Preparing to Teach: The Sonic Components of Voice

While teachers may spend significant effort becoming more effective in their word choice, it seems less obvious how to work on the other vital aspects of voice (cadence, tone, energy and volume). Here are some considerations:

  1. Warm up your vocal cords.
  2. Prepare to be present.
  3. Channel the energy of fear or apprehension into excitement.

#1 Warm Up Your Vocal Cords

In this article, the author interviewed a speech language pathologist for tips on learning to project your voice in a safe and effective way. “The more resonance in one’s voice, the less effort the vocal chords have to use to get that volume,” notes the expert. See the article for more on these tips:

  • Just talk.
  • Breathe through a straw.
  • Make “mmm” sounds.
  • Laugh like a witch.

#2 Prepare to Be Present

How do you and others sound when they are present, mindful, “in their body” or “in their heart” as opposed to distracted, stressed, overly nervous or “in their head?” We notice that the tone, cadence, energy and volume of a person’s voice is different in these cases. When the speaker is disembodied or lacks presence, we often find the voice is higher, faster, louder and less rhythmic. In contrast, when a speaker is centered and embodied, a sense of peace and tranquility and patience are conveyed, even if there is an excitement or other high energy to the situation.

The task, then, is to release what has come before and prepare to be present. Tools for increasing presence and heart-centeredness before class are, of course, to take some time beforehand to engage in your personal practices, such as asanapranayama, chanting, and/or meditation.

#3 Channel Fear Energy into Excitement

Consider this amazing study where students were asked to give an impromptu speech before a panel of judges. The research was designed to learn which approach led to better performance: trying to calm down or channeling their fear / energy into excitement.

I Am Excited!

Recall that people are more afraid of public speaking than death (!) making it a wonderful way to test responses to stress… One group was advised to say, “I am calm.” The other, “I am excited.”  The “I am excited” group significantly outperformed the trying-to-get-calm group. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to shift from a high-arousal state of fear/anxiety immediately into a calm state. It’s like cruising at 80 miles an hour and slamming on the brakes. Not a good idea. Much wiser to take all that fear energy and simply reframe it as excitement—channeling it into a positive, constructive direction and, effectively, pressing go on the accelerator rather than stop. And “I am excited!” is a shockingly simple way to make that happen. – Brian Johnson

Use mantra or similar tools to transform fear or apprehension into excitement.