Making Good Speakers Great

Finding Confidence in Your Body

There are two physical skills that are most crucial to effective public speaking: grounding and breathing. They’re the first two things I look for, whenever I evaluate a speaker. If he doesn’t have his feet on the ground, or if she isn’t breathing, everything else suffers.

Gerda Alexander, a 20th century bodywork practitioner, once said, “Security is greatly connected to feeling your bone structure.” That might sound strange, but think about it this way. By feeling your capacity to support yourself at a physical level, you sense your potential to “support” yourself at other levels: mentally, emotionally, socially, and even professionally. Confidence is not an abstract "something" we have no way of grasping. Confidence, as a feeling, already exists in your body.

This explains why people feel stronger and more confident, just by feeling their feet on the ground. It's a simple strategy yielding significant benefits. A client once told me, "I had a difficult conversation with my boss last week, so I made sure I could feel both feet on the ground, and I was surprised how strong I felt in that interaction." Being grounded connects you to your surroundings, keeps you present, and that increases confidence.

How can you develop this skill so it works for you, even under pressure? Take your shoes off. Close your eyes and make sure your knees are unlocked. Notice the sensations you feel in your feet, sensations of temperature, texture, weight and so forth. Notice if you are standing on your whole foot, or forcing your weight into just part of your foot. How would it feel to allow your whole foot to support your body, not just part of your foot?

Next, imagine you’re standing on your bones. If your bones could be like pillars that support your body, then your large external muscles might be able to relax over that framework, like clothes draped over a hanger. Scan through your body. If your bones are supporting you, you might be able to relax your legs, unclench your bottom, let go of your belly, soften your lower back, drop your shoulders or lengthen the back of your neck. What muscles are working too hard, just to keep you upright? What muscles can you relax because your bones support you? Remember, bones don’t work hard.

If you’re standing on your bones and your feet are fully in contact with the ground, your whole body is able to settle onto the ground. This enables you to breathe deeply. Your voice feels connected with your whole body. You begin to speak with your whole being. The effect is often immediate and noticeable. It’s not uncommon for a person’s speech to become stronger, richer, clearer and more confident—just from grounding.

You can practice grounding whenever it crosses your mind: brushing your teeth, waiting in line, standing in the office talking to colleagues. At any moment, you can ask yourself, “What is my connection to the ground, right now? Am I aware of the ground supporting me at this moment?” Then continue doing whatever you were doing, noticing what difference it makes. It quickly becomes a feeling you wouldn’t want to live without.

You may not control what life or work throws at you, but you can access your unique strengths, be fully available and connect with maximum impact, by developing a secure foundation for strong presence and peak performance. Just find the ground.

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