In the first part of this interview, Barbara Rubin, a theater director as well as a dialect and vocal coach, offers insights and tips for introverts about finding their true voice and using it with power and presence. In this second part, she shares more about physical techniques you can use to enhance your speaking voice and manage performance jitters.
NA: Many introverts need to quietly collect their thoughts before sharing them, which can be stressful in work environments that value more talk sooner, rather than more thoughtful talk a little later. What vocal and even theatrical techniques do you recommend to help?
BR: As an introvert myself, I can strongly relate to that! For me, the key has always been solid methodical preparation, becoming and staying centered throughout the experience (meeting/presentation) and re-connecting with my breath and intention when I feel thrown. Theatrically, rehearsal (répétition in French), is methodical preparation, its frequency creating a type of muscle memory that should kick in without too much conscious effort. Warm-up exercises—simple deep breathing and physical stretches before a performance—provide a space for calming and focusing the mind on the task at hand. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the sympathetic nervous system's fight-or-flight anxiety response. By stimulating the vagus nerve, a neurotransmitter is released that results in increased focus and reduced feelings of anxiety. Make your intention the best possible outcome. Or it could be what you hope to communicate or achieve. Your purpose. A quick reflection in the heat of the moment on how you can best serve your intention while allowing your breath to deepen can be effective in remaining centered and grounded. So even if you are required to respond sooner than you'd like, you’ll have a few seconds to process beforehand.
NA: How much of your work with clients involves physical exercises to help them improve their speaking voices, versus other methods?
BR: Most of what I do is physical. Peter Brook, the great English theater director, believes “one must enter the cave of the body to find the root of the voice.” I am guided by that in all the work I do. As babies, we have no concept of sound being produced in the larynx. It’s a full-body experience, making sound. We need to return to that notion.
NA: Why is breathing effectively so important when it comes to speaking effectively?
BR: Breath powers the voice. When you speak without breath you can do some damage. There is a current trend right now, known as vocal fry, in which young women speak without breath. It’s supposedly cool. The Today Show ran a feature on the topic. The Huffington Post ran a story recently on how employers are turned off hiring these young women.
NA: What does good posture have to do with bringing out the best in your voice? Can’t you mumble in a monotone, even when balancing a book on your head?
BR: You probably could! An estimated 7.5 million people have trouble using their voices, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Improper alignment is said to be the number one cause of vocal misuse. Your posture impacts your breathing so you want to breathe as fully and freely as possible. If you lock your knees, your breath capacity is limited. If you push your chest out too high, you close off your back ribs, again restricting the breath. Head thrusts may create unnecessary laryngeal tension and impair vocal-fold function. Think of a long spine, and your head floating up; lengthen the back of your neck and allow your jaw to release. The crown of your head should be the highest point of your dynamic neutral stance.
NA: We recently had a goodlaugh when we compared notes about how nervousness can affect our speech: your little girl voice and my kindergarten teacher voice—in contrast to our usual lovely contraltos! Would you comment on how adrenaline affects speech?
BR: When we are fearful, stressed or are in actual danger, adrenaline is released in the body, enabling us to quickly engage in a fight or flight response. The heart races and we tend to hold our breath, which locks us up. Our tempo may speed up as we experience a time distortion. Some people experience a quivering voice. On the positive side, if you can breathe into the fear, you may experience vocal expansion and discover more range and power than you’re used to. It’s when I’m not breathing that the little girl voice comes out—and I am always shocked to hear it. Although, the good news for both of us is that we may also be experiencing tunnel hearing and so what we sound like in our heads may not be, in fact, what the listener is hearing!
NA: I understand that the three circles of presence that renowned vocal and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg describes in her books have had a strong influence on your work in teaching voice. Tell me about that.
BR: Yes, her work resonates with me enormously. She looks at how we often operate in one of three circles. The first circle is associated with introspection or retreat from the world around us. On the other end of the spectrum, the third circle is a type of bluff in which one appears overly confident, but it’s an aspect of the first circle—a coping mechanism, if you will, to overcome inadequacy. True second-circle presence is our natural state, Rodenburg believes: energized, curious, and interested in the world around us, receptive to it, seeking engagement. I use the circles to understand and explain energy, both physical and vocal, when I work with actors and corporate clients. Often, people are not aware of what they put out or of how to harness their energy and power. Rodenburg’s books are essential reading for anyone interested in voice.
NA: Thank you for sharing your expertise with us again.
Read Part 1 of this interview by clicking here.