- Don’t sweat the small stuff – just sweat. Keep your body hot and your mind cool.
- Breathe in peace and calm, breathe out love and joy.
- Stir drinks, not emotions.
- Twist torsos, not words.
- Cartwheel around sensitive topics.
- Invert perspectives to get the right side up.
- Feel your roots and bend like a willow.
- Even if you can’t keep your balance, you can find it again.
- Be present for all that is here now, and be grateful for what it awakens in you.
- Would a leaf floating to the ground make a sound?
Would a thought crossing your mind leave you kind?
Words of all kinds traverse our meadows…
Words that bend minds,
Words that shoot arrows.
Words light up hearts,
And words hide in the shadows.
When we share words, we share facts, ideas, opinions, but those are not the only things we share. Words create a unique blend of energy around the message, just like spices add different flavors to the same ingredients in a dish. Some words work so well together that they transmit powerful energy. Others may neutralize or create confusion. The energy of words activates different emotions in ourselves, as well as our listeners. Words can make us happy, calm, motivated, sad, angry, confused or overwhelmed. With each choice of words, we can either disengage or connect, show up guarded or vulnerable, belittle or uplift, assume or explore.
The most creative forms of energy in communication lead to new patterns of understanding, appreciation, and emotion. Energy is not something inherent in words or emotions, but rather emergent from a variety of factors at play and thus can be transformed.
In our workshop “The Art of Speaking from the Heart,” we borrow from the 5 elements in yoga to talk about the energetic states of communication. These elements permeate all aspects of life, and many cultures use the concept of the 5 elements in one way or another. While this articles addresses their application to communication, these elements speak broadly to our physical and mental states.
1. Earth. The earth element brings a sense of safety and stability to conversations. You feel grounded and centered. The words are rooted in the core of your being, your values and beliefs. You strengthen the earth element in your communication when you build trust and rapport with the participants. All words and feelings are respected. People feel safe to express their concerns, discuss sensitive issues and show their vulnerability. The earth element invites the commitment to deliberation and thoughtful decisions. A well-designed process, structure and agenda support the earth element. In contrast, when the earth element is weak, participants may feel disrespected, manipulated, judged or ostracized.
2. Water. The water element suggests fluidity and flexibility. It awakens the creative flow in conversations and acknowledges the evolving nature of ideas, opinions and solutions. Participants are encouraged to connect with one another, keep an open mind and consider multiple perspectives. Self-expression comes easily as things “roll off your back.” The techniques of brainstorming, role-play and improv strengthen the water element. The energetic state of water invites fresh approaches and innovative solutions. When the water element is weak, conversations feel stale. Participants are entrenched in their positions and unwilling to budge or look at the situation from a different angle.
3. Fire. The fire element is about power and determination. It provides the energy and will to move forward despite difficulties and differences of viewpoints. Participants are willing to stand in their power and speak their truth. The fire element brings out the courage and will to explore the issues below the surface and reach deeper understanding and clarity. In yoga and Ayurveda, fire element is linked to digestion. In conversations, it invites the participants to “digest” the issues and emotions in healthy ways so that they can nourish their bodies and minds. Too much fire, however, can be overwhelming and cause anger, judgment or verbal attacks. The weak fire element results in apathy, withdrawal, and inability to digest new ideas.
4. Air. The air element harnesses the power of the wind to generate movement, enthusiasm, inspiration, and creativity. It brings lightness to conversations, making it possible to discuss difficult issues in a lighthearted and open manner. Humor, stories and anecdotes can strengthen the air element in communication. If it gets too “windy,” the participants can experience a “bumpy ride” – an unpredictable, abrupt or rough patch in their conversation. Regaining their balance and control by focusing on the agenda and addressing issues in a timely manner, can help avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety.
5. Ether, or space. The ether element invites us to observe the reality and hold space for everything that happens. It is about acceptance, conscious awareness, and capacity to connect with your higher self and speak your inner truth. When the mind is still, clarity emerges. We strengthen the ether element when we take time to reflect, mediate, journal, and integrate ideas. The ether element invites us to notice subtle things and welcomes silence as space to allow new ideas to percolate to the surface. Encompassing the fifth, or throat, chakra, the ether element is directly related to self-expression and communication. Sound vibration, emptiness, resonance and expansion are all qualities of ether. Unrestrained, ether can expand beyond boundaries and cause differences to emerge.
How do earth, water, fire, air, and ether manifest in your communications? Where do you find imbalances?
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As a long-time student of yoga, I have come to appreciate the quiet helper that is there for us in a variety of situations if we care to notice – our own breath. We often take it for granted, but if we learn to pay attention to it and work with it consciously, it can help us regulate stress, boost confidence and increase impact of our speech.
When you are about to pronounce the first word of your speech, do you do it on an inhale or exhale? Have you noticed or just guessed your answer? Now, go ahead and pretend you are about to speak. First, exhale and then start speaking. Then, inhale and start speaking. Do you notice the difference? When you take a full breath and fill your chest with air before speaking, the sound traveling on the waves of air as you exhale is more resonant and reaches farther. There are many other reasons why public speakers may want to tap into the power of breath.
- You brain needs oxygen. Around 20% of all oxygen that enters the body goes to the brain. Many people are shallow breathers, especially if they are sitting at their desks in a slouched position. Taking deep breaths before and during your speech may improve the focus and clarity of thinking. Studies suggest that we yawn when we need to bring more air and blood flow to the brain to cool it and make it more focused. Now that you know why we yawn, don’t take it personally when your audience members start yawning – their brains may just need more oxygen.
- Deep breathing helps to release stress. Dissolve your pre-speech jitters with a breathing pattern. There are various patterns that can help you regulate your physical and mental states by counting the duration of inhales and exhales. For example, you can inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Notice how you fill up your belly, then your chest as you take a deep breath. The goal is to stop racing thoughts and calm the nerves.
- Breathing regulates your speaking tempo. You may have experienced it or heard someone else speak really fast and appear out of breath. It is not a comfortable state to be in or to listen to because it leaves us agitated. Natural breathing helps you slow down and take pauses that are needed for your words to sink in. Think of silence as the white space in a speech. The white space in a painting provides contrast so that other elements become prominent. Similarly, pauses are needed to increase the impact of your words.
- Breathing can replace your filler words. Nobody plans those “ums” and “uhs” in their speech, but they pop up nonetheless when we lose our train of thought or get briefly distracted by something else. To regroup, try taking a breath or two instead of filling the space, and then move on to the next point.
- Breathing varies your pitch. You don’t want to sound monotonous. Breathing can help you raise or lower you pitch depending on your message, character or a line in a dialogue. Here is a fun experiment…Take a deep breath and try speaking in a really low voice. Impossible, right? Now, exhale fully and try to speak in a high-pitched voice. That’s hard too. Now, you know how to use your inhales and exhales to vary the pitch naturally and effectively.
How do you use breathing techniques in your public speaking?
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I recently returned from the University of Iowa where we held a 4-day workshop within our 2016 STARTALK grant program “Bridging the Gap: STARTALK, Teachers and High Tech.” This live workshop was a culmination of a four-week online training of teachers of Russian from various colleges and schools in the US on the use of instructional technology in distance learning, as well as teaching and leading lessons in a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) format where students can utilize their smartphones and tablets during their language lessons.
As a result of their learning and collaboration, the teachers created innovative learning objects that used technology to engage students through gamified scenarios and simulations and expand learning beyond traditional classrooms. We were inspired by the teachers’ creativity, flexibility and willingness to experiment with new approaches to education.
Teachers and speakers have a lot of common goals and tools when it comes to imparting their knowledge and message. In my future posts, I hope to share some of my own takeaways and reflections on how the use of multimedia and BYOD approaches can enhance speeches and presentations and provide fresh, new ways to engage the audience.
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Our brains are wired to pay more attention to negative clues and threats in the environment. This is also true in the context of public speaking, especially for speakers who may experience social anxiety.
In a recent study, participants – some low in social anxiety, some high – were asked to give a three-minute impromptu speech over Skype to an audience shown onscreen. What the participants didn’t know is that the audience was made up of actors who produced facial expressions and body movements on purpose. In fact, their positive (smiles and nods), negative (frowns and yawns) or neutral expressions had been recorded earlier and were shown to the participants as they spoke. The researchers tracked the participants’ eye movements as they gave their speeches, recorded their physical anxiety via sweating and heart rate, and asked them to rate how anxious they felt.
It turned out that speakers with higher social anxiety showed a preference for looking at negative audience members, which fueled their anxiety even more. In contrast, people with low social anxiety chose to look at positive, engaged audience members.
To calm your nerves, it may be worthwhile to pick out some friendly faces in the audience and deliberately pause there longer as your eyes scan the room.
Better yet, meet some of your audience members in advance of your speech, perhaps, by greeting them as they enter the room. You will feel more support from the audience that way.
Virtual platforms and networks offer another way to get to know your audience prior to your presentation.