Vocal Resonance

Speaker Beware! Is Your Audience Saying “Boo!” or “Oooh”?

When you deliver a presentation on Halloween or any other day of the year, your audience expects to be treated to a stimulating, thoughtfully designed, and well developed speech.But too many speakers inadvertently play a trick instead by using poor language skills that distract the audience, weaken the message, and leave listeners wanting to shout “Boo!” That’s why it’s important to beware of your language. Voice and language skills should communicate excitement, passion, and confidence, not leave your audience feeling like zombies.

Here are some tips to rid your language of the most common goblins that haunt presentations.

Avoid non-words: Non-words, sounds or phrase fillers, like “um,” “ah,” and “anduh” pollute your language and can be distracting to you listener. They can make you sound less polished, less prepared, and less credible, which will work against you when you are trying to communicate effectively and persuade others to your point of view.

Reduce distracting words and phrases: Polished public speakers use few if any of the following repetitive filler words: “like,” “really,” “I mean,” “you know,” “in terms of,” “so” “actually,” and many others. At DeFinis Communications our motto is, “Friends never let friends say, ’basically.’”

Limit slang: Avoid modern slang when giving a speech. Phrases such as “you guys,” “folks,” and “awesome” are fine to use in most everyday conversations, but they could weaken your credibility in front of certain audiences. Carefully consider your audience before using these words during your presentation and substitute power words for everyday slang.

What can you do?

If you have a tendency to use non-words, distracting words, or slang in everyday speech, your first step in changing these behaviors is to raise your awareness. Leave yourself voicemail messages, ask friends and colleagues if they notice these fillers, and listen carefully to yourself when you speak. Once you analyze the problem and know what you’re up against, then you can fix it.

Because vocal behaviors such as these are imbedded in our language from a very young age these habits will not change overnight. But there are techniques you can begin using today that will start the ball rolling in the right direction. When it comes to improving your vocal control, a “pause” is your best friend. Anytime you are on the verge of using a non-word, distracting word, or slang, stop and pause for two full seconds. You can also use shorter sentences, speak at a slower rate, raise your volume, breathe deeply, and smile to help you control these distracting words and sounds.

Don’t let your language skills kill your chances of giving a great speech. Whether on Halloween or any day of the year, strive to give your listeners a memorable experience that leaves them howling for more!

Read my past Halloween blog posts:

Spooky Presentations – When Botox Makes you Say “Boo!”

A Corporate Speechwriter’s Halloween Tour of Medieval England

Use Your Voice to Make a Great First Impression

I recently had a phone conversation with a new client who had signed up for our Executive Immersion program. While our discussion was informative, it was also a little challenging. He spoke with a thick accent, had poor enunciation, rambled on and on, and spoke in monotone. I had to work hard to listen intently, process what he was saying, and then think of my own response. And this was on the phone! I could only imagine what it was like to listen to him present in front of a group. When we ended the call, he gave me a link to a video clip of him presenting. I immediately went to the site. Based on our phone conversation, my expectations were low. Imagine my surprise to see him presenting in front of a group and doing much better than he had on the phone. Not only were his voice and speaking pattern were much better, but he also smiled, carried himself well, came across as genuine and sincere, and projected energy. While he didn’t “combust” in front of the group, he wasn’t asleep at the wheel either.

When it comes to first impressions, we often think it’s only about your physical presence—how you look. But I’ve found that for presenters your voice and speaking pattern carry just as much weight. Your voice is your primary instrument when delivering information, so your enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to your topic must come across to the audience through your voice.

To develop your vocal potential and make the best use of your natural speaking abilities, I suggest you focus on three categories: vocal clarity, vocal variety, and vocal emphasis.

