Episode 174

Voice Effectiveness for Teachers

Recorded by | Run time: 22 min, 12 sec


Vocal Coach Sally Prosser is back to talk all about voice effectiveness for teachers!

Sal takes us through some confidence-boosting self talk routines, some strategies for getting our voices back down to earth, and some great tips for commanding an audience (class!).

Looking for tips for looking after your voice? Listen to out other episode with Sally: Love Teaching? Love Your Voice!

For more vocal tips and advice from Sally, subscribe to That Voice Podcast. 

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Voice Effectiveness for Teachers Full Episode Transcript

Bron: I’m joined today by voice coach Sally Prosser who’s going to offer some strategies for voice effectiveness in teaching and a little bit later on, Sally’s going to talk to us about some of the mistakes people make when trying to command an audience, including a class.

Teachers have a unique job in that they use their voices for much of their working day. Sometimes we have to raise the volume of our voices. Sometimes we lower our voices to a whisper to reengage students in learning and sometimes we perform by doing character voices from stories and other times we use our voices to soothe the students and to help them work through social emotional learning opportunities. We also speak conversationally to colleagues and to parents of students, so there’s a pretty vast array of ways we use our voices, but we rarely stop using them.

Welcome Sal, welcome. And you were just saying that ‘voice effectiveness’ is kind of a Sally term?

Sally Teaches Voice Effectiveness

Sally: Well, I don’t know if I can lay claim to it, but it’s not a technical term. I call it voice effectiveness I guess because that’s what is it all about? We want to be effective when we speak. It’s all about the outcome that we’re trying to achieve. We want to be truly heard and not just someone hearing sound, but someone actually absorbing the message that we want to get out.

Bron: Yeah, it definitely isn’t that that the whole key of having a voice is to speak effectively using it, but many of us don’t know how to do that. You coach lots of individuals in a diverse range of jobs on how to use their voices effectively. And we talked a little bit about that last episode, the obvious ones who come to mind when we talk about requiring voice coaching, a journalists for me and also journalism students who are going through uni and want to get into broadcast news, but who are some of the other people that you’ve worked with?

Professionals Who Benefit from Training in Voice Effectiveness

Sally: Well, I made a little list actually because I can’t remember off the top of my head, but in the last few months I’ve had politicians, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, media advisors, engineers, wow. Entrepreneurs. Yeah, engineers is an interesting one. I think in lots of those industries that traditionally were more technical and behind a computer like tech and engineering and people are discovering that you need to develop those soft skills. And I don’t really like the term soft skill because it sort of shows that they’re not as important when I think that they are just as if not more important entrepreneurs. So people trying to pitch their business and pitch for investment. Our workshop facilitators have recruiters, the list goes on.

You think about all of those professions. There are definitely people that are using their voices all the time. Perhaps not as much as publicly or as much as a journalist or a teacher maybe, but they’re people who need to convey a very important message by using their instrument, their voice.

What Actually is Voice Effectiveness?

Bron: So when we talk about voice effectiveness, what does that mean?

Sally: It means that we want our voice to deliver the message inside. Often what we think in our minds gets lost in translation in a way. Okay. So for example, you have a class of kids and your aim is for them to pay attention to you and stop talking. Yes. In in that time, although I’ve seen some fantastic techniques like just putting the hand up. I like that because that takes the pressure off the voice. But say you haven’t got that and you actually do need to project, you’re going to want it to be loud. You’re going to want it to be from strong articulation and almost the equivalent of well, you know, to get everybody to turn around and listen.

So that would be an effective way to use your voice if it’s silent reading time, is that still a thing?

Bron: Yes, absolutely. Silent reading is still a thing after lunchtime, relax with the book. Love it.

Sally: So during that time, it’s not going to be very effective to calm the kids down and get them in that space if you’re using the same voice that you did to get their attention earlier. Right? So you’ll need to be decreasing the volume, slowing down the pace, and a lot of these things as teachers, you do it subconsciously, but that’s what voice effective effectiveness is, if I can say it.

Bron: Yeah. So ultimately it’s about, I guess moderating or changing your approach to suit different situations and contexts. And like you said, teachers are really actually quite intuitive in a way that they will be able to do that without even thinking about it. But upon reflection they’ll see that that’s what they actually did. I think a time in your career where you really need to think about it the most is when you are either a student teacher or a graduate teacher. So you’re at the beginning of your career and you might not have developed many different things in your teaching toolkit, but one of them is probably voice effectiveness.

Common Mistakes Teachers are Making with Voice Effectiveness

Bron: So what, what are some of the mistakes that teachers make or people make in general when trying to command an audience or get people’s attention?

