especially those for whom English is not their native language, this may mean accent modification.

A natural sounding voice includes appropriate melody and rhythm to capture the listener’s attention. Flat, monotone speech with little variation puts listeners at arm’s length.

Speech with appropriate inflection helps reinforce you as a knowledgeable speaker. Sentences you use to give information should have a downward inflection at the end. “Up Speak,” that annoying rising inflection at the end of every sentence does not help to inspire confidence.

Vocal resonance is one of the keys to a voice that listeners find pleasing to the ear. Good resonance involves proper placement of speech sounds in the vocal and nasal cavities and provides a richness and warmth to the voice.

Vocal projection remains a critical factor: if you can’t be heard who will listen?  Projecting your voice doesn’t mean yelling, however. Infusing energy with good breath support is the key to being heard.

Speaking with authority employs many of the features I’ve noted above and is probably one of the main reasons that doctors, lawyers, professionals in many fields, employ a vocal coach.

Good speakers who capture the attention of their listeners are not necessarily born that way. Many people work with a speech pathologist or voice coach to develop a more effective voice. Possessing a voice you like will make you a more confident person. Can you develop the skills to change the sound of your voice? Absolutely!

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Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, speech pathology, writing and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

Aug 152016
 
  • When you speak do you capture people’s attention ?
  • Are you convincing and persuasive?

Whether you’re addressing a convention (as we’ve seen in the last month), a small group, or one other person in an interview, using the “authentic voice” can lead to a “yes” answer to these questions.

Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama project this authentic voice.  Hillary Clinton is trying to capture the voice but struggles with the problem of authenticity in her style.  What separates the two?

When I work with clients I recommend they “tell the audience the story.”  Doesn’t everyone enjoy hearing a story? From early childhood and even as adults, a storyteller captures our attention.  There are many elements to “telling a story”, including the structure of the story.  But for now, let’s focus on the voice.

A good storyteller uses a natural melody that varies in pitch and rhythm.  He or she connects with the listener through a soft vocal quality, not harsh or grating.  This “tone” conveys the message, “Come with me as I tell you my story.”  A “natural” voice has an authentic feel and brings the listener into a dialogue with the storyteller.  Michelle Obama used this technique at the convention when she drew listeners into her reminiscences of her years as First Lady as she watched her daughters grow from little girls into young women.

Throughout this past year none of the Presidential candidates have captured this “authentic” voice.  In one way or another, each one has taken a strong, critical approach and employed a voice with features that emphasize power and authority — but not the persuasive connection that the natural, authentic voice creates.

If you want to persuade another person, you need to draw the listener into a dialogue. Consider using the storyteller’s voice to convey an invitation: “come with me on the journey of my story.”  The “authentic” voice creates a connection between the speaker and the listener, a necessary beginning to the persuasive process.


Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, writing, executive function and speech-language pathology.

 

Jul 052016
 

Interview on WVOX.6.10.13Hear a clip from my latest radio on Peter Moses’ show, “Eye on Westchester” and learn tips on how to be an effective speaker.

Feb 132015
 

Winter Lake George.edit

Individualized, corporate workshops can be developed for your company or school.  Feel free to contact me by phone or email: [email protected], or 914-631-5082.

There are no upcoming public workshops scheduled during the winter of 2015 but I frequently post my articles on public speaking, writing, language, cognitive function and speech pathology on the Blog section of the website.

Jan 162015
 
  • Is winter worse for the speaking voice?
  • Is it possible to maintain a healthy voice during cold season?
  • Why are some people susceptible to hoarse voice, especially in cold weather?

Winter brings dry skin and chapped lips, as well as increased vocal problems for many people, not only professional voice users such as teachers, singers and clergy.  In fact, most people actually rely on their voices in the average day more than they realize.  Speaking on the phone, participating in meetings, socializing — all these activities engage the voice and in some cases, place strain on the vocal cords.

What is different about the winter season?

In the northeast and other parts of the country where cold weather prevails for several months, heating systems pump out dry, warm air. Many people lower their fluid consumption, especially water, because they aren’t feeling as thirsty as they would during the summer.  Without adequate moisture, tissues in the larynx (where the vocal cords are located) dry out.  This results in a greater tendency for hoarse, raspy vocal quality, especially when we place greater speaking demands on the voice.