  • Vocal clarity is the ease with which a listener can understand what you are saying. Nothing is more frustrating than listening to a speaker and barely understanding every third or fourth word because of mumbling, poor pronunciation, or a foreign accent. That means you not only need to speak loudly enough for people to hear you, but you also need to form your words with precision (ex: “going” rather than “goin”) and then say them according to rules of acceptable pronunciation (ex: not pronouncing the “t” in “often”).
  • Vocal variety is the interest you generate in your listeners when you produce changes in your rate of speech and pitch. Therefore, speak quickly enough to keep the presentation moving along but slowly enough so everyone can easily grasp your message. Slow down at major points, especially when delivering more complex information, and allow your audience time to absorb the material. Additionally, adjust your pitch to match the emotional content of your message. If something is critically important, change your pitch to reflect that. Generally, a low pitch indicates seriousness and a sense of authority, while a high pitch shows enthusiasm and excitement. You will let the audience know your attitude toward your topic when you use variety to express the range and depth of your feelings.
  • Vocal emphasis is the way in which you accent syllables, words, and silence to stress importance and to give meaning to our sentences. Varying your inflection is one of the most important tools you have to project enthusiasm and conviction in your presentation. Without accenting particular words and syllables, speakers sound monotone and come across disinterested, bored, or lacking authority or expertise. Along with inflection, silence (or pausing) is a powerful tool for emphasizing a key point or creating a bit of drama. And remember, what may seem like a long moment of silence to you is actually a much needed information break to your listeners.

Obviously, your physical first impression still counts. But no matter how professional you look, if your voice and words don’t match your physical image, you’ll lose your audience. So be sure to work on all areas of your first impression—including your voice. When you look the part and sound the part, you’ll make a positive first impression that leads to greater credibility and higher esteem.

The Most Unusual (and Amazing) Speech Preparation Story I’ve Ever Heard

I just completed a week’s training with the faculty at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. This is my third year working with them, so we’re practically like family now. During one of the breaks we were chatting about speech preparation when one of the women present, Bernadette Alvear Fa, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences and Director of Local Anesthesia Curriculum, mentioned that the most challenging preparation she ever did was when she was in labor with her son. In labor with her son? What?  Prepping for a speech while in labor was something I certainly never expected to hear from anyone. I just had to get the details, and since we were all comfortable with each other, she didn’t mind sharing (or me sharing this story either).

I first met Bernadette in June 2011 when she was in my training class. I worked with her on her physical, vocal, and verbal delivery skills as well as her message development, and I gave her various options for preparation strategies to implement. At the time, she was 12 weeks pregnant.

Bernadette explained that in the months that followed the training, she gave numerous lectures with her ever growing belly, each time using the skills she had learned in my class. She was becoming a powerful and confident speaker. Interestingly, as her son started to kick, move, and punch from within, he always remained silent when she was lecturing or speaking in front of large crowds.

On December 3, 2011, Bernadette was officially 36 weeks and 1 day pregnant. She completed a lecture with a colleague and had one more official lecture to provide to the faculty 10 days later. She had the slideshow presentation ready to go and had reviewed it with her co-presenter. Then, on December 10, 2011, something unexpected happened. Bernadette’s water broke at 6:45 a.m. When she and her husband arrived at the hospital, she breathed her way through a few moderate contractions and then sent  out a flood of emails to notify people at work that she would not be coming in on the following Monday and would not be giving her presentation (at least not “live”). Three hours later she had an epidural and decided it was time to work on her “voice over” for the presentation she was going to be missing on Monday. Since she couldn’t be at the presentation in person, she wanted her co-presenter to have her sections of the presentation complete. Talk about dedication!

According to the readings on the monitors, Bernadette saw that she was intensely contracting, and her son appeared happy as a clam and bouncing around joyfully. She asked all visitors in the delivery room to remain quiet, as the only microphone she had for the voice over was the one included in her laptop, which was low grade at best. Knowing she had to make do without her usual professional presentation tools, she drew upon the DeFinis Communications vocal delivery skills she had learned and did the entire voice over from her hospital bed while in labor.

Once complete, she emailed the presentation to her co-presenter. She then patted her belly and said, “Okay, son. Mommy’s done lecturing. It’s time to come out. We’re ready for you.” Forty minutes later, the world welcomed Christian Michael Fa. He waited patiently while his mom finished her work, enabling her to completely focus on the most important task at hand now—being his Mom.

