BEING LIKE A BELL: Becoming a More Confident and Engaging Communicator

September 2nd, 2010

In the south tower of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, hangs Fat Peter. He’s not some unfortunate character who met a mysterious and untimely end. Fat Peter is a bell, officially known as St. Peter’s bell. Bigger than a bedroom and weighing as much as a fully loaded cement truck, it is easily one of the largest bells in the world. When Fat Peter sings, you don’t just hear it, you feel it in your bones. You are immersed in vibrations. It’s not just sound. It’s an experience.

St. Peter’s bell has something to teach us about how to communicate effectively. It’s interesting to note that bells have ears, eyes, mouths, lips, tongues, necks, shoulders and bodies. They even have crowns and belts if you’re into accessories. But I want to discuss more than superficial similarities. The way a bell produces sound has profound lessons for us, its human inventors. Specifically, a bell works with 1) economy of effort, 2) total engagement, and 3) complete generosity. I will elaborate on each of these three points and, at the end of the article, provide sample exercises for your exploration.

Economy of effort
A bell is never working hard. It swings at its own rhythm. Force it beyond its natural rhythm and you get less from it, rather than more. The same is true for human speech. You don’t get more from your voice by increasing your level of effort. Increased effort causes contraction, which results in less space for sound—you end up with a smaller bell! The trick to getting maximum sound and impact from your voice is to get out of the way and allow it to work rather than forcing it. You must work with your voice rather than pushing it. Time and again, my clients discover they can cut their effort by 50% and still produce the same amount of sound or even more. (See Sample Exercise 1.)

Total engagement
When a bell rings, the whole bell vibrates with sound, from top to bottom. The same is true for you. When you speak, ideally, it’s not just your vocal folds vibrating. It’s not just that hole in your face where sound comes out. Your whole body vibrates. There’s no body part that doesn’t have the potential of vibrating in sympathy with the sound of your voice. When your whole body vibrates there’s a pretty good chance you’re speaking with your whole voice. And when you’re using your whole voice there’s a pretty good chance you’re communicating with your whole being. But if you’re using only part of your voice your listeners are only getting part of you. (See Sample Exercise 2.)

A bell is never holding back. Think about it. Every last vibration of sound is traveling outward, being given away, generously. There’s no reservation. That’s the way you could be speaking, but in the real world all sorts of things tend to happen. Your voice will sit in your chest, get stuck in your throat, die in your mouth—it seems humans will do virtually anything to avoid putting their whole voice out there into the world. There’s very little generosity in the way most people speak. Few people speak with their whole voice. Most are accustomed to using just a small part of their voice. (See Sample Exercise 3.)

It’s easy to assume great speech is about words, but that isn’t half of it. It goes beyond what we’re saying or even what we’re doing—it’s about how we’re being in the moment of communication. Great speakers make powerful connections and have profound impact because they’re relaxed, fully engaged and totally available to their audience. Listeners love that. We are willing to overlook all sorts of imperfections in the delivery if someone will show up and let us see who they really are. That is the challenge of great speaking: the ability to be fully open, fully engaged, fully available.

You don’t have to be a gigantic bell to fill a room and make an impact, but you do have to feel like one. To explore this process more fully, contact me and ask about the Open Being Program. Learn how you can master these three principles and discover your unique potential to be a confident and engaging speaker.

Sample exercise 1: The Sigh of Relief (Economy of Effort)

Allow an in-breath to flow down into your belly then release it outward with a feeling of relief. Notice how easy it feels. Now do that with sound, an extended “Haaaaaaay” for example. It shouldn’t be breathy, but it does have to be easy. Use the feeling of a sigh of relief to monitor the level of effort you bring to your speaking. If you ever notice you’re working harder than a sigh of relief, you’re working too hard. You should be able to speak for hours, even a whole day, without your voice feeling fatigued. Speaking should always feel great. If it ever feels effortful, like strain or hard work, you need to examine what you’re doing. Ask yourself: If speaking was a feel-good experience, how would that change the way I communicate? How would it change the way my listeners perceive me?

Sample exercise 2: Noticing Sound Vibrations (Total Engagement)

Let your fingertips rest lightly on your lips. Close your eyes, concentrate on your sense of touch, allow an in-breath to flow down into your belly, then sigh out a delicate “M” sound: hmmmmm. Can you feel and cultivate sound vibrations on your lips? Do the same thing with your fingertips on your nose, then on the top of your head. Now place the palm of your hand on your chest and sigh out an extended “Ah” sound. Can you feel sound vibrations in your chest? How about your side ribs or even your back? Now rest your arms at your sides. Close your eyes and sigh out extended “M” sounds, or “Ah” or “Oh” sounds. Can you feel sound vibrations in your body without having to touch yourself? What parts vibrate easily? What parts don’t vibrate easily? Why not? Ask yourself: What would it feel like to have my whole body vibrating with sound when I speak? How would that change my experience as a speaker, or that of my listeners?