Winter also brings an increase in colds and all forms of upper respiratory infection.  Colds produce excess mucous, an annoyance that most people deal with by forceful throat clearing. Unfortunately, this sets up a cycle of clearing, further irritation, and increased mucous.

How to handle the dryness caused by indoor heating as well as the irritation and excess mucous from colds?

Speech pathologists who treat voice problems emphasis general vocal care for everyone, especially for people who rely on their voice for work.  During the winter, especially cold season, the principles of vocal care/vocal hygiene become even more important.  Here are some of the recommendations I make for professional voice users, as well as the average speaker:

  • drink extra water during the day, especially when speaking
  • avoid forceful throat clearing by using a silent swallow
  • drink warm, decaffeinated drinks (caffeine dehydrates the delicate tissues in the vocal area)
  • reduce the strain you put on your vocal cords by becoming conscious of how you use your voice in noisy environments

The last, and perhaps the most important piece of advice: use proper breath support for speech.  Singers learn techniques of breath support for performance, as do actors, but most speakers have little training in this critical skill.  Speech pathologists who treat voice disorders can guide all speakers, not just professional voice users, in breath techniques to avoid vocal strain and maintain a healthy speaking voice.

Care for your voice all year ’round and it will be less likely to cause you difficulties in the winter.

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, executive function and speech pathology.

Jul 212014
 
  • Are you a confident speaker?
  • Do  you capture the attention of your audience?
  • Are you an effective speaker?

These three questions are all entwined.   If you want to become an effective speaker,  you need to capture the attention of your audience.  If you’re confident, you can engage your audience and deliver your message.  Confidence comes from having the tools to connect with your audience.

Whether you’re one-to-one or speaking to a room full of people, you need to make a personal connection.   For a presentation this doesn’t necessarily mean speaking about your hobbies, showing slides of your last vacation, as some speakers like to do, or “warming up the audience” with a joke or cartoon.  It means being “authentic.”

“Authentic” speakers display competence about their subject; they prepare, research their topic and use relevant information and examples to illustrate their points.

“Authentic speakers” use a powerful voice.  Power in this case does not come from volume, but from authority, knowing your subject, displaying your knowledge — your competence. Showing conviction about your opinion engages the attention of the audience.  While you may be explaining new information, don’t simply “tell.”  Gauge the interest and understanding of the individual(s) by maintaining eye contact and watching for  body language — head nods and focus — signaling the audience is following you.

Professional speakers and actors know how to use critical vocal features to convey the powerful voice.  Be sure you’re using a natural voice by keeping a rhythmic intonation pattern.  Your voice should go up at the end of a question and down at the end of a declarative statement.   Emphasize important words and pause at the end of phrases.  Too many speakers sound robotic because they neglect these features.  Monitor your rate: don’t speak too quickly because you’ll lose your audience in a blur of information.

Engage your speakers by thinking of your presentation as a dialogue, not a monologue where you’re simply lecturing them with information.  This doesn’t mean you necessarily stop to answer questions, but rather you keep a mental note that you’re speaking “to” your audience, not “at” them.

Professional speakers maintain a divided consciousness: they have to be aware not only of “what” they’re saying but how they’re saying it.  Some communication coaches will maintain that your presentation skills are more important than the words you use to convey your message.  In my opinion it’s a 50-50 split.  Keep in mind the most knowledgeable speaker can be so boring Pthe message gets lost in the delivery.

Take a tip from the professionals and make the delivery as engaging as the message.

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Check back soon for more thoughts on communication skills, speech-language pathology and executive function skills.

Feb 142014
 

My voice fades out when I speak in front of an audience.

I feel tightness in my throat when I give a presentation.

I lose my voice by the end of my speeches.

I feel as if I’m running out of breath when I speak in public.

In my work as a communications coach and speech pathologist, I hear many concerns like these.  Let’s assume  you’ve organized and written your notes,  you have your visuals or handouts,  and you think you’re ready to present.   But have you considered the optimal conditions for your voice, the vehicle that will deliver what you want to say?

One of the critical elements for a strong presentation voice is reducing vocal strain and using your voice properly.