Sally: Oh look, I think it is, it is very tricky as well being a student teacher because being a student, anything, your confidence is a little bit low because you’re just feeling like you don’t really know. You’re just giving it a try. And the difficulty with that is the voice will follow and you’ll often have this small voice and I and is that okay and now we’re going to do this? And it’s almost like they’re questioning themselves as they’re talking and that’s normal because you’re not sure what to do. Oh my goodness, you put me in, in front of a classroom. Oh my goodness. I would be terrified.

The catch is kids are very, very smart. Like they intuitively they can hear whether you’re, you are confident in yourself and have the command. Yeah. Or whether you don’t. Yeah. They pick up on anxiety. They absolutely can. And you will see it when a more experienced teacher comes in or somebody who has their trust and they speak and they’ll, the kids will listen to them. Uh, so I would definitely recommend if you can, in that early stage to seek out some voice training to build that skillset. Yes.

The other mistakes I see when people try to command an audience, um, I’d say the first thing is they put too much pressure on the throat and it forces from the throat rather than comes from the diaphragm. So we talked a bit about breathing in the last episode. Um, but again, it’s, it’s not that forcing of the throat, it’s the breathing from here. Um, and the other mistake I see is, you know, commanding an audience is not like commanding an army. And often just that shouty I am commanding T kind of style is not the most effective to get people to listen to you and that you can really be commanding in other ways. As you would know with if you’re reading a story. Sometimes the lower the volume the more effect. You’re just feeling that like commanding is not about taking that word too literally.

Bron: Yeah and I guess um, nobody wants a dictator at the front of their classroom yelling orders or demands of the students. So there is a way to get, to get their attention to maintain their engagement and to have them learn about the content that you’re trying to teach by employing these vocal strategies that will become second nature if you do decide to have some vocal coaching or if you decide to do a course online like Sally, you said you’ve got a course online ready to go for people to do at their own pace and for teachers often we’re asked to present PD to our staff.

If we are on a year level team, we might be asked to step forward on behalf of that team to present at a staff meeting and nothing can instil fear into a teacher’s heart who’s used to talking to, you know, a class of eight year olds and is suddenly asked to talk to 45 adults who know their stuff as well as you do about a particular pedagogical issue or educational trend that is really scary. So knowing how to take the stage is still a really important skill for teachers to have as well.

Sally: Absolutely. It’s something that teachers are very good at intuitively, but I always say that you don’t want to put your audience to sleep or worse, like send them into a flat line. And the way that you do that is by I staying on the one level and a good example of that is monotone. If you never go off the same pitch, I might be louder. I might be softer, I might be faster, I might be slower. But if I’m always on the same tone, like you’re going to die of boredom.

Bron: Well, we’ve all been in those six hour PD days where someone presenter has had a monotone voice and it’s like, kill me now.

How to Use Voice Effectiveness to be an Engaging Speaker

Sally: This is the thing like as much as we want, but we might want to listen to the content and we might want to pay attention. Our brains find it extremely hard to do that, which is why if you’re ever reading a story to kids late at night, just go into a monotone and put them straight to sleep.

Bron: That’s a good tip. I might use that tonight. It’s that what I’m doing wrong. Funny.

Sally: Oh well of course I’ve got nieces and Aunty Sally reads pretty scary. Hearing it like over the top all the time. We’ve got monotone. So pitch and I say you don’t need to be able to sing scales. You just need to be able to go up and be able to go down. So you’ve got a few different ranges to go into. The other thing is pace. Yep. We all know speakers who always go a hundred miles an hour. All speakers that always sound like they’re on a meditation CD that you want to just find a balance so you keep people guessing and same with volume, not always loud, not always soft, just always varying it.

Bron: Yep. Yep. Now, Sally, you yourself are an MC. I’m going a little bit off the script to you because I’ve been researching you a little bit and you have a lot of confidence because you have years of experience using your voice effectively, but is it possible for someone who lacks confidence, not just with their voice, but in presenting, in being on stage, on being in a public, Oh my gosh. Some people just are terrified of public speaking. It’s their worst nightmare. How can they, can people come out of that? Can people train their brain to be better in public speaking environments?

Sally: Absolutely. 100% good. Another metaphor for you.

Bron: Okay. I love these Sally’s metaphors.

Positive Self-Talk for Voice Effectiveness

Sally: It’s well. One second. What tends to happen is we’ll get negative thoughts. You’re not confident, you can’t do this. You don’t want to do it. Kill me now. Satellite me into space. I wonder if I could set the fire alarm off and get out of this. I’ve heard them all. I had somebody say to me, “I was, I was so nervous. I wanted to have a car accident on the way. Not a bad one, just like a bingle. It was enough that I didn’t have to do it”.

Bron: That’s pretty bad.