I sat mesmerized listening to her story. She could have easily turned the lecture over to someone else to prepare the voice over, and I doubt anyone would have noticed. But powerful women never give up! Bernadette was determined to follow through with the commitment she made and had the presence of mind to use the skills she learned in our class to prepare a voice-over presentation in this most challenging environment. In a room filled with stress, anticipation, adrenaline, and the frenzied activity of nurses and beeping computer monitors, Bernadette stayed cool, calm, and focused. As a result, she did an amazing job on her voice over…even while in labor.

Ever since women entered the workforce, they’ve had to creatively overcome the challenges of balancing work and home. In this case, Bernadette went the extra mile. She used her determination, perseverance, and optimism to balance these two forces in a way I’ve never seen before. If a woman can do what Bernadette did—be in labor and prepare a complex, technical dental lecture—then surely women are capable of anything, whether it’s leading a company, saving lives, or delivering a powerful  presentation under usual circumstances.

Bernadette is a true leader in her company and in her life. Christian has a lot to look forward to growing up with a role model of loving mother and confident professional.

Do you have an unusual or amazing speech preparation story? Share it here. We’d all love to read it!

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Speaking With Conviction…Over the Phone

I have been working with a recent college graduate who is seeking an entry level job in sales and he is finding that many of the positions available are cold calling, telemarketing positions. While I am not certain that sitting behind a desk, on the phone for 80-100 calls a day, is the best fit for this young man, his job search got me thinking… What does it take to properly convey your message and deliver a captivating presentation over the phone?

Even if you’re not a telemarketer, you’re likely giving phone presentations every day. Think about it…we live in a world saturated with technology. Tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, and Telepresence are common in business, and you probably use them often. Yet, how much thought have you given to using these presentation options effectively?

When you’re using any one of these tools, you are essentially giving a presentation over the phone. You have to deliver your ideas without the benefits of a face-to-face meeting, or you have to speak to an image on a computer screen. When you’re faced with these situations, how can you use your public speaking skills and prevent your message from going down in flames?

Here are a few things to remember when trying to be persuasive over the phone or when videoconferencing:

Vary your vocal emphasis and inflection.

You’re on a conference call and your presentation is on the computer screen via GoToMeeting. You are talking about profit and loss margins, ROI, and, synergy. You’re using as much business jargon as you can to impress your clients. However, you forgot one thing: your shining personality!

Too many speakers deliver bland presentations in live settings, let alone over a conference call. To be compelling and interesting when you’re not physically there, you need to vary your vocal delivery. Using emphasis and inflection on key words helps your audience stay engaged.

Don’t let yourself drone on in order to get through your meeting. Rather, give your audience the opportunity to glean extra meaning from your words with some variety in your intonation and some diversity in the range of your voice.

Pay attention to your clarity and speed.

When speaking to a group in a live public speaking situation you always want to articulate clearly and talk slowly. When speaking to a group over the phone or via your computer, you need to pay extra attention to these points.

I cannot stress this enough. Producing a clear voice and a clean sound from a computer microphone or a speakerphone is difficult. Words will inevitably be lost due to static and choppy internet connections. So open your mouth, raise your volume, enunciate clearly and slow down.

When you speak slowly and articulate clearly, you enable your audience to catch every word, even if there is static or connection choppiness, so they don’t lose the entire meaning of your content. Give your listeners the chance to keep up and they will give you their full attention.

Smile and enjoy yourself!

While your audience may not be able to see you, they certainly know when you are smiling. Whenever you deliver an exciting and emotional presentation, whether in person or over the phone, feel it! Show your emotions through your facial and physical gestures; your audience on the other end of the line will absolutely be able to follow along.   

When you are excited and smiling, your voice naturally changes pitch. It is just as easy to recognize those speakers who enjoy themselves over the phone as it is to recognize those who simply run through the motions. Therefore, enjoy yourself and let your colors shine through. Your virtual audience will thank you for it with their rapt attention.

