Public Speaking: Fill Your Audience With Sound By Projecting!
Projection is one of the most important, if not the most important, element of public speaking. If they can't hear you, they won't like you!
I don't usually have audiences like me, but that has mostly to do with the subjects I'm discussing and the viewpoint I'm expounding. It's certainly never because they can't hear me. I was once in a dress rehearsal at Chicago's hangar-like McCormick Center and I had one of the producers who was sitting right at the very back of the facility tell me that he could hear every voice I was saying very clearly even though all the microphones were turned off!
You know those people who go through their whole lives not speaking above the whisper made by a field mouse with a sore throat? Well... I'm not one of them!
One of the primary ingredients of public speaking (especially without a microphone) is projection of the voice. For a speaker to be effective, the audience must be able to hear them! It seems like a basic thing to do, speaking loudly, but there is a large difference between projecting and yelling!
The most important element in good projection is correct breathing. The correct combination is a combination of diaphragmatic and intercostal breathing. This may sound confusing, but basically summed up, this means that you use your diaphragm (a large muscle in the bottom of your chest cavity), which moves up and down, pressing on the lungs to expel the air, or to create space for the lungs to fill with air. Intercostal breathing is using the muscles of your rib cage (called the intercostal muscles, wow, what a surprise...) which contract and relax, either pushing breath out, or drawing the lungs open to take in more air.
Clavicular breathing, when you only use the upper part of your chest and don't use your diaphragm, is not a healthy way to breathe, as you don't fill your whole lungs with breath. A sign that you are breathing clavicularly is that you raise your shoulders when you breathe. Without the push from your diaphragm, you cannot project, and even everyday speech may be quiet, non resonant and raspy.
The most effective form of breathing for performance and projecting using intercostal and diaphragmatic breathing is the abdominal press. This is breathing normally, but giving air an extra kick from your diaphragm. This puts sounds well forward in the mouth and allows voice to be carried longer distances.
Well, enough with the breathing, let's get onto the speaking!
Crucial Elements in Effective Projection are:
- Breathing (we've talked enough about this one already, I'll keep it brief!)- Good breathing to put the voice well forward in the mouth and to project and carry it in to the audience.
- Clear pronunciation of consonant sounds- slurred sounds will sound like a mumble by the time they reach the back of a room!
- Confidence- The most important part! If you think you can do it, you most probably can!
- Don't strain the voice, or eventually you won't be able to talk at all!
Visualizing your voice reaching the corners at the back of the room can be very effective, but only if you are breathing well enough for your voice to get there!