Giving a speech without warming up your body and vocal cords would be just like jogging or lifting weights without stretching first. Stress creates tension in necks and backs, as well as will hinder the ability to focus on your speech or performance. If unable to release that tension it will be reflected in your voice and effect your overall delivery negatively. Proper relaxation allows you to move more freely, breath deeper, and think more clearly about your speech topic. To better our understanding we are going to look closer at what creates stress, and how it affects your mind and body. I will offer some tools for you to use in stressful situations that will help you reduce your feelings of stress and increase your level of comfort in what otherwise could be difficult environments such as speeches, performances, and other times you may feel you’ve been put on the hot seat.
Though stresses are inherent to life no matter what our lives require, how we handle the stress is our choice. Managing stress is a learned behavior, not a natural one and it takes forethought and intention in order to make necessary changes in our lives so that we can have methods to release stress related pressures. It’s only when the pressure is relieved that we are able to think clearly and create a plan to get through times that make us feel nervous, scared or desperate. Stress is not only a problem for your mind, if continually stressed out you become more than irritable, you can become physically ill. Thankfully, the human body is equipped with biological systems that help calm the mind; you just have to learn to access them in order to feel better.
So what is stress? The stress response developed during human evolution as a survival mechanism. When we feel threatened, endorphins and adrenalin are injected into our bloodstream so that the senses are primed for action. This theory was developed by Walter Cannon, a twentieth century American psychologist who’s theory states that when animals are in danger the natural reaction is a discharge of the sympathetic nervous system which primes the creature for either fighting or fleeing. This theory was aptly titled: the fight of flight response. Cannon’s breakthrough shows evidence that people are constantly adjusting to their environment chemically, and are physically and emotionally subjected to whatever their minds force them to experience. With this knowledge comes the freedom to accept this and begin to train our response systems so that we can be reasonable even during stressful situations. While public speaking is known to be one of the most terrifying events one can endure, rarely is there a need to run for your life in order to survive. By using relaxation techniques you will essentially trick your body into calming down, and your mind will have no choice but to follow its lead.
Utilizing relaxation activities regularly such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga will decrease your everyday stress levels, as well will assist you in training your mind and body to have feelings of joy and serenity more often. Each person has his or her own way to relax, such as listening to music with your eyes closed or sitting in absolute silence looking out the window. Create your own relaxing environments so that you can use the techniques that work for you. The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress, trust that by practicing your relaxation methods that your body will become accustomed to feeling less stressed, resulting in you feeling more prepared for the task at hand.
Vocal cords act similarly to stings on a violin, when in tune and played correctly they can move the listener to feel the emotions the musician intends to evoke, but if the instrument is out of tune or played poorly the musician will have no hope creating the intended response in the audience. Even if the words in your speech are written well and convey a great message it is up to your voice to be varied enough to carry the message through correct inflections and wells as appropriate pauses. They also react to nervousness, so in order to avoid embarrassing breaks in your voice or vocal exhaustion after giving your presentation you ought to warm up your vocal cords. The cords are thin bands of tissue encased in the voice box and when you speak, muscles in your throat pull them tight and as air from your lungs pass through them, vibrations create sound. It is our lips and tongue that then form words. It is a delicate and amazing process that humans have refined into an extremely versatile instrument. Therefore before doing anything that is demanding on your voice, avoid excessive smoking, and drinking.
These are vocal cord warm ups that are used by public speakers, singers, and actors:
1. Drink Plenty of Room-Temperature Water – Drinking water that is too hot or cold will stun your vocal cords and will not help them relax.
2. A Tablespoon of Honey – Will coat your throat and relieve soreness from your vocal cords being overworked or stressed.
3. “Lip Rolls” Warm-up Exercise – Some call it the “motor boat” exercise. Put your lips together then exhale causing your lips to flap.
4. Relax the Jaw and Sing Major Scales – If singing major scales, put syllables to it, many use: Doh Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti
5. Articulate Tongue Twisters – While tongue twisters are challenging, they can be fun and help to put a smile on your face as well as warming your voice and tongue.
Here are some exercises that have been proven to encourage relaxation:
• Deep Breathing: Focus on breathing from your diaphragm and taking slow long breathes.
• Visualization: View yourself doing well and having success in your speech. Focusing on your nervousness won’t make you any more ready.
• Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This is an exercise that has been developed by American physician Edward Jacobson that has both physical and mental components.
The physical component involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups and the mental involves the patient has their eyes closed and being forced to focus and forget about thoughts such as “I don’t know if this will work”. Here are the steps that Dr. Jacobson designed (these instructions were taken from Wikipedia’s page on Dr. Jacobson):
Progressive relaxation involves alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles. A person using PMR may start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. With the eyes closed, the muscles are tensed (10 seconds) and relaxed (20 seconds) in sequence as per the following progressive pattern. The whole PMR session takes approximately 30 minutes:
1. The tension of the lower arms. The hands are made into fists with the hands pushed back to make a right angle with the lower arm. The sensation is felt throughout the wrists, hands, fingers, and knuckles. During the tension process of the muscles, the mind should be focused only on the sensation of the muscles. After an uncomfortable 10 second tension, the hands are relaxed. The muscles should then feel warm and heavy.
2. The tension of the upper arms. The triceps and deltoids are utilized to make the upper arm squeezed back and in towards the side of the body. The tension is felt into the shoulders, upper back and triceps areas. When relaxed, the arms should collectively feel a sensation of relaxation as the inflow of blood rushes to the relaxed muscles.
3. The tension of the lower legs. The feet are tensed by pointing the feet up high, with the toes tensed up. The tension is felt in the shins, feet, toes, ankles, and calf muscles.
4. The tension of the upper legs. The knees are tensed closely together, off the ground or bed. The tightness is felt around the hip and quadriceps muscles. After the release of this tension, the legs should collectively feel relaxed with the arms.
5. The tension of the stomach. The stomach is pulled in towards the spine very tightly. When relaxed, the abs should feel at ease.
6. Tension of the chest. The patient now does the opposite by breathing in until the chest is fully expanded. As one holds the breath for 10 seconds, the chest feels tension. When released, one should wait 20 seconds as the whole abdomen is relaxed before proceeding.
7. The tension of the shoulders. The shoulders are tensed tightly and are raised as close to the ears as possible.
8. The tension of the neck. With the chin pointed down and the back of the head pointed up, this tension will be very uncomfortable. When released, the neck should be supported only by the back of a chair or bed.
9. The tension of the mouth. An uncomfortable wide smile is made. The jaw and lips should be tight. As this is felt, one should describe the sensation in their head.
10. The tension of the eyes. The eyes should be squeezed shut for a few seconds and then released. Note the difference in feeling.
11. The tension of the lower forehead. The eyebrows are to be squeezed down as low as possible he or she can toward the center of the face and held. Hold for 10 seconds then release.
12. The tension of the upper forehead. The opposite is done here as the eyebrows are raised as high as possible. After holding for 10 seconds, the sensation of relaxation is felt. The face should collectively be relaxed.