Sample exercise 3: Sound Forward (Generosity)

Stand in a large room or in front of a window overlooking an open space. With your eyes open, allow an in-breath to flow down into your belly, then sigh out “hmmmmm-aaaaah”. Feel sound vibrations on your lips, then, without changing anything, relax your lips open and allow sound to flow forward into the space. Open your arms outward as you open your lips, as though you were physically giving away the sound. There’s no need to push or “project”. As long as breath is flowing forward, sound will flow forward. If you feel your throat closing, or if the sound gets scratchy toward the end, you’re letting it fall back into your throat. (Notice how often this happens in conversation, at the ends of sentences.) Ask yourself: What would it feel like if every last vibration of sound could flow forward, outward? What would it feel like to use 100% of my voice, not just the 75% I’m used to, or the 40% that feels safe when I’m under pressure? How would that change my perception of myself at that moment? How would that affect the impact of my message?

Engaging Speech: Getting the Feel of It

August 23rd, 2010

Daniel Webster, 19th century statesman and orator, said, “True eloquence does not consist in speech. Words and phrases may be marshaled in every way, but they cannot compass it. It must consist in the man, in the subject, and in the occasion.”

Preoccupation with the content and mechanics of public speaking is a great barrier to effective communication. Attempting to think your way through a presentation is a recipe for frustration and failure. The secret to great speech is your state of being. Passion, charisma and personality are rooted in feeling, not thinking.

Get out of your head. Your conscious brain can focus on only one thing at a time. Thinking limits your performance of complex tasks such as giving a speech. A golfer, dancer or table waiter would never approach the task as a sequence of consciously controlled actions. They would be paralyzed. When you learn speechmaking by breaking it down into small components, then creating a checklist of mechanical steps, the wheels come off the wagon in short order.

It pays to get physical. Your body, by contrast, can process many sensations at once. Imagine eating your favorite food, appreciating taste, texture and appearance as one seamless experience. Working with body awareness allows you to integrate the many facets of communication (relaxation, breathing, vocalizing, gesture, eye contact, etc.) in a way that feels natural, genuine, and spontaneous. Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexity of presentation, you feel calm, centered and highly attuned to the interaction. To borrow a phrase from Arthur Lessac, you look good, sound good, feel good and communicate well.

Great communication is not about what you’re saying and doing; it’s about how you’re being. That’s not something you control from your head; it’s something you feel: physically, vocally and emotionally. By cultivating the optimal sensations, your desired outcomes happen automatically. You’re free to move beyond content and technique. Your speech becomes an engaging conversation. Your communication ignites relationship. And you create a captivating experience for your listeners.

Fitness for Your Voice

August 17th, 2010

Your voice is a powerful expression of your identity and it is constantly affecting your interactions with everyone you meet. But it’s usually taken for granted until you lose it or fall ill. Keeping your voice healthy is not complicated. Cultivating a few basic behaviors will help guarantee it will be there when you need it.

Experts agree one of the most important things you can do for your voice is get plenty of rest. Your voice is highly sensitive to fatigue. It will show symptoms of fatigue even before you are conscious of being tired—it just won’t work right. So leave the party and get your beauty rest, especially if you have a lot of speaking to do the next day.

Make hydration a habit. Your vocal cords are sensitive mucous membranes, and they’re happiest when wet. Taking a sip of water to relieve dryness when you’re speaking might make your mouth feel better, but doesn’t touch your vocal cords. (Good thing, otherwise you would cough violently.) Hydrating your voice happens from the inside out, over time. The best approach is to make hydration part of your lifestyle. Your whole body will be happier.

Warm up before using your voice extensively, speaking loudly and/or for long periods of time. No athlete dreams of competing without first doing a warm-up. Without it, they can’t achieve their best performance, and risk injuring themselves. The same is true for your voice. No matter how much knowledge or experience you have, your voice will do things after 20-30 minutes of warm-up that it just can’t do when starting cold. An adequate warm-up addresses relaxation (your whole body), breath flow (open and generous), and resonance (feeling sound vibrations throughout your body).

People who use their voices professionally might also consider influences such as diet, air quality, temperature and vocal rest.

Though you may pay little attention to your voice, it is a primary element of communication, a critical reflection of your personal image and a powerful instrument to impact those around you. Providing a few simple supports can ensure its health and enable you to perform effectively in any situation.

