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.

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.