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Having a Bad Voice Day? Breathe…
November 17, 2010 @ 10:01 AM | By Kate Nelson

Singing in the Rain is one of my all time favorite movies! Aside from being one of the great classic musicals, this movie has a running theme similar to what I do at InterCall, which is how the main characters spend most of their time trying to prevent the general public from hearing Lina Lamont’s overly nasal, untrained, unrefined voice. For those of you who have not seen or heard of the movie, you can read a brief synopsis.

While I may not go to such great lengths as Dom and Cosmo to help someone change their voice, I do work with many employees on an ongoing basis to help them sound their best. My role at InterCall is to make sure our expertly trained operators sound polished and professional when they help facilitate operator assisted conference calls or online events.

Maybe you’ve felt the need for a “Kathy Selden” to do your speaking for you when you are having a “bad voice day” when you’ve got a big presentation coming up, which is similar to a bad hair day only you can hear the disheveledness instead of seeing it.  But there aren’t any Kathy Seldens out there to speak for us. We are on our own.  By nature, we are designed to be good speakers as long as we practice good vocal habits.

How do we overcome THAT voice? You have heard THAT voice….the kind that makes you want to hang up your phone or put your fingers in your ears and yell “lalalalalala.” How can we be more audibly pleasing? There are easy ways to sound better without having to bribe a fellow employee to do your speaking for you from behind a curtain while you lip sync. Some of these vocal exercises or warm-ups may seem silly but they work. 

  • Lip flutters - Let your lips gently touch and simply blow air through them. This may be the sound some of us make when we are exasperated but little did you know that you were actually doing a vocal warm up! This exercise loosens the orbicularis oris, the muscles around your lips. These muscles are important for creating the lip positions and movements during speech.
  • Breathing – Observe how you breathe during the day. Are you breathing mainly with your lungs (shallow breathing) and not your diaphragm and lungs combined?  Proper breathing involves the diaphragm which results in a healthier voice that is rich and projected. It also keeps the mental part of you relaxed.  This does not mean that you inhale all the air in the room and exhale it in one whoosh. Pace yourself and simply let the body do what it was built to do.  Make sure you do a random breath check throughout the day. Place your hand on your belly and observe a gentle rise and fall motion.  If your belly is relatively motionless, then practice deep breathing a couple times a day so you become more connected with your diaphragm. James V. Lunden recommends trying this very simple exercise when you first wake up and repeat it throughout the day:
    • Sit with your back straight, head up and shoulders back.
    • Once your posture is right, inhale as deeply and slowly as you can into your stomach.
    • Hold the breath for a two-count and then exhale all the air from your body.
    • Repeat this exercise 5 - 10 times.
  • Hum - Some people hum to themselves all day but what they may not realize is that they are doing one of the easiest and best vocal exercises.  Humming is a great way to get the voice going before you have to do any speaking. We naturally hum at our ideal vocal pitch and when you are conscious of your humming, you can play around with inflections. Humming is gentle and will not overwork your vocal folds.

I’ll wrap up my blog post with a valuable quote from my good friend and colleague, Sally Morgan. Sally is a well known voice and singing coach in New York City and is CEO of the Sing Like You Speak and Vocal Power Tools training web sites. In a recent interview with Gwyn Gilliss from The Actor’s Market, Sally had a remarkable viewpoint, “Everybody has a great voice. But people let bad habits and misconceptions cover up their good voice.” 

Stay tuned for more ways to improve your voice and make sure you are sounding your best not just in your virtual meetings, but all the time!

Kate Nelson is a Speech Analyst and works out of the West Point office and is a member of the WP Training team. She works with the North American and Indian call centers and provides speech, voice, and accent modification training for all employees. She is a graduate of Auburn University with a BS in Speech Pathology and Audiology and is a certified Compton P-ESL (Pronouncing English as a Second Language) trainer. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Auburn University. She is married and has a 5 ½ yr. old son. She is a self-described “word-nerd” and loves music, oenology, studying other languages, and being with her family.

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