When you follow these three tips, you’ll be able to give virtual and phone presentations that engage both the hearts and minds of your listeners….and that inspire them to action.

Rebecca Black: Public Speaking & Life Lessons from a 13-Year-Old Pop Sensation

Have you heard of Rebecca Black yet? If not, you probably will soon. She is a thirteen-year-old girl whose parents hired Ark Music Factory to produce a music video for her. If you haven’t seen it, here it is. But I warn you…while Rebecca is a sweet young teenager who may indeed be the next Miley Cyrus, I doubt you’ll be amazed at this video.


After her music video Friday was produced and released on March 14, 2011, it went viral on YouTube. As of this writing, it has had over 84 million viewers. She has been awarded just over 210,000 “likes” and over 1.6 million “dislikes”. So yes…she is famous for being among the most disliked people on You Tube, and her song has been dubbed “the worst song ever made”! But fame or infamy…all press is good press, and reports show that she has made well over $1 million for her efforts.

I don’t agree that Rebecca Black has little musical talent and poor performance skills, or that the video is insipid and of poor quality, or even that the song is imbecilic. All those things may be true, but overall, Rebecca comes across well. She looks comfortable and confident in front of the camera, has a sweet smile, relates well to the crowd she is singing to, and has a certain freshness and innocent appeal.

But obviously what I think matters little. (Aside from the fact that she’s getting some positive free press from me!) The point is that this young girl made a video that went viral, most people dislike it, and yet she has still fallen into the arms of success. Celebrity in the internet age is nothing short of phenomenal. But rather than sit around scratching our heads and wondering how this happened or rush to her video and click “like” or “dislike,” we’d be better off thinking about the lessons we can learn that can help us succeed. Here are a few:

  • Embrace risk. Of course, not every young girl has the parental support and resources to fund a project like this, but aside from the steep investment (approximately $4,000) what sticks out for me is Rebecca’s willingness to take a risk and put herself out there with absolutely no guarantee of success. If she had talked herself out of doing this video for any reason she would never be experiencing the fame and success she is enjoying today. How many of us lose faith in our projects and ourselves before we’ve even had a chance to test the concept? So even if you don’t have your parent’s funding, find a way to take a risk.
  • Go public with the best you have. While perfectionism is an important skill for success, sometimes it can get in the way. Nothing in Rebecca’s video is perfect. Yet its ability to work or not work, depending on your perspective, has given it a life of its own. How many of us are paralyzed by our desire for perfection before releasing our work to the world? Realize that perfection in anything is simply not possible. Do your best, and let it go.
  • Increase your expectations. Fantasy is usually not a recommended strategy for building a realistic project plan, but vision is a necessity. A strong, clear vision provides a better chance for success than just about anything. Even if the forces are against you, when you have a clear vision there is always the possibility that success is within reach. So why not think big?
  • Welcome the unexpected. In any project plan it’s important to have a Plan B or a “what if.” In Rebecca’s case, her stardom was generated from a completely unexpected source—her success sprung from a well of “dislikes.” The most unpopular girl on YouTube is also the most famous. She and her family could have run from this unusual development—but they didn’t. Sometimes the journey to our goal can take an unexpected turn and we get what we want in ways we can never imagine.
  • Be grateful. What do you do when you take a risk, give it your best, think big, accept the unexpected, and are successful? There’s only one thing left to do…think about all those who helped you along the way, including the unpredictable hand of fate. Then ask yourself, “For what and to whom am I grateful?”

Even though I doubt I’ll download Rebecca’s song into my iTunes any time soon, I do admire her willingness to take a risk and put her work out there. She’s proof that when you think big and go for your dreams, you can be a success…regardless of what other people think.

A Pint Size Plan to Help Your Kids Study Public Speaking Skills

Part 2 of 2 


In Part 1 of this blog we talked about the importance of teaching children public speaking skills and using The Fun Theory to make the experience enjoyable and effective. The last thing anyone wants is to raise a child who suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Today, as many as 75% of people have glossophobia, and studies show that many people fear public speaking more than death!


