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.

Presentation Power: Cultivating a Commanding Presence

August 16th, 2010

I have long believed the whole point of presentation is to make a connection. Whether you are speaking to persuade, to inform, to sell or to entertain, if you fail to connect with your listeners you’re not effective. To make that connection you must be fully engaged and available. You must be open. Tension, bad habits, nervousness, lack of technique—all these factors tend to close doors right at the moment you need to be opening doors. My years of coaching experience have proven there are two crucial elements to powerful speech: grounding and breathing.

Grounding simply involves your connection to the ground and your awareness of being supported by the ground. With this awareness, your body tends to relax down onto the ground and your breath drops deeper into your body. Your voice sounds lower and you feel as though you are speaking with your whole being. It is one of the simplest things to practice and has a profound effect on your communication. Grounding alone can make you look relaxed, sound strong and feel confident as a speaker.

Breathing deeply is the closest thing to a silver bullet in a public speaker’s arsenal. There is almost no end to the list of things that improve if you learn to breathe well, and most common problems presented by my clients are in some way connected to breathing. The in-breath connects you to your message and makes you expressive The out-breath provides power lending impact to what you say. The ability to open yourself easily and fully as you inhale and to spend breath generously as you speak out will transform your performance.

Whenever I evaluate a speaker, the first two questions I ask myself are, “Is she grounded,” and, “Is she breathing?” If those two things aren’t happening, anything else I might suggest will be superficial detail. When those two things are happening, most other desired elements appear effortlessly.

Great presentation isn’t just about what we’re thinking. It’s about how we’re feeling. The openness I mentioned earlier is, especially, an ability to open downward. That cultivates depth at all levels of our performance, and that state of being lends substance and power to our presentations. We don’t have to make it happen; it will be there, spontaneous, authentic and effective.

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.