Have you ever stood at the lectern or were sitting for an interview and when you opened your mouth to speak, the sound emanating from your lips was much higher in pitch than you expected, wanted, or appreciated? While the raising of the pitch of the voice is common when nervous, it is also something that can happen in normal conversation. Just getting excited can take some voices up several steps and for many people it is more than disconcerting. It can be embarrassing and humiliating.
In discussing the voice, it is important to understand that pitch refers to the highness or lowness of sound and should not be confused with volume which deals with the loudness or softness of sound.
When your voice loses its stability, you have lost control over it. Whether the rise in pitch is due to nervousness, excitement, or even an increase in speed or volume, being able to control what comes out of your mouth in every situation is an incredible asset. Unfortunately, without that control at the lectern, you are then telling the world that you are indeed nervous, an image that does not reflect well on you, the speaker.
One of the most unsettling situations I have ever witnessed occurred during a presentation from one of my graduate students at the Ivey School of Business in London, Canada. The nervousness this young woman experienced was so great that her pitch steadily rose until she reached a point in which she was unable to continue. Embarrassed, Jackie stopped mid-sentence, turned and walked out of the classroom.
Between that 1st presentation, however, and her next one, 2 weeks later, Jackie learned how to power her voice from her chest, thereby enabling her to control her nervousness as well as what was coming out of her mouth. What was fascinating about this most determined student was that her presentation skills were excellent. It was her nervousness that had been her downfall. Once she gained the control, Jackie’s presentations were dynamic, enthusiastic, and most well-received by the other students.
While I certainly experience nervousness in public speaking, I always sound confident and handle myself in that manner because I have learned how to control my voice and what comes out of my mouth. What this means is that I am able to use my nervousness to my advantage. That adrenaline rush can give you a tremendous edge if you know how to make it work for you and not against you.
The secret is to learn how to use your chest as your primary sounding board – your amplifier – the power source for your voice. In doing so, you take the pressure off your vocal folds (cords) and throat, which relieves the stress and strain on those delicate organs. Only when you are able to control your nervousness, however, will you be able to stop the rise in the pitch of your voice. In addition, you will discover a host of other benefits, two of which are:
1. The ability to control your speed; and,
2. The elimination of any quiver if that has been a problem.
Allowing your chest to become your primary sounding is the best way to control your nervousness in any form of public speaking and the answer for gaining total control over what comes out of your mouth!
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