WISE words by Nancy Mayer

Many of you know that I teach singing. I’ve been a singer most of my life, and love teaching that to others. But in the last 6 years I have also been giving speaking lessons.

Some people have started with the idea of improving their speaking voice, and have quickly moved on to singing lessons because, well, they secretly wanted to know if they could sing. It’s a natural progression. When you learn to use your voice well for speaking, by learning how to breathe well, to enunciate and slow down your speech, to focus and project your voice, singing comes right out of that effort.

Not everyone wants to sing

Recently I have more and more people coming to try and get their voices heard. The goal I have for my students is to get the speaking voice to match their personality, intentions and opinions. I’ve learned the reasons why they speak softly, and the deeper reasons for wanting to speak up. First and foremost, they want to stop hearing “I can’t hear you, could you speak up?”.

Speaking softly can sometimes just be a case of not knowing how to get the breath to support the voice. Other people come from a quiet family, some are trying to be polite in an international workplace, many are speaking a second or third language at work, and others don’t want to impose their opinions on others. I used to assume that these people were shy, introverted, or just not confident. But I’ve found that very often, this isn’t true. Most are sociable, confident and love a big party. But somehow the voice didn’t come along for the journey, whatever the reasons.

The thing that has surprised me the most is how quickly most people learn to speak up. By the end of the first lesson, a student has already realized that he or she can use more voice with just a little extra effort. In the following lessons we continue to work on breathing, projection, enunciation, emphasis, pace and putting emotion into speaking.

Try it yourself

I’ll give you one exercise to try at home if you think you’d like to improve your speaking voice. Imagine throwing a dart at a dart board, and aim at the bullseye, that tiny spot right in the center. Actually use your hand and pretend to throw a dart, as you say “one, two, three, four, five.” The point of the exercise is to focus your voice to a small space, use your breath to support the sound, and get a bit more sound while you’re at it. This is just one of many ways to get your speaking voice to match the rest of you.

Nancy Mayer is a professional singer and voice teacher. Nancy Mayer