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Tuesday
Sep132011

Speak from the Diaphragm ?

We often hear that when speaking in public, it is best to speak from the diaphragm.  We can project our voice better. Our voice sounds more resonant. What does it actually mean to speak from the diaphragm?

There is actually no such thing as speaking from the diaphragm.  We actually mean that when inhaling, we contract the diaphragm and expand the area of our abdomen just below our rib cage. When we contract the diaphragm it moves downward, creating a vaccuum in the thorax, enabling the lungs to fill with air. We can sustain a tone for a longer period of time.  We have more air to pass by our vocal cords with greater force (not forced), which increases volume, or projection. This enables greater lung capacity than diaphragmless, rib-only breathing.  Watching some people breath is like going to a ribfest.
 
If our diaphragm is underdeveloped, our breath will tend to be shallow and more frequent.  If our diaphragm is developed, we have a wider range of control over our breath. We begin by learning to deliberately engage and strengthen the diaphragm. We also need to develop the intercostal muscles, the muscles between the ribs, which separate the ribs, enabling the lungs to expand.  Relaxing the muscles in the throat instead of tensing them increases the size of the air passage, enabling more air to pass through, increasing our volume. If we tense the throat area to try to increase volume, we actually decrease the air, making it more difficult to increase volume.
 
The aim is to intuitively use all muscles, but if you are early in development, you can focus on a particular muscle to build control and strength, in this case the diaphragm.
 
Here are some exercises that you can do almost anywhere, anytime:

  • while holding your shoulders and rib cage still, breath as deeply as possible, forcing your diaphragm out. If it helps, place your hand just below your ribs and feel the muscle expand. Hold it for about 10 seconds and release through your nostrils.  Do it again, but after you breathe as deep as you think you can, go further and again. Hold it for about 10 seconds and release.
  • before speaking, still sitting in your chair, become aware of your breathing. Notice your diaphragm. Make it work and get ready.
  • sitting comfortably, breathe normally. On an inhale, hold it and tighten all the muscles of your abdomen. Become aware of each area. Perhaps roll a little on your sitting bones if it helps you gain awareness.  Hold for about 10 seconds and release.
  • sitting comfortably, breathe normally. As you continue breathing, tighten all the muscles of your abdomen. Become aware of each area. Perhaps roll a little on your sitting bones if it helps you gain awareness.  Hold for about 10 seconds and release. Repeat say 5 times. Each time you do this exercise, increase the amount of time you tighten your muscles. This will gently increase your abdominal strength.

Once, in a District-level speech contest in a room of about 350 people, the lavalier (clip-on) microphone failed.  I could have panicked and fled from the stage. In that split second, opportunity knocked. Without skipping a beat, I relaxed, opened up, and switched into full breath mode.  The room was filled with sound; I won the contest.

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You can expand or cure your voice. With intention, a little focus, exercises, and practice, you can develop a voice that is fully supported by your friend, your diaphragm.

Craig Senior

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