None of us want our children to contribute to these statistics. Rather, we want them to feel strong and comfortable whenever they are speaking and especially when they are speaking in front of a group. In case you doubt that children can be poised and confident in front of a group take a look at this famous video clip of Severn Suzuki who spoke at the United Nations Earth Summit when she was just twelve years old. 



In addition to her powerful message, which is still relevant today, did you hear the strength of her vocal delivery including her word choice, clear enunciation, strong inflection and pauses? Did you see the passion in her delivery?


While you may not want your children to be quite as assertive as Severn, you do want them to be confident and poised and to hold their own on issues that are meaningful and important to them. Children who feel comfortable speaking to groups tend to speak out more often, volunteer for leadership positions and meet challenges head on. In fact, developing public speaking skills is just as important as learning to read and write. That’s why “show and tell” is such a popular activity in the early grades. But there is more that we can do to help our children master this all important skill.


When teaching young children the fundamentals of public speaking there are two important areas you can work on every day: Vocal skills and body language.


Here are a few pint size tips I have used as an actress, teacher and parent. I am delighted to pass these on to you.


Vocal Skills

·         Read out loud to your child: Research tells us that there are many benefits to reading to your children. When it comes to public speaking, reading is a hidden resource. If you enunciate clearly, vary your pace from slow to fast and use expressive pitch and inflection you will heighten your child’s interest in the story and teach these important vocal skills by example.


·         Emphasize key words: When words in the story are colorful, descriptive and emotional, use added stress to make them sound dramatic. Change your volume (speak louder and stronger or softer and lighter) depending on the word and context. Vary your pace and alternate speaking fast and slow. Pause often and make those words come alive!


·         Have your child read to you: When children are old enough most love reading to their parents. When they do read to you encourage them to speak carefully and say each word clearly. Then, ask them to “play” with the words in the story and bring them to life. Ask your child such questions as, “How can you say this like Max would say it?” or “How can you sound happy, sad, excited or afraid?” Encourage your child to say a word the way it sounds (buzz, swish, cool) and to explore variations of expression for each word.


·         Add sound effects: Vroom, chug, boom, screech! Sound effects are a natural means of expression for many children. They love hearing and making sounds. And making many different kinds of sounds gives them an opportunity to practice creative expression and build confidence. So tune up your inner Thomas the Steam Engine or Roary the Racing Car and bring the story to life by using sound effects. Invite your child to play with sounds whenever they read out loud.


Teach Body Language

·         Take turns standing up and reading a page out loud: This is a wonderful activity to do with your children but it may be too stimulating to do right before bed. Start early in the evening so there is plenty of time to unwind. Select a favorite story and play “round robin” by taking turns and having each member of the family read a page of the story with dramatic energy and flair. Just this simple practice of standing in front of one or two people will give your child the experience of being in front of a group.


·         Play “public speaker”: Children love to role play. They play doctor, ballet dancer, truck driver and chef, so why not encourage them to play “public speaker”? Ask questions to help them learn how public speakers behave when they speak to a group. Encourage your child to stand up straight and not fidget or pull at their clothes or hold onto their hands or arms. Ask them to open their arms away from their body and use big gestures. And make sure you encourage them to smile.


·         Use everyday conversation to teach body language: Remind your child to make eye contact whenever they are speaking to someone. The dinner table is a great place to help them learn to do this. When they learn this skill at any early age they will not be uncomfortable using it as they grow.


Teaching public speaking skills to your children requires a great deal of commitment and consistency over time, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. You can teach the fundamentals in a seamless, playful and loving way…and have fun doing it. Before you know it, your children will grow up to be confident and competent young adults capable of standing in front of any group… even at the United Nations.


Ted Kennedy: A Voice of Power and Compassion

The public speaking community has lost a true orator today with the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. Much will be written and spoken about this great statesman who spent his life as a public servant. As the remaining heart and soul of the rich Kennedy legacy he was indeed a champion of justice, fairness and compassion. Like his brothers before him, he believed that everyone was entitled to participate in the great American opportunity.

