Public speakers should practice good vocal hygiene. The voice, like the body, requires proper care. Good posture and upright positioning improve projection. Relaxed muscles and reduced muscular tension minimize laryngeal strain. Proper breath support increases projection and length of utterance. Appropriate rate of speech and clear enunciation reduce vocal strain. Balanced resonance, varied pitch, and controlled volume also help. Vocal warm-ups and cool downs protect the voice as well as proper rest, nutrition, and exercise.
Billy Graham, the world’s foremost evangelist for decades, practiced good voice care. For more than forty years, he exercised daily and practiced speaking regularly. As he talked, Graham warmed his voice up like an opera singer does the scales. At a comfortable volume and with proper breath support, he said “Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No. No.” If the great preacher Billy Graham faithfully practiced his voice, shouldn’t you? All public speakers must commit to personal vocal care
The following suggestions will be useful to public speakers who desire to practice good voice care:
- Avoid excessively loud volume, especially screaming or shouting. Speak only when at arm reach, and avoid speaking in noisy settings.
- Avoid abrupt bursts in speaking. Use a relaxed effort.
- Limit throat clearing and coughing. Swallow to clear mucus from the vocal cords.
- Drink several (6-8) glasses of water a day, especially when taking decongestants.
- Decrease caffeinated beverages which dry out the vocal cords.
- Rest your voice if your throat is infected or if hoarseness persists. Avoid whispering for an extended time. Instead, use a very quiet voice.
- Avoid eating milk products (ice cream, yogurt, cheese) before speaking. Dairy products may coat the vocal cords and disrupt vocal quality.
- Avoid eating three hours before going to bed to decrease possibility of reflux of stomach acid. Avoid eating certain foods and drinking certain beverages (i.e. spicy foods, fried foods, carbonated drinks) that may trigger reflux at any time.
- Vary the pitch of your voice within an octave range; however, avoid extremely high pitch and extremely low pitch.
- See your doctor if hoarseness or throat pain persists more than two to three weeks.
In their book, Power in the Pulpit, Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix discuss “Playing the Voice.” Because he developed a vocal nodule which required surgical removal, Dr. Vines learned the importance of vocal hygiene. He has found it helpful to be sensitive to weather and climate; to give attention to fit of clothing; to regulate home/office temperatures; to develop good nutritional habits; to get plenty of rest; to exercise regularly; to give attention to physical ailments; to avoid using the voice excessively before and after preaching; and to use the voice as often as possible.
A public speaker, especially one with a message from the Lord, must develop distinct speech and care for the vocal mechanism. Make a commitment to improve speech skills and voice quality. Become an expert in using the vocal mechanism given by God.
 Pat and Ruth Williams, Turning Boring Orations into Standing Ovations: The Ultimate Guide to Dynamic Public Speaking (Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books, 2008), 146.
 Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit (Chicago, IL: Moody Press 1999), 287-290.
Public speaking today can be enhanced by amplification and visual aids. While the message must have meaning, it cannot connect with the audience if it is not heard and understood! Technology has improved sound systems and media and will continue to do so into the future. A dynamic public speaker knows how to use microphones and media well and learns to make the sound technician her best friend.
The marquee of a church in the New Orleans area regularly posts the pastor’s sermon title. One week the sermon was entitled “The Devil is in the Sound System.” There was obviously a story to be told! Most speakers can tell their own stories about problems with the sound system and visual aids. There is no need to fabricate stories involving technology since they happen naturally. Speakers must simply be prepared for the unexpected.
I (Rhonda) enjoy teaching this session in my public speaking class because I have so many stories to tell. On one occasion, I was speaking for a women’s conference at a church across the street from a funeral home. The sound technician warned me that occasionally the frequencies connected and the ambulance service broadcasted into the sanctuary. Later, while I was speaking, I opened my mouth and a deep male voice called for an ambulance to pick up a dead body. I was stunned though the church members chuckled at this familiar interruption. Another time, I was teaching a seminar that included a video clip. When I moved my slides ahead, an aerobics video abruptly began. We all laughed as the technician hurriedly tried to find the correct video. I have learned to “expect the unexpected” as well as “go with the flow” when using microphones and media.
One who often speaks publicly must be aware of microphone usage. Several different types of microphones are available. Some are stationary while others are mobile. A podium or stand microphone is most typical especially when multiple speakers are on the platform. Handheld microphones are often used by musicians and may also be used by speakers. They may be wired or wireless, have long cords or be cordless. A lavaliere or lapel microphone clips on the speaker’s clothing and allows mobility while speaking. Headset or over-the-ear microphones have become popular in recent years. They offer flexibility and mobility as well as good voice quality and minimal extraneous noise. A guest speaker typically uses the amplification system provided by the host church or company. Professional speakers and musicians may travel with their personal sound systems. While many people may be fearful of microphones, they should be a speaker’s friend. Microphones can be intimidating, and a speaker must remember their purpose.
Consider a few other do’s and don’ts when using a microphone.
- Do dress with a microphone in mind. Don’t forget a lapel and a belt or waistband.
- Do wear minimal jewelry and accessories. Don’t let jingling or scratching distract from the speech.
- Do consider hand gestures. Don’t knock a stand microphone or cover a lapel microphone with your hand.
- Do check the echo effect. Don’t be distracted if speech reverberates in the room.
- Do keep on speaking. Don’t let microphone problems or sound system issues disrupt the flow of the message. When sound problems occur, continue your message and let the technician work out the problem.
- Do remember when the microphone is on. Don’t make embarrassing comments or inappropriate statements.
“Personalities are the filter, or colored glasses, through which we view life. They affect the way we communicate.”
