As term comes to an end yet again at City University, London, I find myself wanting to send another bunch of dedicated Presentation Skills students on their way with some tips for home practice. After the routine of a weekly session, they now will have to take ownership over their own development all by themselves.
Yes, coaching sessions for ad hoc challenges are a great idea, and indeed may of my clients do come back me to structure and rehearse for the interview, the conference presentation, or the best man speech.
However, it’s the regular maintenance side of things that seems more difficult to attend to. If you too have had the benefit of coaching or training sessions in the physical work of communication – voice, body-language or breathing exercises – you may be wondering how to keep up the good work when you don’t have a coach or workshop leader standing by, urging you on and offering corrections where needed.
People often ask me if I ever run drop-in classes, or whether there’s a weekly session they can attend which will take care of all their communication skills needs. Well, not exactly. But there are still steps you can take.
Any classes that help you connect your body, brain and breathing are very useful. For instance, any martial arts or yoga can provide some good back-up. Personally, I’m a Pilates fan, and the classes I go to really help me improve my posture and flexibility.
However, you will still have to do your own work of connecting it up to the purpose of having better posture at your desk, or having good alignment for healthy voice use. It’s not your aikido or yoga teacher’s job to join up the dots for you.
Especially if your budget is tight, you’ll need to make sure you get best value from the investment you’ve already made in your own development. So a completely free – and very effective – solution is to create your own home practice.
Here’re a few guidelines:
Develop your self-awareness
Self-awareness is key for good communication. Take time out of your day for a quick moment to monitor how you are currently breathing, where you’ve tensed your body, if any area feels tight or sore, or how free your spine feels… Is there any rigidity in your knees or hips will get in the way of standing up with assurance in front or an audience? Has stress made your breathing shallow, so that you don’t have enough air to use your voice with energy? You can’t make any changes for the better if you don’t know what’s going on with you and your body.
Identify what needs fixing
Once you know what is out of kilter, you can get rid of the problems. Sometimes just noticing your shoulders are hunched will liberate you to release them. Some people hold their breath when they feel stressed. If you do find yourself cutting off your air supply, release your out-breath slowly, blowing out until you find yourself naturally breathing in, deeply.
Commit to a short daily routine
This routine isn’t necessarily to fix problems, but rather to keep the machine well-oiled so few problems will arise through the day. And I do mean daily. This doesn’t need to be a grind. It can be really short, in between 2 to 3 minutes. This is approximately the same time commitment you would make to brushing your teeth. You DO brush your teeth, don’t you?
Start with the exercises you love and you know will give you an immediate pay-off. Also consider giving the exercises you tend to resist a whirl, as they may be just the medicine you need. You may even get to enjoy them as they work their magic.
Don’t make it all a chore. Your approach will be more effective if you see it as an exploration rather than a task. Some days you will surprise yourself. Enjoy discoveries and be kind to yourself. You can really help your voice along by singing or humming in the bath and shower!
Keep growing, don’t give up!
You will be making small imperceptible changes all the time. Of course, you’ll reach plateaus. That’s when it’s time to vary the exercises, to try something new or in a new order. It’s a lifetime’s work and no one ever becomes so expert that no further improvement is possible.