For generations there has been no greater presumed fear than the fear of public speaking. People experience panic attacks anticipating any public speaking engagement from job interviews to giving speeches, and these can happen to anyone, anywhere. We all have, at one time or another, experienced dry mouth, ‘butterflies’ in the pit of our stomach, sweaty palms, trembling, the urge to run away, and more while we prepare for a public speaking event. Thus, we have come to believe that ‘public speaking is our greatest fear.’ However, this is simply not the case.
For decades my Work, Vocal Awareness, has recognized that the greatest fear is actually two fears: fear of abandonment and fear of ownership of our power.
Traditionally, because we have not been aware that these two fears actually exist within us, we settle for how we sound and speak rather than recognize that we have an option. There is a choice we can make.
It can initially appear challenging to confront yourself and claim your vocal power. However, it is liberating and ultimately transformational.
When these fears are present in the mind, whether consciously or unconsciously, they change the sound of one’s voice, and the true voice of the speaker is not heard. I would go so far as to say that most people I meet and train have never heard the actual sound of their true full voice.
The following story from one of my students illustrates what happens when these fears are released and one hears his or her true voice for the first time. Down through the years I have observed that all my students-without exception and sooner rather than later, experience similar revelations. I hope her story will inspire you to explore the five exercises I have included below and start you on your Journey to the discovery of your true Voice.
“Years ago now I was well into creating my own body of work on women and Voice. I was the guinea pig, living out the extensive recent research I uncovered and trying to write a book in an accessible language that would support other women’s efforts to overcome vocal issues in order to feel and, in fact, become more empowered. Eventually, I realized that something was missing and that puzzling ‘something’ was how to make the emotional/physical connection from feeling/thought, through voice, to communication. I wanted to describe for my readers a clear, accessible path to finding their authentic Voice and how (in Arthur’s words) to Claim it. That was my final challenge, so I decided to find a voice teacher and see if I could learn how to make those connections myself–and that search led me to Arthur Samuel Joseph’s “Sing Your Heart Out” seminar.
It was held in a large reception room in a Beverly Hills hotel. I went in and sat in the front row, taking it all in as Arthur guided us through the exercises of the 7 Vocal Awareness Rituals. At times the experience moved me to tears and I just let them fall, for I realized that they were tears of relief and release as my breathing, for perhaps the first time in my life, felt freer, and the habitual tensions I carried in my body relaxed. When he moved into the singing portion at the end of the program, I sang out full-hearted in chorus with the large group and, when class ended, I was a changed woman.
My pain and worries had vanished; my mood, my outlook, my whole attitude was uplifted.
During the class Arthur frequently asked us to ‘cup our ears’ and listen to the sound of our voices, urging us to listen for the changing, evolving shifts in the sounds of our voices as the Vocal Awareness rituals released long-held physical tensions, changed habitual mind/body/spirit patterns, and, thus, were imbuing our voices with new qualities. In my case my high, girlish voice deepened into a more mature, adult voice with lovely tonal qualities that sounded, to my ears, of a confident woman who had lived a full life–which, in fact, I was. It was the voice of the woman as I perceived myself to be–as if “I” had finally emerged, much as a butterfly from a chrysalis.
Listening to the sound of that new voice made me feel truly empowered. I felt capable, for the first time, of growing into the huge task of creating the woman’s Voice work. From that time on, the Vocal Awareness Journey became my journey with Arthur, my Teacher, and my true Voice.”
When we hold our breath, doubt our ability, ‘wonder what others are thinking about us (which we are unlikely to know as we cannot read another’s mind), when we seek approval, when we look away as we speak rather than maintain eye contact and/or our body tenses, we may stammer or speak too rapidly for fear of ‘taking too much time,’ among other reasons. In effect, we are ‘abandoning ourselves.’
This, combined with the habitual though not instinctive fear of ‘claiming ourselves,’ i.e. fear of our own greatness, or simply competence, are insidious patterns that contribute to our inability to hear our true Voice. In addition, fear of abandonment gives others dominion over us and, by extension, prevents us from overcoming our conditioned response.
