Here in the Northeast COVID is gracing us with two new strains just in time…
Confession time. I do not like writing about public speaking anxiety. The subject is over-saturated, drowning good advice in a sea of recycled aphorisms. Still, every few years I wade back in and here we are.
It is, in my honest opinion, a failing of our societal culture that we ignore the function of the body so often and so completely. We tend to notice it only for how it looks to others and/or how it can perform acts of strength and fitness. Or, we notice it because some part of it is malfunctioning due to illness or injury. But, how your neurology and physiology are responsible for running the scripts on your speaking anxiety? That never seems to come up.
While it can be useful to excavate your speaking traumas (with a therapist, please). Or even to lean on tips and tricks to get through a speaking event. These solutions don’t address the full picture or leverage your unique strengths as a speaker.
So here’s a better solution — understand how speaking works so you can stop winging it.
When we voice, we use air to create an oscillation in the thyroarytenoids (aka, the vocal folds). This oscillation creates vibration and initiation in a small cohort of related muscles. Most of us know that part and that air is important. But while air does happen in a vacuum, that alone won’t get you to confident, high-quality speech.
Before we even get to that oscillation, the body is seeking its best alignment. Musculature including: the psoas, transverse abdominus, diaphragm, and shoulder blades support your ribcage. This allows it to fly freely so that you can get your most efficient breath. They also allow your body to build the appropriate breath pressure for voice use. Articulation, for clear language, and clear intention are what sends the voice into the room. Your content exists concurrently with this process. If your ideas are the why of your speaking, understanding your voicing function is the how.
And before you decide this sounds very hard and possibly beyond your capability, I offer this. Your body has little incentive to interfere with systems so related to survival. It will literally help you get this right. Especially because you would actually be re-learning to use your system as designed.
This is the foundation of speaking without anxiety. Good voicing function keeps survival responses out of your speaking. Lining up confidence and well-prepared content and you have a presentation. It is work but it is worth it to present with embodied authority and without feeling under threat.
So what can you do?
Hire a coach of course. Seriously though, if you are motivated and diligent you can do this on your own — it will just take more time. Here are some ideas:
- Move more as your unique mobility allows. Find those activities that challenge your breath without risking your health. (As always consult a doctor before you put stress on your system especially if you have respiratory concerns).
- Practice observing your breath as you voice.
- An exercise to try is laying prone and observing the pattern of your breathing as you tell a story into a room. Your breathing will change if someone is listening so include that in your practice.
- Sing, even if you don’t think you can. Even if the sound is awful to you. Connecting sung phrases is a masterclass in breathing and everyone should take advantage of the health benefits. Hint, focus on your breathing not the sound.
- Start to build your confidence which is an exercise in accepting what is true about your speaking. I suck is an opinion. I am underprepared may be a fact. Be clear and objective with yourself – the good, the bad, and the ugly — and your confidence will increase. Fix the truths you don’t like and your confidence will soar.
- Stay in the body and its true responses before you consider letting psychology or emotional context enter the field.
Give it a try and see if you can’t fix the root cause of your anxiety rather than its symptoms in the room.
GROW Voice, is a Boston-based business. Founder and CEO, Gina Razón has taught voice and speech for over sixteen years to individuals, organizations and in academic settings. She is sought after as a teacher of voice and speech, singing, and public presentation. Gina has a BM and MM in Voice Performance, is a practitioner of Fitzmaurice Voicework and a certified teacher of Somatic Voicework. She has served as voice coach for TEDxCambridge, and speaks at National and local events on all things voice and speech. Gina is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, The Voice Foundation, the Voice and Speech Trainers Association and the National Speakers Association. More information at www.growvoice.com.