Win a FREE Seat to a DeFinis Communications Public Seminar!

DeFinis Communications is proud to announce our Fall 2009 Public Seminar schedule.

Building Professional Presence is our new, one-day program designed to give a general audience exposure to the best practices of creating and delivering powerful presentations. During this lively and educational session for up to twenty-five participants, individuals engage in activities and exercises designed to help them understand the fundamental principles of public speaking. Learn more here.


We are also offering our flagship two-day program, Encore! Elegant Skills for Powerful Presentations. Encore! is a video based,  two-day, hands-on learning laboratory. With only eight participants per class, individuals will experience the power of personalized attention and our signature Line By Line™ coaching process. Learn more here.


To celebrate the announcement of these programs, DeFinis Communications has created an exciting contest—and we hope you will participate!

One grand prize contest winner will receive a FREE seat to DeFinis Communications’ Building Professional Presence program on either September 22nd in Mill Valley, CA, or October 15th in San Jose, CA. Winner selects the date.

One runner-up will receive a free over-the-phone coaching session with DeFinis Communications founder and President, Angela DeFinis.

Three third place winners will receive a signed copy of Angela's book, Roadmap to Success.

How to enter:

1.     Simply invite your contacts to join DeFinis Communications’ e-mail list, LinkedIn group, Facebook fan page, or Twitter page. The more people you invite the better your chances of winning these great prizes!

2.     Tally the number of your invitations.

3.     Post the total amount as a blog comment or on the group/fan page discussion section or wall.


·         All entries must be submitted by Midnight EST on August 24th, 2009.

·         If the amount of invitations increases after your initial submission, you must indicate the previous number on subsequent entry posts.

·         You may keep adding invitations until the contest deadline.

·         Please be honest! 


Good luck, have fun and thank you for your participation!

Life Story, Job Glory

After hours of scouring job listings, milking your rolodex, proofreading cover letters, and tweaking your resume, you’ve finally obtained a coveted job interview! Considering how competitive today’s marketplace is, it feels as though a minor miracle has taken place. But now that you’re in the door, what steps can you take to maximize your chances of securing employment?



To start, think of an interview not as a question and answer session, but rather a platform for you to convey your life story. The interviewer’s questions merely provide context for your compelling narrative. So, the key to success is to prepare your story for as wide a range of questioning as you can. Here are a few key preparation principles to help you succeed:


Conduct your research

The first step in preparing any story is research. Make sure you know as much as possible about the company and people conducting the interview. Familiarize yourself with the company’s past, present and future, the ins-and-outs of the position that you seek, and why the job is currently available. Great sleuthing tools include Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook.


Now make a list of your discoveries and pair them up with personal characteristics and achievements. Use this list to craft 8-10 poignant excerpts from your life story. As a general example, if the job calls for leadership skills then you should prepare a leadership narrative. If the job requires selling skills create a sales story. The more specific your story is to the job requirement, the better.


Complete a self-analysis

Next, take your list of job characteristics and apply them to the questions below. Remember, these are simply providing you context.


·         Why do you want this job?

·         How is your work history applicable to this position?

·         What makes you the best candidate?

·         What are your strengths and weaknesses?

·         What example can you offer of your ability to work effectively with a team?

·         What is your biggest success and failure?


And don’t forget to prepare 3-4 questions to ask at the end of your interview. After all, you need to know for certain that you want to give your time and energy to this company.


Control your physical and vocal presentation

Keep in mind that the way you present your life story is equally as important as the anecdotes themselves. Practice your stories in the mirror or with a friend. Use confident body language. Sit-up straight, smile, gesture openly, look your interviewer in the eyes, do not fidget, and firmly shake hands before and after the interview.


While rehearsing the physical aspects of storytelling, you should also focus on vocal resonance and articulation. Tape record your responses (or leave yourself a voicemail) and listen for any quivering in the tone of your voice. Speak slowly and thoughtfully. Count the number of times you say “umm,” “like,” and “you know.” If you find yourself repeating these non-words, don’t get discouraged. Some of our most well known public figures are um-offenders as well.


Finally, make sure to send a thank-you note or email shortly after the interview, and follow up a week later by phone.


If you follow the steps above, your life story could very well land you the job of your dreams!


Here’s a helpful webinar:



10 Cool Tips to Warm Up Your Voice

Last week, I worked with a client who was having trouble controlling and projecting his voice. While he had a deep voice with a low, appealing tone, it was a bit raspy and extremely monotone. He also complained that his throat “hurt” when he gave a long speech and that when he tried to speak up and project, his voice “gave out.” He said he practiced before each speech but it didn’t seem to help his vocal delivery. It was clear to me that one best practice he needed to add to his preparation regimen was “vocal warm ups.”



I explained to him how important it was to warm up the vocal chords. Not only does a good warm up protect the vocal chords, but it also strengthens vocal resonance, which is so important for delivering an effective presentation. He realized that with a little work and practice he could build his vocal stamina and protect his voice. As an added benefit, he could also build his professional presence and strengthen his credibility. So I’m happy to share a few vocal warm ups with you.


Here are ten cool exercises to warm up your vocal chords. They are really fun to do, so go ahead and get carried away.


  1. Take a deep breath in and yawn as big and wide as you can.
  2. Use your fingers to vigorously massage your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It is located at the top of your jaw on either side of your face above your cheekbones.
  3. Open your mouth as wide as you can and stretch your mouth and face from side to side. Try to stretch your whole face into each ear.
  4. Open your mouth wide and make circles with your lower jaw.
  5. Blow a “raspberry” for 3 seconds out, and then inhale for 2 seconds. Repeat a few times.
  6. Say consonants out loud (such as vvvvv, or mmmmm or ttttttt, bbbbb).
  7. Add a vowel to each consonant Veeeee,  Meeeee, Teeeee, Beeeee, etc.
  8. Say out loud: Bumble, bumble, bumble, bumble, bumble, bumble beeeeeeeeeee.
  9. Place your hands on your belly, inhale deeply, and then exhale making a “huh, huh, huh” sound. Don’t force it. Use your belly and diaphragm to strengthen the sound.
  10. End with my favorite tongue twister: “Red Leather, yellow leather.” How many times can you say it clearly? Let me know how you do.


Okay, you may feel a little silly doing some of these exercises, but I promise they will help you. And besides, isn’t summer a great time for acting silly again? These exercises are working nicely for my client, and if you practice them frequently you will soon feel improvement too. So go ahead and knock yourself out. When you have strong vocal resonance, you’ll leave your audience speechless.

“Dr.” Barack Obama: 100 Days of Good Medicine

Barack Obama is growing on me. As a public speaking professional, I found it a bit difficult to transition from watching the pyrotechnics of The Clintons to the calming candlelight of Barack Obama. But from the moment he opened his 100 day press conference on April 29, I found myself hooked in a whole new way.


Obama grabbed my attention by starting with an update on the H1N1 virus. He was much like the good doctor, reminding us to wash our hands, cover our mouths when we cough, stay home from work if we are sick and keep our children home if they are sick. But it seemed to me that he has played this role long before the Swine Flu scare. For the last 100 days he has been Dr. Barack Obama to our ailing country.


President Obama 100 Day News Conference Part 2


Dr. Obama is an audacious president with a big agenda and a great bedside manner. His tone is calm, sober and serious. He never threatens or blames. He never talks over our heads. He does not breathe fire or strike fear into the hearts and minds of his patients. Instead he delivers a complicated message in a direct and simple way. He is patient and reassuring. He helps us believe that we will overcome our illness. Above all, he is consistent.


President Obama 100 Day News Conference Part 3


Consistent in his calming bedside manner: He tells us the difficult news that we are ill but that our illness is curable…and he will help us heal.


Consistent in his rigor and practicality: He tells us that we have come a long way but that he is still not satisfied. He expects more.


