Thank you for a really good question. It’s not fun to feel the power of your voice desert you, thinning and tightening and wavering just at the very moment you need its full bodied support.
So why the tightness?
Public speaking is a high stakes activity (It doesn’t help to call it public speaking but that is for a different email.) And high stakes activities cause stress and muscular tension. You notice it in your shoulders and jaw, and it’s also there in your stomach, upper chest, throat and tongue.
This is the tightness strangling the life out of your voice under pressure.
It starts with the tension in the muscles that support your breathing. All speech is out breath. As your stomach tenses to ready itself for action it makes it harder to breathe in a relaxed diaphragmatic way. Instead you pull the breath into the upper chest, and the richness of your voice gets squeezed and strangulated like an old tube of toothpaste.
The tension also finds its way into the space where your voice is resonated, the pharynx (aka throat) and the tongue. This has the impact of closing everything down and dampening down your resonance. You go from a body capable of great big double bass sound to that of a school recorder.
Knowing this gives you enormous power to take control of what’s happening to your voice and open it right back up again. The sequence below is something I consciously practise:
First normalise the nerves, (so you can stop worrying about being nervous – big waste of energy there). Remind yourself nerves are normal, and beyond that they can be massively performance enhancing.
Then consciously do what’s called “soft belly breathing”, as described by the psychiatrist and trauma specialist James Gordon.
- Relax your shoulders and jaw.
- Put your hand on your tummy (this works well for virtual meetings, not so well
for face to face ones where you may need to imagine that hand on your tummy).
- When you breathe in, think “soft”, feel the tummy move away from the spine.
- When you breathe out think “belly” and feel the stomach move back to the spine.
- As your body softens and relaxes notice your tongue relax and soften in your mouth.
- Let the jaw be heavy, feel space between the back teeth.
- If you can do it a big yawn is the best reset for your nervous system and at the same time a wonderful stretch for the pharynx. The “polite” version of a yawn where you do the inner stretch with your mouth closed is a good substitute.
Hope this helps. Let me know how you get on.
I shared a short video about this earlier in the week which you can watch by clicking on the link below.
Why does my voice tighten when I get nervous? 😶
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