Looking for a performance technique that can make you a more focused and powerful speaker? It's as easy as breathing. In fact, that's all it involves!
Let's talk about three ways the simple act of breathing can help you speak for leadership.
You might find it amazing that something so basic and foundational can invest you with increased focus and power. Yet it's true. There's a reason that disciplines concerned with improved awareness and acuity—such as meditation, yoga, and martial arts—include this act as a core competency.
The same is true of all forms of stage performance—not least among them public speaking.
Are you a speaker who commands attention? To get there, you need to achieve a maximum level of focus. To learn how, download my free cheat sheet, "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking."
Doing this well has the ability to empower your voice, lessen your anxiety while boosting your awareness and presence, and lending you the sound of leadership. Can this be possible? Naturally . . . in both senses of that word.
Breathing for Vocal Production
Considering how the act of respiration is both basic and transformational in our lives, it's amazing that we don't know more about how to do it well. Most of us breathe more shallowly than we should, activating our shoulder area (the "clavicular style) or chest (the "thoracic" variety). The correct method is diaphragmatic, which allows us to gain a full reservoir of air.
This is important, because activating the abdominal area, with the proper descent of the diaphragm pushing out the belly, provides you with the raw power you need to create strong vocal sound. Your voice is produced by exhaled air which activates your vocal folds (also known as vocal cords); and the stronger than column of air, the more those muscles in your voice box vibrate.
When it comes to public speaking, your voice needs to carry across space. (You won't always have a microphone handy.) That's called vocal projection, and the ability to do it well is what gives you a powerful voice. Developing a strong voice, then, starts not in your throat, but in your belly! Learn and practice diaphragmatic respiration to help you speak with sheer power.
How to Reduce Your Fear of Public Speaking
Just as important to being a focused and successful speaker, is using performance techniques to reduce fear of public speaking and boost your confidence. And here, the key links are between how you breathe and your heart rate and respiration cycle.
One of the reasons fear of public speaking is so challenging is because it's an inappropriate response. For anyone with speech anxiety, the public speaking situation equates with danger. Once your mind perceives the event that way, it responds strongly and immediately. Adrenaline floods your bloodstream, as the fight-or-flight response prepares you to survive the peril in any way possible.
You can reason all you want that there really isn't any danger present—but once the cascade of physical symptoms linked to the stress response starts, it's impossible to turn off. It's vital, then, that you prepare yourself prior to the trigger event with the ability to cope physically. That's where a mindful response, including calming your nerves before speaking, comes in. Slow, deep respiring slows the heart, halts rapid and shallow respiration, and activates the vagus nerve which flips the switch on the parasympathetic or "calming" nervous system.
Achieving the Sound of Leadership
If you can achieve vocal power, and be a calm and centered speaker (with help from how you create and use breath, as we've seen above), you're ready to achieve the sound of leadership. And you may not be surprised to learn that it's a productive use of the breath that's going to help get you there.
A powerful voice is a good asset to own, but it's a blunt instrument without warmth, empathy, or pleasantness—all among the qualities of a well balanced and interesting vocal sound. You need, for instance, to avoid one of the curses of our time: the "head voice," which is thin and lacks resonance, the result of all of us spending too much time in our heads. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing gives you a "cushion" of air so your voice is well supported, warm, and authoritative. Combining strength and vocal quality this way is essential to gaining the voice of authority .
It's all part of developing an effective voice for business communication. Remember, your voice is an intimate and seductive instrument to get others to think and feel the way you do—and ultimately, to take the actions you'd like them to. Fortunately for those listeners, you reveal who you are, in ways you can't always calculate beforehand, when you speak. It's a pretty fair deal; and from your side, it all begins with breathing.
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