Making Good Speakers Great

Being a Generous Speaker
Making Yourself Fully Available

You might assume good speakers should be able make one breath last a long time. Perhaps you’ve been encouraged to practice saying as many words as possible on one breath. I think that’s a stupid idea. If the voice is your primary means to connect with others, and breath is the power for that process, why would you want to reserve and regulate that flow?

Good communication isn’t about endurance, carefulness and control. It’s about openness, generosity and availability. How can that happen when you’re holding your breath? To make an impact on others, you need to put something out there in the room. You can’t do that when you’re constantly reserving your breath.

How can you breathe—and speak—in a way that’s fully engaged, fully available and effective?

First, you have to get some air into your body. That means you have to pause (yes, stop speaking), open your mouth, and allow a breath to flow deep into your body. It doesn’t have to be fast, and you’re not trying to suck in large amounts of air. If you’re taking quick, short, high breaths, you’re probably getting only one-fifth of the breath you need for good speech.

Okay, now you’ve got some air in your body. The next challenge is putting that breath to work. This is the part most people never consider, let alone practice. It’s not surprising since we’re usually focused solely on the words that are coming out, not noticing that those words are flowing out with breath. Speaking is just another way to exhale.

Lip flutters, or lip trills, are a great way to learn how it feels to use breath generously as you speak. * Blow out a lot of air so that your lips flutter, much like a horse would do. Notice how much air is spent in that action and how quickly your breath is expended. Now add voice to the lip flutter so you sound like you’re pretending to be a big truck. The sound should feel very relaxed, open and full. It should feel like it’s coming from your body, not just your throat or mouth. This is the sound you want to use for your speaking voice.

Next, flutter your lips briefly, then, before you run out of air, open your lips and smoothly segue into an extended vowel sound such as “ay” or “oh.” Can you keep the same feeling on the vowel that you had on the flutter? Can you allow the same amount of breath to flow out on the vowel sound? Then do the same thing with words like “away” or “hello,” extending the vowel sounds. Move on to short phrases such as, “Hello, Joe,” or, “Oh, why fly away.” Make sure your voice feels exactly the same on the words as it does on the preceding lip flutter. You should have used up the lion’s share of your breath by the end of the phrase. If you need to exhale at the end of the phrase then you haven’t used your breath generously.

At some level, everyone knows breathing is important to speaking. Sadly, when most people speak—in the very act of reaching out to make a connection—they find six different ways to hold back at the same time. No wonder no one listens or responds. Being a compelling speaker challenges you to be fully available to your listeners. That means using breath generously to engage your voice fully. It’s a very tangible skill that produces profound results at every level of communication.

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