We can gain some insights from the work of F.M. Alexander. One hundred years ago Alexander developed a technique to use our bodies more effectively yet with less effort.
Forcing a style can damage your health
Alexander was an actor, but when he performed in front of an audience he would rapidly become hoarse. This problem was the result of using more effort than needed when speaking.
Simply put, as he tried to add that extra oomph when speaking, his neck and throat leaned forward slightly, which stretched muscles around his voice box. Performance anxiety supplied additional tightness, and he would lose his voice.
He visited many doctors who were unable to help – one surgeon suggested an operation on his throat to “see if they could find the cause of the problem.” Alexander declined this gracious offer and began a process of self-evaluation with a series of mirrors to better observe what was happening. He went on to become an expert in voice development and the effortless, optimum use of one’s body for any task.
The Alexander technique is used widely around the world today.
Alexander noted that “various forms of laryngitis attributed to speakers” were caused by “excessive effort in speaking.” Public speakers around the world would know this health problem as ‘speakers’ throat’ yet most are unaware of the solution, believing it’s just part and parcel with the job.
Becoming effortless requires breaking old habits
The Alexander Technique requires us to become aware of how we habitually use our body. For example, do you tighten your stomach, shoulders or chest when you speak? Many people do. If so, then a lack of air due to that tightness might impact the way you think, breathe or form words comfortably.
You might be unaware of these particular ways of ‘using’ your body, yet they can have a stifling impact on your poise and clarity of thought under pressure.
Just becoming aware of these habits can help change them. The secret is using less effort. Inhibiting any attempt to vary what comes naturally and being clear in your mind what you want to achieve. For example, the more effort used to increase the volume of your voice, the worse the result. It may seem strange that less effort can produce a stronger voice, yet it works.
Golf students initially find it hard to believe that swinging fast and hitting hard doesn’t work. Reducing effort and ‘letting the club do the work’ gets a better result – and doesn’t wear you out. This principle is applicable to all uses of the body; from the effort required to walk, play sport, type on a computer, etc.
More specifically, the effort required to speak in public can be reduced while increasing your poise at the same time. This not only boosts your credibility, it makes speaking more enjoyable.
Get certain about what you’re going to say and why the audience will care and let the rest flow from your certainty. One trigger to break the old habits is the check whether you’re breathing comfortably. If not, slow down, breathe and gather your thoughts; you’ll appear far more poised.
The message from the Alexander principle is that a natural style is not only more effective, it can be almost effortless. Practice is easier and experience develops more quickly when you consciously maintain your poise.
Our workshop participants report that approaching spoken presentations in this way allows them to feel comfortable and have more control over the situation – and get to a higher level of experience in a shorter period of time.
If you’d like to develop relaxed, compelling speaking skills, consider: