As Storytellers, our main tool is our body and more specifically our voice. It is crucial that we think of our voice as our instrument and learn as much as we can about how to care for it. It is important, first of all, not to think of the voice as being separate from the body. When we go to use our voice it is important to loosen up all of our body and give some special attention to the vocal chords.
The voice is projected through the vocal chords but many other parts of the body have an impact on the voice before it comes out as sound. Our voice can be deep and booming, nasally, or squeaky, depending on how we use our bodies. Our bodies do more than just channel the voice when we tell stories. We use gestures, assume postures, create characters with our bodies. One thing is for sure, whenever you are telling a tale you take your body up there with you.
Before performing, it is important to take the time to relax your body and exercise your vocal chords. Doing this also gives you time to center yourself and release any stress or other baggage you don't want to take with you to the performance. Plan to take 30 minutes, or so, just to take care of yourself.
It's good to start with some stretches. Stretching, of course, releases muscle tension. As a Storyteller you want to be loose and relaxed to allow you the most possible control over your voice and body. I like to start on the ground stretching my legs, back and hips, then I move to my upper body. Be sure to stretch your neck and shoulders well. I am not going to give a list of stretches as the printed word is a poor medium for describing a stretch. I use a mixture of stretches from Yoga, Gymnastics, and Aikido. If you don't have a stretching routine or you're not sure if the stretches you do are adequate, get some help planning a routine. It is easy to find help at health clubs, the YMCA, dance classes, Yoga instructors, or classes at community colleges, and many other sources as well.
Once you've done some good loosening up try planting your feet shoulder width apart and with a slight bounce with bent knees and arms hanging loose, twist at your waist. This helps get you grounded. Then plant your feet firmly on the ground. Be aware of your full weight. Take deep breaths. When inhaling, imagine your chest expanding to the place where the ceiling and wall come together in front of you. At the same time feel your tail bone moving towards the floor and wall behind you. Make sure your spine is straight and head and shoulders are not tipped forward. This will bring you into your body and create a sense of expansiveness. When you take the stage you will fill your space more fully. When doing this we fill our lungs to full capacity and get in touch with the volume of air we have at our disposal.
Doing some vocal warmups is really important. Make sure to use your full tonal range when warming up your voice. Play with the sounds you make. Move your mouth muscles to exaggerate each sound and syllable. Try not articulating well. Puff your cheeks out and say things. This is a time to really explore your voice, where can it go, what can it do. Try to speak from your stomach or from your head, notice the difference in sound, volume and tone. Experiment with volume carefully. You don't want to strain your voice. Go for volume in the tonal ranges that are neither too high or too low but in the middle of your range. We strain our voices most at the extreme ends of our vocal range. Like stretching, if you have never experimented with vocal exercises seek someone out to help you. There are chorus teachers and voice trainers who will be able to help you immensely. It doesn't mean that you need to spend a fortune on private voice lessons with a professional voice instructor. The teacher who directs the chorus at the high school may be able to help you or there may be a voice class at a community college nearby, or look to the local church choirs. I'm sure you will be able to find someone to help you learn to work with your voice.
The last thing I want to suggest is, make sure to take some time to be still and quiet. Give yourself some positive affirmations. Ruth Stotter says she uses this time to think how much she likes the audience she is going to be telling for. For her this gets her feeling good about what she is about to do. Many people I've talked to give themselves some praise. This is not a time for being critical of yourself. If critical voices come up, notice them and let them go. The main thing you want to feel at the end of this time you've mapped out for yourself is peaceful self acceptance. Then, when you tell your stories, you'll be free to be yourself up there. After all, that's who they came to see and hear tell stories.