Sally: Crazy, isn’t it? Yeah. But we all get these negative thoughts that come in and what tends to happen is we feel ambushed. We don’t have anything to fight back. And it just goes into this spiral. Like we feel really nervous and don’t know what to do. And it’s the end. So you want to build up your arsenal.

Bron: So when those negative thoughts and feelings come in, you’ve got something to combat with.

Sally: Exactly. And that could be as simple as recognising what the negative voices are and crossing them out with a new mantra.

So for me, rather than “I don’t want to do it”, which is the thought that comes into people’s minds a lot of times when they have to speak. Yeah. Instead, “I’m grateful for the opportunity”.

Bron: Oh, that’s a great one.

Sally: Not “They won’t like me”. “They want to listen to me” and not, “I wish the ground would open”, but “I deserve this space”. And so for me, I have this mantra, I have it recorded on my phone, call me crazy, but I play it and it says in my own voice over and over again,

I’m grateful for the opportunity. They want to listen to me. I deserve this space.

You know, it’s amazing. So I just have that there and I work with my clients on it as well. So we can combat that. And there’s a few other hacks that you can have.

The Tree Trunk Speaking Hack

I’ll take you through a couple of them. So first of all, you’re not feeling confident. Let’s start with the feet. So whether you’re sitting down or standing up, I want you to imagine that your tree, your legs are like tree trunks. Just what every woman wants to hear.

But what that does is it gives the visual that your legs go into the ground and the root system spreads underneath the ground. So you’re not just standing on your two feet or even sitting. But you’re grounded. Rock solid doesn’t mean you can’t move, but it means that you won’t like move, like sway around and look unsettled. Cause that’s one of the most common things with speakers is they just look like they’re not yet.

Bron: They’re a bit wobbly.

Sally: Wobbly. Yeah. That’s the word for it.

Bron: So imagining that you’ve got the tree trunks.

The Angel Wings Speaking Hack

Sally: Yup. Really helps. The next thing is imagine that you’re wearing Victoria’s secret angel wings. Oh, I like that one much better than tree trunks.

And this one works for the guys as well. Yep. Angels. Completely unisex. So imagining the angel wings keeps you shoulders back.

Bron: Oh I like that.

Sally: That will open up your torso to get the air in. And it gives you the idea that you take up more space than you do. So if you walk around with angel wings, you know some people that you see and say, wow, they have like an aura, but they have a globe, a presence, a presence. Yes. I believe a lot of that is just the mental visualisation that you’re taking up more space than you are. Okay.

And the last thing is you can imagine that your head is actually on a string hanging from the ceiling. And so it will keep it up kind of.  Just don’t dart your eyes around a bit too much because it looks like you’re taking a substance or something.

But that feeling of, of keeping the head off the shoulders back in the feet ground, just those three things. Yeah. Not only well, it’s not faking it till you make it because just doing that will give you a boost of confidence.

Bron: Great. Those are amazing tips. I really love those. I love Sally how your tips are so clear and easy to adopt. So thank you for sharing those with us. And if people are looking for some one-on-one vocal coaching because online isn’t for everyone, it could be amazing for busy time, poor teachers or professionals that need to slot in here and there. But you also offer sessions one-on-one with people, don’t you? I do. And if you work with me one on one, you get the whole online program included.

Bron: Really? Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic.

Coaching with a Professional Vocal Coach Like Sally

Sally: And one on one coaching. It’s um, it’s fantastic because everybody, no two voices are the same. No two people find themselves in the same speaking scenarios. Yeah. And there’s always different things.

Bron: Yeah. So in teaching we call that differentiation when you have to target just one particular type of student and teach to them. So Sally, it sounds like you were really good at differentiation.

Sally: Oh, thank you. I was like, that must be hard with teaching when you’ve got a whole class full of people, how do you meet everybody’s needs?

Bron: It’s a big, it’s a big thing. We often get, lots of questions are surrounding differentiation because it is hard to do, but it’s so critical because no two learners are the same as you know, with your teaching experience and teaching. No two voices are the same, but no, no two students are ever the same.

Bron: So it’s time consuming and it takes a little bit extra planning actually a lot of extra planning. But yeah, just take tailor making your teaching for each student. It can just be a tweak here or there.

Vocal Style

Sally: Yeah. And it can be the same with vocal style. I’m sure there’ll be some kids who will respond better to different ways of speaking. Some kids will be like the, the strong vocal discipline, whereas other kids will respond more to that quieter one-on-one chat.  All the maternal, gentle nurturing tone will help one child a lot more than another child that does need that really stern. These are the rules. Yeah. No. Being able to have that range in your voice can be really, really helpful.