Good Vibrations: Putting Your Best Voice Forward

August 9th, 2010

Is your voice attracting others or pushing them away?

Several months ago, I received a call from a prospective client. The voice that greeted me was strong, friendly and confident. Instantly, everything inside me wanted to say, “Wow! You seem like a great person. I want to work with you!” We had a pleasant conversation, and after hanging up the phone, I marveled that my response had been so immediate and powerful. After all, I’m a voice coach. I’m supposed to be listening objectively.

More recently, I received a voicemail that, within seconds, created the very opposite reaction. It had nothing to do with what was said (just a simple request for information). But the sound of this voice instantly raised red flags at a gut level. The voice seemed immature, suspicious and defensive. I actually shivered and said aloud to myself, “Ugh. Stay away from me!”

If a voice and speech coach, someone who listens very carefully, even analytically, can be affected so immediately and deeply by the sound of another’s voice, how much more must the average person be affected at unconscious levels by the voices they encounter?

Since you’ve been speaking since infancy, and giving very little thought to the process, you are probably using only a fraction of your potential voice. Furthermore, it’s likely your voice is distorted by tension, bad habits and lack of technique. To make matters worse, you assume this voice is natural, that it can’t be changed, like your height or the color of your eyes.

I’m happy to say that everyone has the potential for a good voice. A good voice isn’t necessarily a big voice or a deep voice, but it’s clear, resonant, expressive and effective. It doesn’t just sound good, it feels good and communicates well. Your best voice makes others want to be with to you.

Finding a voice that is powerfully attractive to others is a very straightforward process. First, you must get comfortable in our body. Tension is the enemy of your voice. Then you must learn to breathe and speak with your whole body, not just with your mouth. You have to engage the entire instrument. And finally, you must learn to be generous with your whole being. You must give yourself permission to come out and play, to really put something out there for others.

When you master these three principles, your body becomes relaxed and energized. Your voice becomes strong and powerful. Even your thinking becomes positive and creative. You begin to express who you really are, have a significant impact on others and start living the life you are destined to live.

You find so much more than just your voice.

The Power of Breathing

July 20th, 2010

What is required to communicate with impact? If you want to affect your listeners, you must give your self. Giving your self involves giving your voice. And, at a most basic physical level, giving your voice requires giving away your breath.

Speaking with only a trickle of breath yields only part of your voice, so your listeners get the feeling you’re pulling back and not really committing to your message. Speaking with a generous outflow of breath tends to engage your whole voice. Your listeners feel they’re getting more of you—that you’re confidently standing behind your message.

How can you make sure you’re engaging your breath most effectively?

Optimize your in-breath. The quality of your voice will never exceed the quality of your breath. If your in-breath is small, tense and shallow, your voice will be small, tense and shallow. If your in-breath is deep, full and relaxed, your voice will be deep, full and relaxed. Inhale slowly, through your mouth, and invite the breath to sink as far down into your body as possible. Don’t worry about the pause; it’s never as noticeable as you think. Imagine your breath channel being so large you could drive a truck through it, and the walls of the tunnel being smooth as glass. Allow nothing in the channel to obstruct the flow of breath in any way.

Spend breath generously. Speaking is just another way of exhaling. You’re a wind instrument. Using more breath will make you feel better and sound better. Making one breath last a long time is stupid and counterproductive. Use it up! The next one is free! Practice “wasting” all your breath on just three or four words. Picture breath pouring out of you as you speak. When you use your breath generously, you will automatically sound stronger, more resonant and expressive. You will be engaging.

So making an impact means putting some breath behind what you say. Maybe that’s what Ilse Middendorf meant when she said, “If a person finds his way based on the experience of his breathing, he finds his own power and creativity.” Breath is the power of your voice. When you speak with lots of breath, you actually feel your own strength, and that makes you feel—and sound—strong, at other levels as well. Your listeners will sit up and listen.

For further details, please contact Jay Miller, Toronto Voice and Speech Coach at:

Discovering a Deeper Voice

June 6th, 2010

When asked to describe a good voice, one of the qualities mentioned most frequently is “deep.” Everyone wants a deeper voice, believing it will project authority, strength, sexiness or whatever. Assuming it’s all about pitch, they press their voice down into the lower end of their range. Then they wonder why their voice tires easily and feels uncomfortable after any length of time. Their voice always seems “stuck” in their throat, and it actually sounds higher to other people.

