The Body Giving the Speech

bodyThe first few times you give a speech, remembering all the things you’re supposed to do creates as much stress as the speech itself.  You have to write and learn the points of your speech, but you also have to remember the presentation skills you need to give the speech.

Remember the first thing you have to think about when giving a speech.  Who is your audience?

We are.  You have to think about us first.  You have to consider what we want and need from you.

The primary difference we discussed in the last post between an essay and speech focuses on presentation.  A speech must be given aloud, or it’s not a speech.  Therefore, presentation skills are as important as the content you write.

What do I mean by presentation skills?

As a whole, presentation skills are those physical actions you make during a speech.  They include:

  1. Posture and Positions
  2. Vocal Variety
  3. Eye Contact
  4. Stage presence/use
  5. Body Language
  6. Hand Gestures
  7. Visual Aids

Each of these has a very strong physical component backed with a psychological element that creates an impact on your audience.  They are critical to use and master.

Through this class, you’re going to be introduced to each of these.  We’re going to cover the basics of how to use them in the simplest manner, and then we’re going to see over time how you develop your unique style.

Each of these will require practice by you at home with exercises.

  1.  Try to take a walk daily for at least 10 minutes.  During this time, you are to walk with your shoulders back, your head up and your arms loose at your sides.  This preliminary warm-up will help you with every other exercise.  Omit it at your own risk.  (No, you can’t do it on a treadmill.  Get outside.  And no earbuds.)
  2. Stretch out in every direction.  Twist your body, rotate your arms, shake out your legs from the hips.  Wiggle your fingers and toes. Turn your head in all directions.  Drop your chin to your chest and roll your head from side to side.

The purpose of these two exercises is to get you to open up your lungs and your body.  When you’ve got your lungs expanded with exercise, your voice will project with more resonance.

What’s resonance?

resonance (per Merriam Webster

  • : the quality of a sound that stays loud, clear, and deep for a long time

  • : a quality that makes something personally meaningful or important to someone

  • : a sound or vibration produced in one object that is caused by the sound or vibration produced in another

If you’ve ever been close to a big bell when it has rung or near a train when it passes, you feel the sounds with your entire body.  This sensation causes an intense reaction in your listener.  They can’t resist paying attention to you when they’re feeling the sound waves with their skin.  People might say that they felt something in their bones.  This is sometimes just volume – like if you stood in front of a wall of speakers at a rock concert.

Women often are challenged with resonance.  Since the definition says “deep,” we often think that a woman’s voice is not resonant.  That’s not true.  It’s just a difference in power in how the audience perceives it.  Woman do have higher voices.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t resonant.  (Consider opera singers!)  Women have to work at how they project.  The key is posture and position of the body – the lungs, throat, and mouth in particular.

Resonance directly relates to how you stand and hold your body.

This is challenging to teens for a lot of reasons.

  • Body image
  • Habit
  • Intimidation/fear
  • Maturity
  • Confidence

Imagine trying to pick up a heavy weight by turning sideways and picking it up with one hand.

This is exactly what you’re trying to do if you have hunched shoulders, or slouch, or look at the floor when you’re giving a speech.  You’re hurting yourself and giving the audience an excuse to ignore you.  Remember, the audience is the reason you’re here.

Three Chambers of Speech


Your body has 3 specific chambers relating to speech.

  1.  Lungs
  2. Larynx/Pharynx
  3. Mouth/Sinus

Each of these needs to be as open as possible to maximize your volume and your resonance.

You need to get a lot of air into your lungs by expanding your chest while your diaphragm moves down.  That’s why your belly often will push out (and then back in) when you take a deep breath.

Your larynx (voice box) is essentially a set of muscles that work like a valve, controlling the length of the two major tissues that will vibrate when air passes through them.  The muscles stretch or contract to vary the pitch of the sound (low or high.)

The pharynx is the chamber in the throat where the sound can be magnified or muffled.  When this area is not working, you have very little resonance in your voice.  The pharynx and the sinus cavities in your face, create your unique voice.

The mouth has a palate, teeth, and tongue.  The three work together to modify the sounds from the larynx and pharynx, creating the sounds we use in speech.  In theory, we all have the capability to produce the same sounds.  However, between genetics and how we hear sounds as infants, many of us lose the ability to produce certain sounds by the time we are 10.  Accents are an example, as are some sounds that one language uses but another does not.

When your sinuses are full of mucous or your tonsils are swollen, you can hear a difference in your voice.

I Don’t Like My Voice

I didn’t like my voice either.  Most people when they hear their voice recorded, don’t like their voices because their voices don’t sound right.  This is because we don’t hear our voices through our ears.  The vibrations of our vocal cords, the resonance in the pharynx and sinuses are heard through our bones, not our ears.

You can work to change your voice to some degree.  I chose to deepen my voice when I was in my early twenties.  There’s only so much I could do to make an enduring change.

Instead, we often hear people change intonations of words.  Two in particular are common in teens.

  1. Uptalk: raising your tone at the end of sentences.  Not everything is a question – but many  young people today will speak as if it were.  To people older than 25, this is often perceived as a sign of insecurity in America and is highly disliked.
  2. Vocal fry: the deepening, rough voice mostly heard in young women.  It’s the subject of a lot of controversy and is often debated – by young women who practice it.

Be aware that these aren’t perceived in general as good speaking habits, but there’s no conclusive proof that either of them is permanently damaging your voice.

How Do I Project? (Exercise)

Start with good posture.  Learn how to get more air into your lungs by standing up straight, opening your chest cavity,  and dropping your diaphragm to take big breaths.

Then consciously raise your chin above your normal stance.  Drop your shoulders back (you may have to adjust your back slightly) and then drop your jaw without opening your mouth. Breathe deeply through your nose.

Now you’re ready to speak.  Don’t rush your breathing (that leads to vocal fry or running out of breath)

None of this comes naturally.  You’ll learn to do it.

remember all this?Do I Have to Remember All of This?

Yes.  How you sound will have the biggest impact on your audience.  You can’t be a good speaker if you don’t have control over your breath, which is control over your body.

If your stage fright manifests as a tight throat or difficulty in breathing, you’ll need to work on pre-speech exercises that will loosen up your entire respiratory system.  Vocal warmups are critical for you.  You might want to find techniques to calm yourself with breathing exercises or stretching.