I will say one thing, I know you’ve got a lot of female listeners, even though everybody I work with is different. Yup. I can generalise and say that it’s mainly the women who need to, the women ask, um, who’s struggled with that inner voice and that inner confidence.  And it’s interesting because a lot of men come in and I talk about the mindset stuff and they’re like, Oh yeah, fine. Got that. I’m all good. I’m all good.

Bron: Well, that’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s interesting.

Sally: Yeah. Yeah.

Pitch is an Issue for Many Professional Women

Bron: Well, and I think that yes, because as you said, a lot of teachers are women. Statistically, we know most primary school teachers are women. Like there’s no beating that fact and certain things about voices are very particular to women. And one of those things that I noticed you talking about on your podcast is pitch and listening to your voice and thinking that you sound squeaky. And that is something that I have had to try to fix by myself cause I didn’t have any voice coaching and I should have. But listening to your own pitch, sometimes you think, Oh, I sound like a you know, a hag, yelling, it’s terrible. So, um, what is pitch and how does, how can you modify that or how can you bring it down to express yourself in a way that sounds balanced and not unhinged?

Sally: How long do we have? So picturing in my pitch, think about it like an elevator or a lift. It’s up and it’s down.

Bron: I love the other metaphor. Another metaphor.

Sally: Metaphor. It’s great. Let’s talk about pitch and inflection. It can be, can be confusing. So pitch is the up and down. Inflection is the skate ramp. Inflection is the movement. So I work with journalists a lot on this because a lot of journalists go at the end of the word high pitch and high inflection. Okay. How does that sound on the sentence today in the news? Oh we’re going to talk about it goes off rather than saying today in the news. And so I’ve still got a rising inflection but it’s a low pitch anyway. We’re getting quite technical and it’s quite technical with pitch.

It’s often related to where we place the voice in our body. So if our body is a musical instrument, there’s areas in the body, I call them caves spaces where the sound vibrates. Women tend to use what I call the stratosphere. Oh. And the stratigraphy is in the hollows of the cheeks in their head. And so it’s not that a lot of women have this high pitched voice, they just choose to speak in their head.

And I mean we can’t get into it probably too much now, but I believe a lot of it is social conditioning because we want to sound friendly. Um, I’ve also call it the, “I don’t want to be a pain” pitch cause people will say, can you do that for me? Oh yeah, no worries. Yes. Yes. It does sound like a conditioning thing, doesn’t it? It’s also the relationship, passive aggressive voice. Oh is everything okay? It’s fine. I’m fine.

Bron: I’m really pissed off but I’m fine.

Sally: We all use that voice. The problem is I think a lot of women live in the stratosphere rather than just visit it. It’s nice to visit a bit of vocal variation, but you don’t want to live up there. Uh, yeah. So we don’t want to use the whole of the chicks and head too much. We want to bring our voice down to what I call it, earth and earth is the walls of the chest.

So I say the only thing in life you want to be down and out or your vocal vibrations down and out, down and out. You want it to be down because in this area that the pitch will naturally go down. It’s a nice big area behind the chest for the sound to vibrate and you want it to be out because we want our tone to be forward. If the tone sits back here, we sound like we’re trying to be important. It’s not very nice. So we always want to be forward. If anyone’s seen the Wolf of Wall Street, that scene where he’s talking to Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey. Yep. And he’s going, “Oh, ah,”. Yes. That’s what you want to channel. Okay. So you want the sound to be there and no matter I talk about this in the podcast, no matter your age or your size, your agenda, all of us have the ability to enter on earth.

Okay. So if you’re, if you feel like you’re have a high pitched voice, you might be a petite woman.

Bron: Does that change how they go together? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. This is what I find. Um, I would challenge you and say your voice is in a high pitch, just not entering on earth. So when you start talking, think about saying good morning rather than good morning. Because often when you start high, it’s very, very hard to go down, but if you start down, it’s easier to go up. That’s, that’s really good to remember. Like, yeah.

Entering on Earth

Even what about starting a lesson? If you were just trying to put it into teaching terms rather than coming in and we’re going to talk about, I don’t know, lung division, it doesn’t make it sound any more fun. Does it? Long division is still boring, so you may as well use your down and out business like voice various. So I’ll demonstrate. I’ll go up on long division. Okay. Today we’re going to talk about long division. Oh, that sounds really good. I’ll do not really good, but I’ll learn about long division with you. But you know what I mean? So you can always go off. Um, but I think it’s better to start lower.

Bron: Yeah. Okay, great. That’s another great tip, Sally. Thank you so much for joining me today with these amazing tips for teachers. And you’re going to pop back soon to give us a few quick vocal warmups that teachers can use.

Sally: I sure am.

Bron: I can’t wait for those. Bye. Bye. To learn more about using your voice effectively, both inside and outside of the classroom. Subscribe to Sal’s podcast, That Voice Podcast.


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