Love is all you need

2012

I make no apology for stating as often as I can that concern for an audience must be greater than concern for ourselves when we speak in public.

Oddly, the characteristic that will most help us to strike that happy balance is a love of self - because without that there is no source from which concern can flow, no well from which rapport can be drawn.

As I was writing that last sentence, the latest copy of The Economist plopped onto my doormat containing an article entitled: "Think yourself well. You can. But it helps to think well of yourself in the first place".

The research on which that article is based identifies some psychosomatic skills that seem to lead to better self esteem, whereas the skill that I was about to suggest for doing the same is the mechanistic one of breathing.

If all of us were to get into the habit of squeezing every bit of stale breath out of our lungs at least once in every hour, the freshly oxygenated air that would flow in and take its place would instantly make us happier

Oxygen, the energy giver without which no life can exist, is present in each inhalation we take. From the coruscating gulps required for heavy work to the shadowy, slow inhalations of heavy sleep and every activity in between, breathing colours and controls our lives.

When we are presenting to others, we need this resource to help us remain energised from the moment we step into the place where we are to speak until the moment we step out of it. So why - when sufficient oxygen intake is something we can so easily control - do we insist on shallow breathing that allows insecurity rather than alertness to pervade us?

Being an audience member is not thought to be an active role and yet edge-of-the-seat attentiveness is necessary if listeners are to absorb and remember complex ideas. Controlled breathing also can help with that and it is up to us as presenters to instigate that control.

If we breathe out before we begin to speak we will experience a clean, clear state of mind as we begin to speak and our listeners will hear a clean, clear voice and their breathing will relax.

Momentary pauses cued into a presentation will prompt listeners to snatch breaths of expectation right on cue.

Opportunities for laughter written in at appropriate points will give them chance to expel deoxygenated breath.

Suggesting that they talk among themselves just before we deliver the most demanding segments of our material will give them a sufficient store of fresh air with which to remain attentive.

To have to insert air exchange points into a presentation is likely to make preparation time longer. (Breathe out while contemplating that.) But that disadvantage is outweighed by the fact that the more conversant we become with our information, the more confidently we will be able to present it and the more appreciative our audiences will be. Surely that makes it possible for us to love ourselves a little bit more?

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.