The second fear, ownership of our power, denies us the power to be who we are–to be sovereign: ‘supreme excellence or an example of it.’ It is the way in which we qualify who we are through what we say and how we say it, modifying what others see and hear by using such equivocal phrases as “I think” or “I mean,” uttering “ums” and “uhs,” speaking in a disingenuous tone of voice, where our pitch may be too high or our voice too quiet, among many other habits of adaptation. So the world comes to know us through the facsimile of how we speak–through our habits, our fears, our unconscious behaviors. We never give ourselves or others the opportunity to experience the authenticity of who we are.
Is it possible to embody the integrity of who we are capable of being through our communication as well as overcome our two greatest fears? In a word–absolutely! The Vocal Awareness Method provides a disciplined regimen of skills and techniques that support us in learning to overcome these ingrained, unconscious habits and, as we do the Work, we learn to embody who we are capable of being, no longer settling for how it has been. What emerges is personal Mastery through Communication.
To support your Journey, here are a few exercises designed to help you discover your Self and, ultimately, embody your true Voice:
1. Create a Persona Statement
It identifies: This is how I want to be known and consists of 4 parts.
First, write a statement describing How do I believe I am presently perceived? Simply write down what you feel others first impressions of you might be.
Then, draw an illustration.
Next, write How would I like to be known?
Then, again, illustrate this statement.
Your drawings need not be elaborate, they are only for personal use as long as they express what you perceive. They can be simple stick figures or even abstract.
Finally, compare your two statements and your drawings, what observations can you make? Use your Persona Statement to support and guide you in becoming the person you wish to be.
2. Allow a Slow, Silent, Conscious, Loving Breath
Breath is fuel–if we do not breathe effectively, we cannot speak effectively.
Please note: I do not ask you to ‘take’ a breath but, rather, to allow a slow, silent, conscious, loving breath.
These are subtle, but essential, distinctions that shift us into an embodied breath. Please do not rush it. In your practice moment, it will take 5-7 seconds each time you do it.
3. Finding the Hub of My Voice
The Hub of your Voice is your core sound. It is the ideal place to always speak from. Before work, before important conversations and interviews, phone calls, or speeches, take a moment to practice this warm-up.
With your lips gently together, first expel a little air through your nostrils. Then, very nasally, initiate a hum descending in tone as you do so. Where the pitch ends, begin to speak.
In my latest book, Vocal Leadership — 7 Minutes a Day to Communication Mastery, I explore the concept, “The Body Speaks.”
Stature is not merely good posture. It is claiming something we want to embody even before we speak. This structure is the first step that shifts us from unconscious behavior to Conscious Awareness-where we are always attuned.
Stand or sit in front of a mirror, head erect, neck and shoulders relaxed, your chest open. Then, with your hand, ‘gently pull a thread’ from the top of your head and imagine yourself embodying your Persona, claiming who you are and how you want to be known.
5. Hearing Your True Voice
When meticulously following this protocol, you will notice how the pitch of your voice changes. It is likely to be a bit deeper with more resonance. Your communication will slow down, and you will sound energetically stronger–thus, more confident and genuine.
In front of the mirror, first place yourself in Stature, then allow a silent, Conscious Loving Breath. Next, initiate a descending hum to Find the Hub of your Voice.
Before you begin to speak, cup your hands behind your ears. When you speak with your hands in this position, perhaps for the first time, you will hear your voice as others hear you.
In closing, commit to following this routine. Commit, as I say in Vocal Awareness, means the routine is never routine. Do not merely do the exercises perfunctorily–rather, consciously and conscientiously every day–7 minutes for 7 days. Then practice once again immediately prior to an important meeting or call. Steal yourself away to re-focus for one minute.
Within a few days you will discover that you can eradicate your two greatest fears while at the same time hearing and consciously embodying your true Voice as a reflection of who you are in everything you do.
-Arthur Samuel Joseph
Vocal Coach to the Stars