There is not one perfect type of speaker or presentation style. Effective speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. No two public speakers are exactly alike. In fact, the most successful speakers are those who develop their own speaking styles to a level of excellence. They resist the temptation to imitate a favorite speaker or teacher. God created each individual, and the goal is to master one’s own speaking style.
Years ago, I (Rhonda) had an epiphany about my speaking style which had quite an impact on me. I was asked to be one of three keynote speakers for a women’s conference involving hundreds of ladies. I was the last speaker of the opening session. The first speaker was hysterically funny, and the audience laughed until they cried. I panicked because I am not funny! The second speaker was humble and sweet, and the audience cried as they heard her tender stories. I panicked because I am not sweet! The Lord clearly spoke to me as I stood up to speak: “Be Rhonda. Be yourself, and speak from your heart.” I spoke with the confidence of the Lord. My counsel to you is the same: Be yourself; be the speaker God created you to be.
In fashion, there are four basic styles. Each person tends to prefer one specific style over another. The romantic style is feminine, soft, and delicate. The sporty style is casual, natural, and neutral. The trendy style is contemporary, fashionable, and faddish. The classic style is traditional, conservative, and functional. All four fashion styles appeal to some women. In the same way, speaking styles may vary. Each style will connect with different listeners and should be a true reflection of the speaker.
A few years ago, I (Monica) was sharing at a two-day women’s conference. The women’s ministry director had asked me and another lady who I had not met to be the keynote speakers. Before I was introduced to the audience, the other speaker came up to me and introduced herself. She was so full of energy, I became nervous inside. At the last minute, she asked me what I thought about adding a funny joke to my notes to get the ladies to laugh or even participate with her in a funny drama. I didn’t feel comfortable making changes to what I felt the Lord had laid on my heart to share, only minutes before I was to speak. I noticed immediately that we had two opposite personalities. I was more concerned with the content of my message than her concern for humor. The other speaker, who was a dear lady, had a desire to make the women feel comfortable and laugh. There was nothing wrong with her idea; it was just different than mine. As she asked me to participate with her, I declined by sharing with her that I was not gifted or talented enough to make changes just a few minutes before I was to speak. I assured her that what she had on her heart to share would be great for the women.
As I pondered on our differences, I realized that although we were opposites in our personalities, we complemented each other for a women’s conference because of the balance we brought in our different presentation styles. I had to be reminded that the Lord simply wanted me to be who He had made me to be as a speaker. The Lord reminded me that I was uniquely created by Him before I taught that same Truth to others! As you teach others, it is so important to understand who God created you to be and the unique style He has given you.
Chapter 12 of Talking is a Gift focuses on helping you master your public speaking style. There are many different presentation formats and speaker styles – the goal is to identify your own speaking style in order to enhance your skills. Ask yourself who you are as a public speaker. Who do you want to be? What is your public style, your private style, and your ideal style?
Public speaking is the greatest fear of most people. Standing before a crowd to give a speech paralyzes many individuals. Several surveys report 41% of Americans identified public speaking as their worst fear. Even snakes are not as scary to some people as public speaking. Fear and anxiety are real challenges for many speakers.
Fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”  Speakers can fear inadequacy, failure, rejection, or embarrassment. Fear and anxiety are similar but different. Anxiety is “a state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.” Anxiety or stage fright often affects a speaker physically as well as emotionally.
In Chapter 11 of our book we explore the common experiences of anxiety and fear which accompany public speaking. We describe the nature of fear, and offer suggestions for managing fear and strategies for utilizing fear. Speakers who understand stage fright, overcome stage fright, and utilize stage fright will become excellent communicators. We also recorded this video on the topic!
Understanding Stage Fright
It is important for speakers to understand that stage fright is inevitable. Almost everyone experiences some degree of anxiety or nervousness before speaking. “The person who knows no fear is not only a gross exaggeration, he or she is a biological impossibility.” The presence of fear is real in the life of a public speaker.
If you accept its reality, stage fright can be used for good. Without some anxiety, speakers may become arrogant experts or over-polished performers. When anxiety takes over, a speaker lacking confidence can be overwhelmed and unable to take the stage. A balance of fear and confidence serves a speaker well.
When the mind encounters fear, the body responds. Anxious feelings are typically expressed through sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, trembling hands, and/or knocking knees. The adrenal glands shoot energy throughout the body and the mind often goes blank. A public speaker must quickly get control of any anxious thoughts or distracting behaviors before they take over. Reportedly 80% of all speakers experience stage fright. A Christian speaker has the truth of God’s Word to withstand stage fright and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome fear. What assuring promises!
The Bible speaks about fear and anxiety. Neither of these feelings are included in the fruit of the Spirit or indicated as traits of the Christian faith. In other words, neither are to be pursued. Instead, they are to be avoided or overcome in personal life and speaking ministry.
The psalmist David acknowledged that God delivered him from all his fears (Ps 34:4). God commanded the prophet Isaiah to fear not “because I am with you, to strengthen you and help you, to hold you up with your righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10). Belief in God’s presence and strength helps a Christian speaker acknowledge anxiety and manage stage fright.
In the New Testament, Jesus encouraged His disciples to speak, despite their fear of inadequacy. When commissioning His disciples, Jesus assured them with these words: “Don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you” (Matt 10:19-20). Christian speakers today can claim that promise and triumph over fear when proclaiming a message from the Lord. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul reminded Christians then and now that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of sound mind.”
 “Fear,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fear (cited 22 March 2013), Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 2013).
 “Anxiety,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/anxiety (cited 22 March 2013), American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).