By Philip Bliss
Imagine meeting you for the first time. You’re a well-educated and decent sort of person with ambition – but is that how you look and sound? Here’s how you can make sure that it’s you that HR meets – and not your defence reactions to a stressful experience.
When faced with a nerve-racking situation we generally respond in one of three ways: FIGHT, FLIGHT, or FREEZE.
The FIGHT response provokes a neural charge to go from brain to hands, causing them to tense and even make fists. The same reaction can make the hands fidgety.
It’s amazing that tensions in the hand muscles are frequently mirrored in the vocal chamber. Your hands can make you sound and look tense; the throat may close a little, and the jaw, tongue, lips and face muscles tighten up. All that muscular response massively affects the volume, range, pitch and clarity of your voice. You sound and look different.
The FLIGHT response causes a message to go the feet. As you aren’t going anywhere, the feet and often the leg and buttock muscles, are left in a state of tension which cause the lower abdomen to harden. This prevents the diaphragm from dropping appropriately and from allowing the lungs to inflate fully. The paucity of breath starves your voice of the air flow it needs to function properly and, incidentally, your brain of the oxygen it needs. Ever wondered why your voice and focus is so limited in these situations?
The FREEZE response is like fast working glue in all your joints. It inhibits breath flow and if you do manage to speak, you sound unlike you.
So to maximise voice and focus:
- RELAX THE HANDS by thinking the palms soft and dropping the shoulders.
- RELEASE THE FEET by keeping relaxed, full contact with the floor and keeping a little space between the toes.
- KEEP THE JOINTS FROM FREEZING by having the notion that you can at all times catch a ball – there is the possibility of movement even as you remain still.
- Ensure you BREATHE FROM THE BELLY.
- KEEP FROM JUTTING THE CHIN SLIGHLY UP, OR TUCKING IT DOWN, as both majorly impact the voice.
- PRACTICE until these interventions have become habitual.
Philip Bliss is a communication skills coach with clients in finance, law and education. He regularly guest lectures at Brunel Business School as part of the Business Life programme and in Stockholm School of Economics.