Use your belly to be a braver public speaker!
Public speaking is not really about hand gestures, posture, or eye contact. Sure, you’ve got to deal with those eventually, but what you MUST deal with first is the belly. Why? Because the belly is where we find our fear, our fire and our calm. First, the fear, the primary obstacle to speaking for many of us. The belly is a great hiding spot – or control room- for fear. It’s deep and dark and hidden from view. And unless you are a seasoned public speaker, you’re likely dealing with a lot of fear.
Fear is primal – prehistoric. It’s considered human’s first emotion, and It’s often beyond – or beneath – our conscious control. It’s also not rational much of the time. The Liz Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear says “Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.” And sometimes that cop keeps us from doing what we want – like stepping up to the podium, speaking at the rally, or even sharing our voice in a meeting.
So what can we do about fear of public speaking?
First we have to get used to feeling a little afraid every day, because we will. Next we have to listen to our fear to figure out what it’s really telling us. So get a pen and paper and think about your fear of public speaking. What EXACTLY are you afraid of? What would happen if your worst fears were to come true? Would people laugh at you? Leave your talk? Stand up and say, “that’s baloney!” (I’ve heard those fears – and many more.) No matter how wacky or even scary it seems, get it down in technicolor detail.
Now that you have named and described your fear, give yourself a pat on the back cause it’s not easy. Now ask yourself gently, “How realistic is my fear?” Many of things we fear are extremely unlikely, but still they help us identify feelings or memories holding us back. That’s why we have to flesh them out so carefully. But sometimes our fears are realistic, and they can tell us what we need to work on. I’m going to give you an example from my own experience.
Look to your belly to learn why you speak
There’s another reason to look to your belly - it’s where you find your fire - the fire that fuels your desire to speak. Maybe it’s an injustice that’s got you angry, a desire to change something, or a passion for the planet that makes you feel you must speak, even if you’re nervous about it.
For some of you, that fire may be a blazing bonfire that can be seen for miles; for others it may be tiny, sputtering little thing, more sparks than flame. It’s there, but it needs nurturing. That’s okay, you can nurture it. Be glad of your blaze whatever it is because many people don’t have a passion – or can’t find it.
Okay, one more thing about the belly
So the belly is your source of fear, and fire, but did you know it’s a built-in ever-ready relaxation machine? That’s because of its role in breathing. Your belly is an easy to see reminder that deep breaths help you get comfortable at any and every moment. And the power of breathing deeply is a secret weapon for great speakers – and nervous speakers. If you’ve ever taken yoga, meditation, or voice lessons, you know that deep “belly breaths” relax you, ground you, and focus you in the moment. Try it: place your hands on your belly and breathe so that your belly swells as the air fills your lungs. It’s not that the air actually goes into your belly, but deep breaths make your diaphragm push down on your belly.
“Belly breathing” is an instant way to relax yourself before and during speaking. And it works to help deepen your voice and slow your talking speed, two things which can help you sound more powerful and authoritative. The next time you have a challenging speaking situation, try breathing your way through it. Many speakers I work with say it makes a huge difference to their comfort level.
I’d love to hear how you use your belly to help you be a braver speaker! Leave your feedback in comments section.