This explanation of the anatomy of speaking was given as a speech at a Toastmasters International meeting on July 10, 2018.
Fellow toastmasters and guests. We are gathered here to acquire skills to be excellent speakers. A greeting, an introduction, make your points, some humor and a conclusion. But, may I dare say, that Toastmasters seems to be taking one thing for granted: that we actually know how to speak.
In fact, I think most of us take speaking for granted, until something changes and it becomes difficult. I have researched and would like to share with you some helpful tips on speaking with physical ease.
Let’s start with a short explanation of the anatomy of talking. We usually associate speaking with our mouths and vocal chords, but it starts much lower in our body, beneath our ribs and above our stomach with a muscle called the diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts it pushes downward and our stomach and internal organs get pushed outward. This creates a vacuum in our lungs allowing air to come – inhalation. When the diaphragm relaxes it goes back up between our ribs, the lungs get smaller and push the air up our throat and out our mouths. Exhalation.
When we are simply breathing, the vocal cords are relaxed and air passes through them easily with no sound. When we wish to say a word, muscles in the vocal cords tighten up and begin to vibrate. Sound is produced which is altered by other structures in the mouth, such as the tongue and lips and lower jaw.
So, how does posture play into this? Poor posture changes the position of our muscles and internal organs affecting their function. We all try to have good posture but lifetime habits may affect the way we stand and move in barely perceptible ways.
Here are some basic tips for great posture. Our spine should be straight yet relaxed. This is easily done by adjusting the position of our hips. Too far back and we will have a low back ache, too far forward and our shoulders will ache and the diaphragm will be stuck. Next, stop trying to look skinny! Relax your stomach and let it move as you breath. This allows the diaphragm to contract air to fill all of your lungs to the very bottom..
What about our neck? The air has to pass through in order to reach our mouth. I am sure many of you know what a sore neck feels like but do you know that is a symptom of poor posture? Too far forward and it is hard to breath, swallow or talk. Too far back, or high, or low and the same result, it is difficult to breath, swallow or talk. There is sweet spot where the head feels perfectly balanced on your spine, like a ball on a stick. Your muscles are relaxed and there is no tension in your throat.
Lastly, let’s pay attention to our mouth. Many people clench their jaw, grind their teeth or suffer from pain which the dentist call TMJ syndrome before he charges you a thousand dollars for a mouth guard. If your jaw is tight, how can you possibly form sounds into words? So loosen up your jaw, stretch it open, side to side, forward backward. A few moments of looking weird are worth if when you have to give a speech at Toastmasters.
The best part of improving your posture is that not only will you become a better speaker but you will also feel better every single day. So next time you are preparing and rehearsing for a speech include time to check your posture. Relax your stomach, straighten your back, feel your head is lightly resting on your spine and your jaw can move freely. The words will flow out easily and you will enjoy giving your speech.