On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How do I sound?

My cousin, a gorgeous young woman in her early twenties with blond hair and a petite frame, is well on her way to becoming a talented director in the film industry. We had a chance to get together over pizza the other night and catch up. I asked her how everything was going and after lots of great stories about the Paramount lot, we got to talking about the work that I'm doing. Somehow she brought up the fact that she consciously pitches her voice low so that people will take her seriously. She has the impression that it is harder for her to attain immediate respect from co-workers because of her youthful appearance.

It is tempting to pitch our voices higher or lower according to how we hope to be perceived, just make sure that you aren't impeding your body's natural ability to communicate easily. So often men come into my sessions vocally tired because they have either consciously or unconsciously pushed their sound back into their throats to sound "cooler" or "more masculine". Forcing your voice into a certain pitch can cause tension in the vocal folds and cut off your natural resonance.

Try this: Sit comfortably in a chair or lying down on the floor while you allow the breath to fall in and out. Place your hands on your face, covering you forehead, cheeks and mouth and begin to hum. Without forcing in any way, hum a few high pitches and then a few low pitches. When the humming feels easy, speak a simple phrase, such as, "Hello, how are you?" Notice whether these words are spoken in a higher or a lower pitch from where you normally speak. How does it feel?

Go on, give it a try!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


It is a muggy, warm July evening at the park where the green grasses obscure a small pond with ducks frolicking among the water lilies. James wheels himself over to where I stand and introduces himself by inviting me to bump fists with him. The fist bump is his solution to a handshake since he is unable to open his fingers in the necessary way for a traditional handshake.

James was about to become a professional hockey player before a work accident left him paralyzed in both legs. He talks candidly about the depression he experienced after his accident, but he is now passionate about the work he does providing accessible outdoor leisure activities, such as gliding, sailing and hiking, to people with disabilities. Part of this work includes speaking in public, like this past week when he spoke at a grade 7 graduation.

When he first began speaking to groups, initially made up of fellow quadriplegics, he admits to being hesitant and that the possibility was intimidating.

"How did you get over that fear?" I asked.

"I just reminded myself that it wasn't about me. I had to get over myself and tell those guys that there is so much out there to live for. Then it was easy."

There was an earnestness and strength in his voice that only his unique life experience could add to his words. I envied his audience and was thankful for an opportunity to learn once again that heartfelt motivation can move mountains and ease many fears, including that of not speaking in public.

Task: This week, make a list of the important life lessons you have learned. Keep the list in your speaking file. The next time you have to speak, you already have a few personal stories ready to go.