If I Had To Choose Only One

November 25th, 2010

The Situation:

My clients say they don’t have time for a full warm-up before a meeting or presentation.

The Reality:

  1. Warm-ups are important to a speaker. Without them, you might get by, but you won’t be at your best.
  2. If you can’t warm up right before you speak, do it the morning of the event.
  3. Do something. Even a brief warm-up is better than nothing.

The Objective:

  1. Relaxation- Tension anywhere in your body inhibits and distorts communication.
  2. Breathing- The quality of your voice will never surpass the quality of your breath.
  3. Resonance- You won’t engage others if you’re not fully engaged yourself.

My “Silver Bullet”

If I had time to do only one exercise, I would do a series of spinal rolls.

The Spinal Roll:

Release your head forward and begin rolling down toward the ground, as though you were going to touch your toes. Imagine a rope going over a pulley. You’re not reaching, just relaxing downward as far as it feels comfortable. Let go of the back of the back of your neck, your shoulders, relaxing your upper, middle and lower back, until you’re hanging from your waist, head downward. Keep your knees loose.

Now take a deep breath and sigh some tension out of your body. Notice what happens to your body as you let go of the breath. Sigh out several deep breaths and with every out-breath, invite your body to relax even more. You might feel yourself getting closer to the ground with each out-breath. Enjoy that feeling.

Slowly, begin rolling back to an upright position, without lifting your head or tensing your neck and shoulders.  Just unrolling until you find yourself upright again. Take a moment and notice you’ve done to your body.

Repeat this process, trying to notice something new or do something better with each repetition. No two spinal rolls should ever be exactly the same.

The Effect:

  1. Relaxation- As you roll and unroll your torso, muscles start to let go. You become more efficient as you grow more familiar with the exercise. You use fewer muscles to do the same task. You feel more free.
  2. Breathing- With every spinal roll, you open more of your body to the breath. You breathe more fully and easily, into your belly, your sides and even your back.
  3. Resonance- Sigh out sound while rolling up and down your spine. You notice the feeling of sound vibrations shifting as your body changes position. You feel the body-voice connection. Your whole body vibrates with sound.

The Benefit:

  1. Relaxation- You feel at ease, grounded and expansive. You move with freedom. You put your listeners at ease.
  2. Breathing- You relax from the inside out. You think clearly. Your voice feels clear, strong and deep. Your pace is deliberate and your delivery is fluent.
  3. Resonance- You speak with your whole body. You communicate with your whole being. Your message has impact.

The Truth:

I’m not recommending shortcuts or condoning laziness. You should allow time for a 20-40 minute warm-up before any important meeting or presentation. But if the circumstances make a full warm-up impossible, this one little exercise, done with awareness and attentiveness, can cover a few of the bases.

Getting Your Feet on the Ground

October 28th, 2010

Gerda Alexander, a 20th century bodywork practitioner, said security is greatly connected to feeling your bone structure. What did she mean? By noticing your capacity to support yourself at a physical level, you feel your potential to support yourself at other levels: mentally, emotionally, socially, professionally. Confidence is not an abstract “something” we have no way of grasping. Confidence, as a feeling, already exists in your body.

This would explain why people feel stronger and, yes, more confident, just by feeling their feet on the ground. It’s a simple approach yielding disproportionate benefits. One client recounted, “I had a difficult conversation with my boss last week, so I made sure I was feeling both feet on the ground, and I was surprised how strong I felt in that interaction.” Being grounded connects you to your surroundings, keeps you present, and that increases confidence.

How can you develop this skill so it works for you, even under pressure? Take your shoes off. Close your eyes and notice the sensations you feel in your feet, sensations of temperature, texture, weight and so forth. Notice if you are standing on your whole foot, or focusing your weight into just part of your foot. What would it feel like to allow your whole foot to support your body, not just part of your foot? The overused part might feel grateful.

Next, ask yourself if you are standing on your bones. If your bones are acting like pillars to support your body, then the large external muscles might be able to relax over that framework, like clothes draped over a hanger. Scan through your body. If your bones are supporting you, you might be able to relax your legs, unclench your bottom, let go of your belly, soften your lower back, drop your shoulders or lengthen the back of your neck. What muscles are working too hard, just to keep you upright? When you perform simple tasks, like standing, with economy of effort, you free yourself to focus on other things. You feel more “able.”

If you’re standing on your bones and your feet are fully in contact with the ground, your whole body is able to relax downward onto the ground. This enables you to breathe deeply. Your voice is more likely to engage with your whole body. You begin to feel you are speaking with your whole being. The effect is often immediate and noticeable. Of course, making that an everyday experience, something that helps you, even under pressure, takes some practice.

You can practice grounding whenever it crosses your mind: brushing your teeth, waiting in line, standing in the office talking to colleagues. At any moment, you can ask yourself, “What is my connection to the ground, right now? Am I aware of the ground supporting me at this moment?” Then continue doing whatever you were doing, noticing what difference it makes. It quickly becomes a feeling you wouldn’t want to live without.

You may not control what life or work throws at you, but you can access your unique strengths, be fully available and connect with maximum impact, by developing a secure foundation for strong presence and peak performance.

Inside Out: Speaking with Authenticity

September 21st, 2010

If you’re like most people, speaking is just a matter of words, something you do with your face. When you think about it, it’s little wonder communication becomes less effective under those circumstances. Speech loses its personal connection and your message loses its impact. What can be done to ensure your listeners see the real you and feel the true power of your words? Here is a three-step method to get the process started.

Relax from the inside out. Tension, anywhere in your body, affects your voice and ultimately distorts your message. (Just because you don’t notice tension doesn’t mean it’s not there.) If your impulse to speak must fight its way through six layers of tension to see the light of day, what comes out bears little resemblance to your original intention. A relaxation program to help you identify and release deep muscle tension can make you a better speaker.

Breathe from the inside out. Everyone knows breathing is important to speaking, but few have experienced that feeling. There is nothing like a full, relaxed in-breath to open your inner space and clear the channel for expressive, uninhibited speech. What follows is an out-breath. Sound flows out with breath. The only alternative is to squeeze sound from your body, creating distortion that affects the meaning of your message. As Louis Colaianni said, the in-breath reveals what you feel. The out-breath expresses what you feel.

Sound from the inside out. If you imagine speech coming only from your mouth or your throat, your voice will be small, weak and shallow. Your listeners will get only part of your voice and by extension, get only part of you. Imagine and practice sound starting in your center and vibrating throughout your whole body, and you will be more fully engaged when you speak.

My teachers said real communication is about taking what’s inside and putting it on the outside, taking what’s private and making it public. That can be very profound, but it starts in your body. It’s that simple. If you can relax deeply, breathe fully and be generous with sound, you are much more likely to speak confidently and genuinely, with your whole being. That will make a powerful impression on your listeners.