HEART AT PEACE: Seeing The Humanity In Your Listeners

May 5th, 2011

Recently, I revisited an audio book, The Anatomy of Peace, by The Arbinger Institute, well-known for their previous book, Leadership and Self-Deception. The authors maintain that our way of being is even more important than our words and actions. If our heart is “at war,” than we see others as objects, obstacles or vehicles for getting what we want. Saying and doing “the right thing” is hollow and meaningless when our heart is “at war.” When our heart is “at peace,” we see others as unique human beings. We say and do the right thing from a place of sincerity and care.

I couldn’t help but think about how this plays out in presentation and public speaking. When our own heart is not at peace, we treat our listeners as objects, a collection of faces. Then any number of common problems arise.

  • The experience becomes all about us, instead of creating an experience for our listeners.
  • The presentation becomes all about getting through the content, instead of making sure our listeners understand.
  • We become fearful and defensive, instead of being fully engaged and making ourselves fully available.
  • We become pushy and competitive, instead of being flexible and cooperative.

 

I know I’m constantly preaching that cultivating the optimal physical state of being will encourage the optimal vocal, mental and emotional state of being. But—heart at peace—I’m not sure I know how to get there… I’m sure a peaceful physical state will get us moving in the right direction, but will it get right into the center of our being, where it can change how we view our listeners, how we feel about them? I know it’s crucial, but I don’t feel I have the answer to that, yet…

FEAR IS EXCITEMENT WITHOUT THE BREATH: Guest Post by Peter Loffredo

April 10th, 2011

I’ve always loved the quote that starts this post, and feel it’s particularly relevant for speakers.

Peter Loffredo, of Full Permission Living, has kindly allowed me to reprint his insights on the topic.
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“FEAR IS EXCITEMENT WITHOUT THE BREATH!!”
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That quote was from Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy. 

And it’s a beauty!

So, what does it mean?

Well, when explaining this to patients, I’ll usually start by describing what happens in the body when we are excited or exhilarated: adrenalin starts pumping. This serves to focus your attention on the pleasurable circumstance by heightening the senses, encouraging your body and mind to continue moving towards the pleasure. Cool, right?

Yes, but… fear also causes adrenaline to be secreted, so that in situations of actual danger, your senses will be on high alert, enabling you to quickly engage in a fight or flight response. Unfortunately, because of early life experiences and associations, we can mistakenly react to pleasure as if it were something frightening. This is so embedded in us that is almost at the level of a reflex, and therefore, almost impossible to control.

Almost.

There is one action that can decrease the fear reaction in the body, and it sounds so simple or cliche as to almost be unbelievable – breathe. Yep. A few deep breaths can reduce the fear state and actually bring you back to the pleasurable feelings.

Here’s Gay Hendricks from his book, THE BIG LEAP, a good read for every advanced student of happiness:

“When scared, most of us have a tendency to try to get rid of the feeling. We think we can get rid of it by denying or ignoring it, and we use holding our breath as a physical tool of denial. It never works, though, because the less breath you feed your fear, the bigger your fear gets.”

I believe that the breathing works because adrenaline needs to be used quickly and discharged through action, and if you actually don’t have to discharge the energy by fighting or running away, you can discharge the excess hormonal energy through deep breathing. In other words, breathing through your fear is meant to be taken literally as an antidote to fear, and a way to get back to pleasure.

Peter Loffredo, Full Permission Living, <http://fullpermissionliving.blogspot.com/>

INVEST: Putting Yourself in the Game

February 22nd, 2011

A long time ago, I attended the end-of-term evaluation for a singing class. Each member of the class was required to perform one song they had prepared during the previous weeks. Out of the whole group, one singer was memorable. Not because of the song she chose or the interpretation she brought to the piece; we’d seen her do it all before—maybe too often. She stood out because she got up there and threw herself into the performance, almost literally. For a couple of minutes, she pulled out all the stops. The other performers sang all the words and hit all the notes, and I don’t remember them. She took a risk, put something out there and made an unforgettable impression.

As a speaker, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming it’s all about the words. Your voice gets quiet. Your gestures get smaller or disappear, and your face becomes expressionless. You pull back. You dial down the energy. You stop putting anything forward. Then, your listeners become unresponsive because you’re not giving them anything—and that makes you feel bad. You disappoint yourself. You feel weak. Instead, you should be coming out to play.

Your goal as a speaker is to make a connection, and that challenges you to be fully available to your listeners. So turn it up a notch. Give 110%. Throw yourself into the speech. Remember why you need to communicate your message. Reignite your passion and invest yourself more intensely in the delivery.

When you’re completely invested in the delivery of your message, you reinforce yourself. It’s invigorating. You feel strong. So take a chance. Look’em in the eye. Let your voice fill the room. Allow your gestures to take up more space. And remember this: an imperfect speech, delivered with passion, will always trump a polished but lifeless performance.

FOCUS: Knowing the Real Task

February 14th, 2011

I had a potential client, last week, whose primary concern was dealing with the nervousness undermining her credibility and impact in meetings. She discovered voice training has the unexpected benefit of giving her a constructive focus, an alternative to focusing on how miserable she felt.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the presentation is about you. Yes, you may be at the front of the room. You may be the only one speaking. You may indeed be the center of attention, but ultimately it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. They have to get the message, or the whole exercise is a waste of time. Acute nervousness is a sign you’re focused on the wrong thing, yourself, instead of getting your message to those listeners. The more you focus on your discomfort, the less attention you have to devote to your listeners. If you become preoccupied with your nervousness, you become disconnected from the conversation. That will begin a downward spiral of self-consciousness that really could cripple your speech.

In addition, when you notice symptoms of nervousness, it’s easy to feel you’re doing a bad job. That’s a trap. A pounding heart is just a pounding heart. Shaky knees are just shaky knees. Not a sign from the gods that you’re going to fail. Let the symptoms of nervousness, your pounding heart, your shaky knees, remind you that you have an important job to do: get this message to those people. Your audience needs you. Cultivate the ability to care for your listeners and maintain a fierce focus on your task as the messenger. Nervousness and anxiety will fade into the background and perhaps disappear altogether.

THE FIVE MOST COMMON SPEECH PROBLEMS

December 3rd, 2010

Every year, I consult and train with hundreds of people, and the five most common issues are

Speaking too quickly- caused by fast, shallow breathing, jaw tension and being too focused on content.

Not projecting- caused by a lack of grounding, breath support and resonance.

Sounding too high- caused by physical tension and shallow breathing.

Mumbling- caused by fast rate, jaw and tongue tension, and a soft voice.

Nervousness- caused by tension, shallow breathing, and inadequate preparation.

The solution? It’s always some version of

  • Grounding/Relaxation
  • Deep breathing
  • Resonance.

It’s not rocket science, but what appears simple is not always easy. It’s hard to stay open. Get a vocal coach.

Managing Nervousness

June 4th, 2010

It would be difficult to find an activity more fraught with fear and anxiety than public speaking. Invent a pill for stage fright and you’ll be an instant billionaire. Until then, it may be reassuring to know you’re not stuck with an acute condition. There are natural remedies to keep the symptoms of nervousness under control.

One of the easiest ways to reduce nervousness is to rehearse. If the actual performance is your first experience of the speech, no wonder it’s nerve-wracking. When you’ve been through the presentation several times, you know how it sounds, how it feels, how it flows. You’re on familiar ground. In addition, every run-through will result in improvements. Why blow off the benefit of that process?

The ability to physically relax under pressure is the most overlooked skill of public speaking. The problems you face as a speaker are usually not head problems or content problems; they’re body problems. Your hands shake, your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, and so on. Cultivating the ability to be comfortable in your body puts you miles ahead of the competition. But this knowledge alone doesn’t make a difference. That state of being must be practiced, or it won’t be accessible onstage.

The most powerful thing you can do to manage nervousness is breathe well. Like most people, you already know that, but few people practice it. So, under stress, your body goes back to its familiar habits: small, shallow, tense breaths—or even holding your breath. All the main symptoms of stage fright have a direct physical connection to breathing. If you make deep, open, relaxed breathing a habit, you have a powerful tool for managing, if not eliminating, nervous energy.

Allowing your voice to resonate fully is a less obvious strategy for managing nervous energy. If your voice feels small and weak, that’s exactly how you’re going to feel at other levels. If you engage your whole voice, feeling it vibrate throughout your body, and sense it filling the room, you set up positive feedback that helps you feel strong, expansive and confident. The sense of “putting something out there” channels nervous energy in a constructive way. You become proactive.

There are no magic pills for curing stage fright. But, there are critical skills you can develop to prevent nervousness from hijacking your performance. Yes, skills require practice, but they are effective. Mastery takes time, but it beats being a victim. So, start now, and discover how it feels to have the quiet confidence of a pro.

For further details, please contact Jay Miller, Toronto Voice and Speech Coach at:
http://voiceandspeech.com/contact.html