Let Your Voice be Heard at Your Next Meeting: Tips from an Opera Singer

Improve your business influence with an asset you tend to take for granted: your voice.

By Sherry M. Adler

Ever have a great idea to share at a work meeting, but when you try to articulate it, it just goes flat? Your voice cracked, half the people in the room couldn’t hear you and your thoughts were disorganized, making your ideas difficult to follow.

Public speaking is a learned skill and working to improve it can help position you as a leader at your company.

“The voice is an overlooked source of power.” (Photo courtesy of Karina Calabro.)
“The voice is an overlooked source of power.” (Photo courtesy of Karina Calabro.)

So who better to learn from than someone who spends several hours a day working on voice and delivery – an opera singer.

Karina Calabro, who portrayed an opera singer in the 1990 Julia Roberts’ film, “Pretty Woman,” tours and coaches on the global opera circuit and teaches voice in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Karina shared her tips on how to be heard in the business world.

1.  Tune Up!

You have a big meeting coming up. You draft talking points. You anticipate questions and answers. You plan your attire and groom. Did you forget something? Consider your checklist incomplete if you haven’t focused on your voice and delivery.

“The voice is an overlooked source of power,” notes Karina. The concepts she teaches apply, in principle, to all wishing to further their careers, close deals, address groups and enhance their leadership potential.

To Do: Use your voice to your advantage. Appreciate what it can do for you. Develop it accordingly.

2.   Figaro, Figaro, Figaro

“Singing is hard work. It’s very physical,” says Karina. Producing sound comes mainly from the muscles in your voice box. How do you build up those muscles? Practice, Practice, Practice.

To Do: Do vocal exercises daily. Start with closed-mouth humming a tune or scales in ascending and then descending order. Don’t strain. Keep your voice relaxed. Next do horse-like lip trills. Proceed to opened-mouth exercises, e.g., snake hisses, cat meows and laughter ha-ha-ha-ha. Then go deeper into your phalanx by making the doorbell “bng” sound repeatedly for your vocal cords to connect. Spend 5 to 10 minutes on these to extend your range and breathing. It’s an aerobic warm up for your voice.

3.  Enunciate/Articulate

Enunciate syllables; articulate consonants and vowels. Focus on the process of vocalizing. Karina’s tip: “Divide words into vowels and consonants. Vowels produce tone; consonants make you understood. To develop singing and speaking skills, start with these basics.”

To Do: Put several words on your vocal exercise playlist every day. For each, practice forming open, rounded vowels and placing the consonants forward. This rudimentary approach becomes automatic over time and ultimately develops coherent speech and your middle vocal range, which is, per Karina, “The Gold.”

4.  Keep the Flow

These musical terms spice up performances. “Legato” means smooth and flowing. The opposite, “staccato” calls for short, detached execution of notes. “Crescendo” is a gradual increase in volume and intensity; “decrescendo” is the reverse. “Tempo” refers to speed. “These directions appear on music, yet great performers add their own inflections. Injecting this color draws listeners in,” claims Karina.

To Do: Season your speech. Recite content out loud or at least in your mind. Stylize it. Over-punctuate it. Vary your tone and your tempo. Record it as a before (straight speaking) and after (with variety). Which one is more powerful?

5.  “Stand by Me”

The diaphragm is the muscle beneath the lungs and above the stomach; it controls the release of air across the vocal cords. Singers use the diaphragm to achieve special effects, such as holding notes.

“It’s about the mechanics of breathing. I instruct students to focus on breathing from their diaphragm to ‘fill up their air tank’ on the sides and back of their body too,” Karina says. Barring formal training, there is a quick-and-dirty technique. Stand. It positions you to use your diaphragm.

To Do: Rise and shine! Get on your feet for your vocal exercises. Do you have a point to make at a meeting? Stand to present it. Do you want to sound confident and persuasive on the phone? Stand. Using your diaphragm makes a difference.

6.  Learn the Liner Notes

Liner notes offer information about a recording; the libretto contains the text/words of an opera.

“Before tackling a piece of music vocally, my students first research it. Discover little-known facts. Understand the meaning and consider the nuances.” Her students relate to the music on a deep level that way. They say this process makes the music richer to them and, in turn, the audience.

To Do: Learn your subject matter well. Investigate. Gather anecdotes. Form insights. Share your informed points of view. Become an expert. It exudes confidence. It engages people. And it comes across vocally.

7.  “Love Me Tender”

There’s a lot to developing your vocal skills, that is, working on your register (range), breathing, balance and self-expression. Daily exercises help shape your capabilities. Those with passion may invest in training under the guidance of a pro.

“Your voice is part of the human ecosystem,” Karina points out. “Respect and nurture it by sleeping, eating right and staying physically fit. Reading, experiencing things and sharing your soul add color and seamless virtuosity.

“The voice is the ultimate instrument.”  Bravo!

Featured image courtesy of Niall Kennedy, Flickr Creative Commons.

(This article was first published on Real Business, a website from Xerox that provides ideas and information for decision makers in business and government.)

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