OPERA SINGERS’ TIPS FOR SPEAKERS – by Reinette Steyn

Learn to be able to speak for hours without hosting frogs in the throat or getting physically or vocally tired!  – After all, a Wagner opera may go on for over four hours with the soloists belting away for most of it, night after night, without any sign of vocal or physical collapse.  Or you can use Plan B:  continue speaking with casual disdain for your speaking instrument, and pay an understudy to stand by to deliver your next speech!

Stance [or Seat – for disabled speakers and workshop facilitators!]:

Balance implies equi-librium, or “equal freedom” to move effortlessly and with control in any direction.  Always speak and move in balance.

When standing, put one foot slightly ahead of the other at comfortable width –usually at ½ o 2/3 of shoulder width.  Balance so that body’s centre of gravity is in the lower torso, equal distant from both feet, i.e. “centre” yourself in the lowest part of belly, groin and buttocks.   Lean in onto front leg for connection or emphasis when suitable.

Stand in a “pelvic tilt” position – singing and speech teachers often use the metaphor “push the pelvis up as if you’re on the toilet”.  This ensures free breath energy and strong, enduring posture.

When sitting, sit up straight, with both feet on the floor;  do not cross your legs.  Do not lean back into the seat [If you’ve ever been in a wheelchair you’d know the exquisite surprise of landing on your neck and head if you became too “laid-back”!].  If necessary, balance on the front half of the chair to ensure good mobility, sustain energy, and free the lungs for proper breathing.  Always use lower back and belly muscles to create a groin centre of gravity and free arms and legs for non-verbal communication.

Posture:

While it is not essential to hold arms up and carry a huge white handkerchief throughout your speech, your posture should be balanced enough so that such an operatic moment – or any other weird and wonderful pose you might wish to strike – is effortlessly achievable.  The Recipe:  chest out, chin strong, jaw relaxed!, belly and buttocks held in but not too tightly [unless your speech is about the army, or on how to look thinner], head up, eyes wide open and pupils moving with energy, shoulders comfortably back, and hands relaxed at sides when not intentionally conveying meaning.

Breathing:

Lungs are pear-shaped, and proper and healthy breathing, for speech and health, is to draw air into to bottom half of the lungs, so that the lower belly and back can fill out like an inflatable tube, allowing you to speak from the abdomen, rather than the danger zones of chest [good for night club crooners and drunken rock stars only] or throat [only good for when you catch your spouse in bed with a lover].

Speak on the breath:  use all the air from the lungs in a controlled way, without letting air escape from nose or sides of mouth, which may sound breathy or soft or lacking in confidence.  Make sure you save enough breath – or breathe again – for endings of phrases…  If using Power Point, tele-prompters or notes, don’t look down at end of phrases! Look at your crib aid in the course of the phrase, or during a meaningful pause after its completion, to avoid losing vocal control and audience contact.

In the Mask:

Voice should resonate in sinuses and other spaces in head in order to be audible, full-bodied and clear.  If you focus your voice in the “mask” [front of face], you will get a resonant sound that can be heard far and clearly even when speaking softly.  A good way to practise this is by doing vocal exercises using nasal sounds or “ree” combinations:
– ng… nnn…  mmm… ngah… ngoo…  ngay… mmmmmee… [etc]
– bring me spring ringing in freely…. [make all the “i’s”  a long “ee” sound and tie the together:  “breengmeespreeng-reengeengeenfreelee”]

Paint the Walls…:

When speaking softly, you must still be heard clearly and effortlessly by everyone in the audience.  A great technique is to imagine you are painting the back wall of the venue with your voice.  [This is how opera singers can be heard above an 80 piece orchestra even when they whisper an evil plot, loving words, a prayer, or a 50 minute death scene!]

Respect:   Prepare Well!

If opera singers can learn many hours of singing off by heart in many foreign languages, in addition to their own music lines, movements, responses, orchestra cues, and other singers’ entrances, there is simply no excuse for speakers to be PPt or note bound, to have meaningless gestures or comfort-movements, or to speak in boring or irritating voices.  Avoid mannerisms like repeating phrases or stock words [“obviously”, “naturally”, ”of course”, etc] or crutch gestures [like smacking lips, flapping hands like dying fish, etc].  Always bring the finished product, the complete opera [which means “work”] to your audience, who pay you, whether with money or their time and attention.  There is no such thing as an unworthy audience – only an unworthy speaker.

Final words:  Remember “You are just as good as your last performance.”  If you can’t bring performance-level preparation, enthusiasm and passion even to a small audience or your colleagues or mentees, rather insult them unashamedly on a social media site than to waste their time with a show that doesn’t live up to your or the speaking community’s reputations!

“Break a leg!”

All rights reserved.  For permission to quote or further information, please
contact the author Reinette Steyn through her web site
www.selfgrow.co.za

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