How to talk the talk

Ever worry your speech-giving skills aren't quite up to snuff? Maybe you need to take a cue from a baby.

Ever worry your speech-giving skills aren’t quite up to snuff?

Maybe you need to take a cue from a baby.

Imagining that you’re lying in a crib cooing and gurgling like a newborn may just help you to give a better speech in the future.

It might sound farfetched but it’s all about getting to the roots of speech and loosening the breath, said voice educator Colin Bernhardt.

He’s visiting Whitehorse this week to help writers improve their reading skills.

By using simple theatre exercises, Bernhardt is able to get readers out of their heads and tap into their emotions.

Too often writers get on stage and forget to connect with the audience.

They bury their eyes in their work, they mumble or they rush what they’re reading.

It can make an accomplished writer sound like an amateur.

The first step is getting people to relax, said Bernhardt who has worked with actors, writers and musicians to improve their speaking skills.

People need to learn how to breathe.

Then they need to understand the work they’re reading, even if they were the authors themselves.

Writers often use Jungian images of the unconscious in their work, said Bernhardt.

The key is getting them to unlock that imagery while they’re reading and consider the “colour” of the writing, he said.

Bernhardt designates one of four categories to someone’s writing: earth, air, fire or water.

Doing so allows people to develop colour for that imagery, he said.

Finding one’s voice can be harder than just opening up your mouth and speaking.

Bernhardt works with people individually to find what perfect pitch and tone suits them.

The ideal is finding a voice that reveals the actual person who is speaking, said Bernhardt.

Learning that as a theatre student at Stratford University was a “breakthrough,” he said.

“You didn’t have to know about monothongs, dipthongs, tripthongs, hyperbole, falling and rising inflection and so on.”

As easy as it sounds, achieving that ideal voice can still take months or years.

Bernhardt has been studying elocution since he was a child.

Unlike his dad who was named to the hockey hall of fame, Bernhardt wasn’t cut out for athletics.

“My mother saw quickly that it wasn’t for me and sent me out for tap-dancing and elocution lessons,” he said.

“I became the sissy of the family but nevertheless less bruised.”

When Bernhardt was 13 he and his parents were in a violent accident.

His parents were killed and Bernhardt’s body was “completely massacred.”

“With my vision of acting and dancing I got through all that though.”

The accident pushed him to work harder at what he was doing.

In the mid-‘70s he began teaching speech and acting. He eventually landed at Acadia University where he taught for 25 years. At the same time he also gave workshops at The Banff Centre, the National Theatre School of Finland and the European Opera School in Belgium.

Over the years he’s helped writers like Adele Wiseman, Alistair MacLeod and Miriam Waddington to improve their reading skills.

But whether he’s working with an experienced author or a new writer he tells them the same thing.

“Go to where the original inspiration came from – your imagination.”

Bernhardt will be in Whitehorse offering workshops from August 26 to 29. The workshops are hosted by the Whitehorse Poetry Society.

For more information or to register, call 668-6744 or e-mail

Contact Vivian Belik at

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