Have you ever had the experience of trying to sound commanding in a room full of people, only to come away feeling like you somehow gave up your authority?
The paradox of “presence” is that the harder we try to be big, the smaller we wind up seeming to others.
In Timothy Geithner’s new book Stress Test, he reveals his own uncertainty about speaking the first time that he had to publicly defend his actions as Treasury Secretary. “I swayed back and forth, like an unhappy passenger on an unsteady ship. I kept peering at the audience, which apparently made me look shifty; one commentator said I looked like a shoplifter. My voice wavered. I tried to sound forceful, but I just sounded like someone trying to sound forceful.”
(And I make crazy hand gestures while talking)
The key here is that the harder he tried to sound forceful, the more forced his speaking became.
This makes sense. When we are stressed, our muscles are tense, which includes our vocal cords. The more that we try to force sound and air through them, the more forced the sound will be.
If you find yourself in this uncomfortable place there is a way out that doesn’t involve shattering your vocal cords or shouting across the room.
I know that this is what everyone says, but it really works. If you can take one cleansing breath into your belly (try to fill your thighs with air if that helps you imagine how deep you can go) and then let it go completely in a sigh of relief, you will feel an immediate change in your body.
2. Be in your body
If the first one is hard for you, this one will help. When we feel anxious, stressed or insecure, we lose our body and become disconnected. Do a quick scan of your body and remind yourself that you are here and that you have a body. Bring your consciousness into your whole body and you will begin to feel less anxious and less tense. The more embodied your voice is, the more presence you will have in a room.
3. Be grounded
If you are sitting, feel your seat in the chair and your feet on the ground. Bring your awareness to all parts of your body and notice if you are sitting up too straight, slouching, or have your feet tucked under you. If you are standing, make sure that your feet are planted firmly on the ground. You want to be balanced between the balls of your feet and your heels. When we aren’t properly grounded, we tend to sway, rock or fidget. The more ground your are, the more still you are and the more resonate your voice will be.
The overall goal is to open your body and your voice to the room, not to force the word through the tension. The more open you are, the more powerful your voice will be.
Think of yourself as an opera singer. Look how open and relaxed she is, even though her voice is very powerful and can fill a concert hall without a microphone. That is available to you if you let the natural power of your voice flow through you.