By now, innumerable people from many countries will have seen the film “The King’s Speech.”
Millions who had never given a thought to how voice is produced have suddenly been made aware of the physical exertion and mental focus we all must use when articulating joined up thoughts and expressing them as joined up words.
People seek vocal help for a variety of reasons. They may – as in the film – have a serious impediment to overcome. They may want to ‘soften’ their native accent or become proficient in the use of accents other than their own. They may want their voice to sound louder or have a different tone. Some want help with a specific presentation. Many will be lecturers, teachers, actors, barristers whose livelihoods depend on a healthy voice.
No matter what the stated reason however, as every voice coach knows – and as was made so obvious in the Oscar-nominated film – a universal reason for seeking help is to find ways of taking the terror out of talking.
By improving bodily and facial muscularity and discovering the patterns that produce efficient breath flow through the voice box; by working on stance and the expansion and contraction the ribcage; by controlling the flow of outward breath so that it impinges on the relevant resonant spaces behind the face and expresses joined up words and appropriate pauses, a voice coach can assist any client to achieve a clear, healthy voice.
But to make an appreciable difference to their delivery a voice coach has to find ways to get into a person’s head. S/he must, literally, get under the skin and on the nerves of clients and with coaxing, cajoling, coercing, suggesting, stroking, shaking, balancing, bending and bouncing vocal nuance from the core of the body to the tip of the tongue enable speakers to send well rounded information out of their mouths and into the ears of expectant listeners.
And with that last phrase, we have hit on the most crucial item in all voice work.
The main focus of voice work should be its effect on those who listen rather than on those who speak.
Because if, as in the film referred to above, the discomfort of the speaker is extreme, their internal squirming of embarrassment will be mirrored by the internal squirming of every audience member.
The amplification of that distress, especially as no one is able to go to the aid of the sufferer, causes everyone to tighten the chest and grimace and feel intense discomfort. And, paradoxically, only the initiator of the audience’s distress could possibly alleviate it.
“Who am I doing this for?”– should be first question anyone preparing any presentation should ask themselves. And the right answer is always going to be: “Not for you, but for them”.
Once speakers allow listeners’ needs to supersede their own, concern for that audience’s comfort immediately alleviates much of the stress the speaker is under. And once they have found out what listeners’ anxieties and concerns are likely to be, presenters automatically find themselves in a better state of mind to concentrate on the physical attributes of the job.
It was no accident that the King’s delivery was suddenly effective when addressing people at the outbreak of war. Though the work with his voice coach was definitely of major consequence, his own realisation of the crucial effect this particular speech was to have on his listeners must have called forth extra stoicism.
That the nation, whose leadership he had so recently and unwillingly been forced to assume, now deserved to be thought of as individuals with exactly the same fears and foreboding as his own – must have impinged on his thinking.
The question “Who am I doing this for?” must have evoked the realisation that the people were now under his paternal care and so he could speak to them with the ease with which he addressed his own family.