Tuning Our Instrument
After a concert, a famous cellist was approached by an audience member. We’ll call him Peter. Peter said to the cellist, “I’d give my life to be able to play like that!” The cellist replied, “I did.”
The cellist knew from an early age that if he was to master the playing of his instrument, he had to practice. And practice specifically and consistently. He knew that if he did that, maybe, just maybe, he could give voice to the genius of Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven – and the genius that lay within himself.
As professional speakers, we don’t have an instrument made of wood, or brass or a combination of hammers and strings. But we do have an instrument! It’s us – our voices, our bodies, our feelings and points of view. And like the cellist, if we want to be able to give voice to the genius within us and move our audiences to action, we have to practice with and tune our instruments specifically and consistently.
What are you doing on a regular basis to tune your instrument and move towards mastery as a speaker?
Let me give you a few thoughts.
When you get up there to speak, you want your body to be something more than a trunk to hold up your head. Ask yourself? Is my body fit? Do I feel physically comfortable in front of an audience? Can I move around with ease or is it easier to stay rooted in a single spot? Does my body have a connection with what I am speaking about, or have I simply adopted the physical styling of another speaker? How is my posture? Does my body respond to the feelings of what I am sharing, or am I simply “telling”?
(Note: All forms of expression that rely on the physical body – speaking, storytelling, singing, and acting – say it is always better to “show” rather than “tell”.)
I once went to see a speaker who was purported to be one of the leading experts in stress management. She had 3 published books, and on the strength of those books had a speaking tour across Canada and the U.S. After hearing her speak, I left with a major headache. Why? Her content was great. She moved with grace and elegance. But, her voice sounded like a hacksaw. I never heard much about her career after that.
Some of us have more work to do on our voices than others. But all of us need to support the sound with our breath and to have a basic vocal warm-up that we use before we do our thing. Having a vocal warm-up that works means you have developed and practiced with it. If we have warmed up our voice it is easier to project. But if I use a mike, I don’t need to project? Fiddle-faddle!! Projection does not only apply to volume, it also applies to mental intent – do you intend for the audience to hear you?
Take a step on the road to mastering your instrument by getting some feedback – from a colleague, a coach, a video of yourself. Take yoga classes and re-learn how to breathe deeply (many speakers run into problems with both physical movement and vocal strain by breathing shallowly. This is easily corrected by remembering how to breathe deeply). Step onto a platform when no one else is in the room and “take the space”…making your body movements expansive and breathing yourself into the room. Use your imagination (Einstein reminded us that “Imagination is more important than knowledge”) Imagine you are a king and that everyone who comes into the room can’t wait to hear you speak.
Learn how to sing or take an improv class.
Bottom line – if the words we speak are backed up by our body language, the meaning of the words we have chosen will be congruent with our message. And if our voice is flexible and pleasant to listen to, we are ensuring that are voice, body and spirit are all working towards one communication.
Tune and practice with your instrument, consistently and specifically. And look forward to the day when someone, like our friend Peter with the famous cellist, comes up to you and says, “I’d give my life to be able to move an audience like that”. And you’ll say, “I did.”.
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By Elizabeth Padden