Before you begin :

  • Be sure to hydrate: drink plenty of water beforehand so your throat isn’t dry when you start and have water handy while you’re speaking.
  • Arrange for a microphone if you’re in a room larger than a regular classroom.  If you’re using a mike, get there early, check the sound levels and be sure you know how to speak properly into the mike.  Do a sound test with a technician or someone who can tell you if you’re audible at the back of the room.  There’s a tendency to force the voice to project when speaking in a large space so proper use of amplification can make a critical difference in reducing vocal strain.
  • If possible, go to a quiet place and stretch, especially your upper body.  Do some vocal warm-ups and take some deep breaths.  These are the techniques used by actors and singers who are professional voice users.  If necessary, warm up at home or in your office before you present.

While you’re speaking:

  • Keep your voice at a steady volume and pitch in order to maintain a natural voice.
  • Monitor your rate.  Many people, especially those who aren’t professional voice users, tend to speak too quickly — usually because of nerves, but sometimes because they’ve prepared too much material for the time that’s available.  This is where planning and organization become a key element in making an effective presentation.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.  Controlling your breath while speaking is one of the keys to reducing the strain on your voice.
  • Take sips of water as you speak, before that dry, strained feeling in your throat begins.  It’s fine to pause and take a sip; your audience won’t start to fidget if you give them a few seconds to process what you’ve said (and it gives you an added bonus of thinking time.)

I’ve discussed aspects of these tips I recommend to my clients in previous blog entries on effective speaking, including, “The Two P’s for Effective Speaking,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/04/30/the-two-ps-for-effective-speaking/,”Where Did My Voice Go?” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/05/28/where-did-my-voice-go/ , “Will I Ever Enjoy Giving A Presentation?” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/11/01/will-i-ever-enjoy-making-a-presentation/  You might like to scroll down and read more about effective speaking skills and preserving your voice.

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Check back soon for more thoughts on effective speaking, speech pathology and executive function skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nov 012013
 

Whether you’re an executive giving a speech, a student making an oral report, or an applicant interviewing for a new job, you’re probably concerned about how you sound, how you communicate (and if you’re not, you should be.)  For many people that concern turns to dread, and even worse, to nervousness, both of which don’t improve the situation.

How can I be a better speaker?

I’ve written about this question in several articles: “Almost Everything You Need To Give A Great Interview,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/09/20/almost-everything-you-need-to-know-to-give-a-great-interview/ “Speak Up, Speak Clearly: Is That All There Is To It?”, http://lazarspeech.com/2013/09/04/speak-up-speak-clearly-is-that-all-there-is-to-it/ “The Two P’s For Effective Speaking,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/04/30/the-two-ps-for-effective-speaking/ and others you can read on my blog.

Confidence, Preparation, Reducing Um’s and Ah’s:  These are just a few of the topics I’ve covered and they remain critical for communicating  effectively.  What else should do good speakers know about making a presentation so it doesn’t become a dreaded event?

Timing remains the key to being calm and effective.  Don’t rush, no matter how pressured you feel about covering a certain amount of material.  It comes back to my recommendation about preparation.  Consider what you need to cover in the time you have to speak.  Plan carefully and don’t over plan.  So many speakers succumb to their eagerness to convey everything they know about a topic so they literally speak at a rate that’s too fast for listeners to process.  Slow down.  Pace yourself as you speak.  Think about speaking in phrases, not just sentences.

Maintain a natural voice by considering your intonation.  What does that mean?  Intonation is the rhythmic up and down of our voices.  If you speak too quickly you lose intonation, the stress on key words.   Without proper intonation your speech will take on a monotone quality, one of the annoying things about synthesized speech, those automated, recorded voices — what we call robotic speech.

Considering the words you want to stress will make a big difference in maintaining natural intonation.  Most languages, including English, are spoken with stress on syllables and words, otherwise we would sound flat and boring.  As a speaker you keep the listener’s attention by stressing important words — these can be highlighted in your notes or even in a scripted presentation (if you’re actually reading a speech.)

Breathe.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, of course I breathe.”  Yes, we have to breathe as we speak, but too many people take rapid, shallow breaths when they present.  They don’t monitor their breathing so they run out of air and may make themselves even more nervous.  Effective breathing has a calming effect and puts you more in control of your speech.

Singers and professional speakers who work from a script actually mark their breaths as cues to be sure they breathe at appropriate times.  This helps their timing, stress and intonation, all critical factors in giving an effective speech —  a presentation you won’t dread making!

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Check back next week for more thoughts on communication, speech and language and executive function skills.