President Obama 100 Day News Conference Part 4 


Consistent in his delivery: He delivers a sober but hopeful message using a slow cadence and predictable vocal resonance. He doesn’t smile but neither does his face look bland. His furrowed eyebrows tell the subtle story of restraint and concern. His gestures are graceful but restricted in keeping with his message of control and constraint.


Consistent in his use of vivid metaphors: “Even as we clear away the wreckage on this recession, we can’t go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand.” Wreckage and sand—powerful images of two extremes: hard, twisted metal, or soft, shapeless sand. He says neither extreme will work. We will instead, “lay a new foundation for growth.”


President Obama 100 Day News Conference Part 5


Barack Obama may not have the electricity of Bill Clinton. He may not have the fireworks, the stage mechanics, the large sweeps of spontaneous brilliance, the voluminous personality or the grand smile, but nonetheless, he succeeds every time he stands up to speak.


President Obama 100 Day News Conference Part 6


Dr. Obama is the master of consistency. He is not the flashy heart surgeon who can perform a quadruple bypass with a latte in hand. He is instead the country doctor, quietly telling us that we are sick and providing assurance that we will get better. And that’s pretty good medicine for tough times like these.

Public Speaking is a Performance, Not a Conversation

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking to the Pro Track 2009 program of the National Speakers Association, Northern CA Chapter. Pro Track is a year-long professional development program for people who want to learn the business aspects of the public speaking industry. Group members meet one Saturday a month for a year. Each Saturday program is devoted to a different topic, such as promotion, marketing, speakers’ bureaus, topic development, and professional platform skills. Typically, people who attend the year-long program are subject matter experts who want to improve their professional speaking skills and leave a memorable impression on their listeners.

When I introduce people to our public speaking methods and skills, I tell them that they may feel uncomfortable at first. They may feel and look awkward. They may believe they’re getting worse instead of better. They may even think they’re too mechanical, inauthentic, and fake. But learning new skills and behaviors often feels this way, so I encourage them to just jump in and try it. “Fake it until you make it,” I say.

I was delighted to introduce the Pro Track audience to one of our performance improvement models called Create Performance Combustion. The critical elements of this model focus on developing delivery skills and include your:

• Physical Presence (your non-verbal skills: eye contact, facial expression, posture, gesture and movement) • Vocal Resonance (skills that promote vocal clarity, interest and emphasis) • Distinctive Language (your language skills: using concise sentences, powerful language, avoiding non-words and distracting language)

After that I had the chance to work with seven participants, bringing them on stage to experience our Line by Line Coaching™ process. I coached each person with the camera running so they had a DVD to review and analyze their “before and after.” Amazingly, nobody fainted and everyone improved!

I wanted these speakers to understand one key point: There is a big difference between giving a presentation at a staff meeting (or chatting at the dinner table) and standing on the main stage of an auditorium speaking to a crowd of 100 or more.

A keynote speech needs to have a compelling theme and well developed message with great stories, examples, quotes, data, and facts, but it also needs powerful delivery. That includes demonstrating commanding physical presence and strong vocal expression. Public speaking requires using a great deal of physical and mental energy, and speakers must be willing to be more expressive. It’s as simple as that, and it’s harder than it looks.

So the key lesson of the day was this: Keynote speaking is not a conversation—it is a performance. It’s the difference between playing with marbles and playing with bowling balls…or playing ping pong and playing tennis. In each case there is a need for different gross motor movements and physical behavior.

When performing, your whole body must be involved and you must effectively utilize your space. To be able to Create Performance Combustion you must “turn up” your physical skills. Body language must be bigger, your voice must have more power and emphasis, and your pauses must be longer and more strategic. Adding a dramatic element to keynote speaking, if used effectively, can bring you in close connection with the audience in a deep and meaningful way. And that’s what the Pro Track participants want to be able to do.

At the Pro Track meeting I was reminded once again how important it is for those of us who want to improve our public speaking to embrace the idea of performance. Rest assured that even if it is uncomfortable at first, it will become easier and easier. And until it does—fake it until you make it.