Five vocal tips for a brilliant presentation

Do you dread public speaking, or find your voice drying up in important meetings? Read five vocal tips to help you make a brilliant impression every time you talk.

Talking is something we do all day, often without giving it much thought. And yet, as soon as we need to present to a large group of people, or meet someone important, why is it that talking suddenly becomes so hard? Our voice wavers, dries up or we forget what we want to say.

Five vocal tips for a brilliant presentation

According to Albert Mehrabian, a globally renowned expert in verbal and nonverbal messages, that’s not great because 38% of the impression people form of us is based on how we sound.

This means that, if you want to make a positive impression, it’s important to get your voice right. And to help you do so, vocal coach Debbie Winter shares her five vocal tips for a brilliant presentation.

1) Drink water

Not many people know that lubrication is crucial to maintaining vocal function. So avoid dehydration by cutting down on tea and coffee on the morning of your presentation or meeting, and making sure you drink plenty of water instead.

To ensure the delicate mucous membranes of your throat and larynx have enough moisture, try to drink six to eight glasses of water a day.

2) Inhale steam

Steam inhalation can really help your vocal health, as it allows heavily saturated vapour to caress the mucous membranes of your vocal tract. It also gives you more vocal flexibility by plumping up the cells of your vocal folds, and enabling efficient vocal fold contact.

The muscles in your larynx tire like any others, and gentle inhalation will soothe and relax them and reduce tension. When your mucous membranes are dehydrated, they create additional lubrication which can feel sticky and uncomfortable. Steam inhalation will lessen your body’s need to produce excess mucous, and help to stop you clearing your throat repeatedly before or during your presentation.

Using a humidifier in air-conditioned rooms will also make a big difference to your voice. As laryngologist Garfield Davies says, “The vocal folds are happiest in the atmosphere of the Kew Garden’s hothouse.”

3) Stop clearing your throat

If you are a regular throat clearer, try to reduce the irresistible urge. Throat clearing is counterproductive to public speaking, as it is abusive to your vocal folds and simply creates more lubrication and a further need to clear your throat – trapping you into a never ending cycle of throat clearing!

Some experts believe throat clearing is a reflex action people can have when they are under stress. Interestingly, consultant ENT specialist Dr Adam Fosh notes that it’s particularly common in young entrepreneurs and anyone under pressure.

If throat clearing is a problem for you, count how many times you do it in an hour. To try and reduce it, you can try a number of strategies. One that works for many people is to make a gentle creaky sound on an ahhhhh to remove phlegm, followed by swallowing which will enable mucous to move up and over your epiglottis and into your stomach.

4) Warm up your voice

It’s also very important to warm up. This is often associated with singing, but is crucial to all professional voice use. Research by Amir (2005) shows that warming up sufficiently improves the tonal quality of singers and this is equally important for public speaking.

Gentle pitch glides make excellent warm ups, as do humming noises. The puffy cheeks exercise is also highly effective as it reduces throat constriction while stretching out your vocal folds. The great thing about this exercise is that it’s easy to do in the shower or even in the car. Simply puff out your cheeks and blow, then add in a gentle sound and slide from the bottom of your register taking care to always puff out your cheeks with air.

Leading voice teacher Meribeth Dayme recommends umming and chewing as if eating a delicious meal. It’s also a great way of warming your lips up too.

5) Calm down

It’s quite normal to feel a burst of nerves before a big presentation or important meeting, however accomplished you may be as a speaker.

You may feel your heart rate quicken and your breathing become shallow. This fight or flight response can also be accompanied by a tightening sensation in your throat. And frustratingly, neither response is compatible with sustained speech, which requires a steady breath stream and open throat.

To counter the effects of stress, you can try an abdominal/recoil breath. To do this, use a long zzzzzz sound or vvvvvv sound on a sustained breath until your breath runs out. Then release and allow your breath to drop into the lower part of your belly. You can use these breaths with different pattern variations to train your body to avoid a high stress response.

(This is similar to the brilliant 7:11 breathing technique that can stop hyperventilating and reduce or eradicate the symptoms of panic attacks.)

Need more advice on making a great impression?

You’ll find more tips on making a great impression in these articles:

If you are having vocal difficulties or would like a 20 minute free Skype session with Debbie or one of her voice practitioners, send her an email.