I agree a good voice has a certain quality of depth, but it’s not necessarily related to low pitch. It’s more about having low resonance in your voice. Think of pitch as the actual “note” you are speaking. Think of resonance as the “space” you are using to produce the sound. Finding deep resonance in your voice requires attentiveness to three essential components:

  • The first is relaxation. Muscle tension stops sound vibrations. Tension anywhere in your body prevents the spread of sound vibrations. This restricts your voice to your throat and mouth and makes the sound seem higher. Feel the ground under you, allow your whole body to relax down onto the ground, and your voice will tend to drop into your body and sound deeper.
  • The second is breath. Breathing well relaxes the body at very deep levels, creates more space on the inside and keeps the channels very open. The quality of your in-breath will always set up the quality of your voice. If your in-breath is small and shallow, your voice will tend to be small and shallow. If your in-breath is full and deep, your voice will tend to be full and deep.
  • The third is space. Think of a bass drum. Its size and its large interior space tend to emphasize the lower frequencies of its sound. The same thing will happen with your voice if you enhance the feeling of open space inside your body.

Some people get lucky and seem to be born with voices that sound confident and authoritative. The rest of us have to develop it. You might not sound like Lauren Bacall or James Earl Jones, but the good news is that everyone, including you, has the potential for a voice that is warm, resonant and strong. With some training and practice, you can learn to relax, breathe, and be expansive, cultivating a genuine sense of depth in your voice that others will find appealing and attractive.

For further details, please contact Jay Miller, Toronto Voice and Speech Coach at:

Open for Business: Your Selling Voice

June 4th, 2010

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario

You communicate for a living. You are the voice of your company. You offer advice and solutions your clients must understand, approve and implement. So how quickly do listeners connect with you? It’s not just about content. The depth of your engagement determines the impact of your message.

The challenge is to be totally available every time you speak. What would it feel like to communicate with your whole being, not just your mind? Your voice is the vehicle. Using a fraction of your voice produces only a fraction of your potential impact. Tension, unawareness and poor habits are obstacles to effective communication. They close doors rather than opening them.

In this workshop, you will identify the characteristics of a voice that sells and explore three critical components of powerful communication: grounding, breathing and resonance. Come prepared for movement; you will learn exercises addressing these areas – a small taste of what this crucial training can involve. There will also be time for practical answers to audience questions.

You will leave realizing you have a voice that can authentically express your brand and have maximum impact on your clients.

Presenter: Jay Miller, M.A.

Jay Miller is a speech coach operating from offices in Toronto. He provides training in voice, presence and public speaking for a wide range of clients, but his favourites are entrepreneurs and other professionals creating their own income. Jay has over thirty years experience in the field of voice and speech. He is consulted by the CBC, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, ELLE Canada and Eye Magazine, and has appeared on City TV and Discovery

Health. Jay is passionate about helping individuals grow and become more fully available whenever they interact with others.

Contact Jay Miller, Toronto Voice and Speech Coach for more information on participating in this seminar, which is part of the BIG Mastery Workshop.

Reach Jay:

Tel: 416-922-6384 Email:

Your Strong Voice

May 4th, 2010

You want to sound confident. And you can. You don’t have to live with a small, weak voice that fails to express who you really are. But trying to “make” your voice sound more confident will usually result in fatigue, discomfort and a sense you’re not being authentic. Strategies used by Toronto voice and speech coach, Jay Miller, to help you find a strong voice that is sustainable and genuine include:

The first step involves grounding. When you work with an awareness of solid ground under you, your body is more likely to relax down onto that secure support. As a result, your voice will tend to drop into your body, feeling and sounding deeper, even without changing the pitch. For some people, the effect is surprisingly immediate and very noticeable.

The most important component of your strong voice is breathing. Since the human voice is essentially a wind instrument, it is powered by breath. To find more voice, you need to move more breath. It’s a generous outward flow of breath that will engage your whole voice. Without that power, you have no alternative but to squeeze sound out of your body. As you may know from experience, that doesn’t feel or sound good.

The third element of a confident, authoritative voice is resonance. You don’t need to lower your pitch to have a commanding voice. You need to lower the resonance. You need to cultivate sound vibrations throughout your body, especially in your torso. Speaking from your throat and mouth makes your voice sound small, high and young. Speaking with your whole body makes your voice sound full, deep and strong.

Kristen Linklater, one of the greatest voice coaches of our time, notes that the strength of the voice does not lie in muscular effort. The muscles of the voice are not big and strong. The strength of the voice lies in relaxation, breath and resonance. When you need a strong voice you must find your connection to the ground, move more breath and create more space in your body for sound vibrations.

When you open up and speak with your whole body, rather than pushing harder and forcing your pitch lower, you unleash a voice that is clear, rich, full and very effective. You speak with real power, and your listeners will respond.

For further details, please contact Jay Miller, Toronto Voice and Speech Coach at: