Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re telling a story about yourself before you even open your mouth.
In her new book, Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success, Gina Barnett tells us that every “body” tells a story. She reveals how the body affects our communication and thought patterns. Gina’s work as an executive communications consultant allows this book to read as if you’ve stepped into Gina’s office as a client.
She is a distinguished leader in her field, has coached thought leaders for TED talks, and consulted leaders in many industries from all over the world. Suffice to say, she is a wonderful human being. During my time at a private event for Play The Part, guests didn’t merely ask, “how do you know Gina,” they asked “how did you become part of Gina’s fan club?”
Whether you’re a recent grad, entrepreneur, CEO, or something in between, make sure you’re “playing the part” you want.
Here are some practices to connect better:
As the title would have it, Gina encourages play. “We can all play, if we just give ourselves permission” and it is a powerful tool. Play allows us to try on new things, get a new perspective, and feel differently. If we think back to childhood, why did we play or pretend? “Because by playing teacher, or mommy, or astronaut [we] let curiosity open the portal to our imagined selves.”
Playing can help us reach a new sense of self and reality, which can improve our lives. Take for example one of Gina’s clients, Clair, who was consistently passed up for promotions despite her qualifications. After meeting Clair, Gina realized she was holding onto a muted image of herself. Clair viewed herself as a small town girl who was unworthy of her upscale Manhattan office. As a first step to a long process, Gina had Clair pretend to be a Queen. During play, Gina only addressed her as “your Highness.” The exercise highlighted that Clair’s “truth” was actually an outdated construct of who she had become, and was keeping her stuck. Playing a Queen allowed Clair to begin to give herself permission to acknowledge what she’s earned.
We are all able to imagine and fantasize; therefore playing is at our disposal at any time.
2. Practice Speaking Out loud
Speaking aloud to yourself doesn’t make you crazy; it actually makes you more sane and in sync with your message. “Speaking out loud is essential because only by saying and hearing how your words work together can you identify the places that need to be reworked.” Additionally, we get comfortable with our content and can be truly present with our script.
When speaking publicly, Gina recommends an exercise she calls “down cold,” which is memorization of opening remarks. Sing them, say them 20 times, repeat every night and ensure you have it down pat. This is because those first 15 to 30 seconds, adrenalin is flooding the body and tension increases. If you can get through it smoothly, the fun can really begin.
3. Physical Body Awareness
Is your body telling the story you want it to? Are you making eye contact, are you tense? It’s easy to overlook what our physical body is doing and the messages it’s sending to others. It’s important to realize our physical body affects how we are perceived and how we feel. For instance, head-neck alignment is one of the first places our eyes go for information from someone. Is their head “held high” or are they slumped over?
“Awareness that proper alignment is vital for signaling presence, power, and confidence can make it easier to start making small changes.” Our world today commands a “head thrust,” where our heads are further from our chest than it should be and the upper back is curved in on itself (i.e use of computers and smart phones).
Try this: This exercise is best-done looking straight into a mirror so that head is level. Place two fingers on your chin and very gently press the chin back toward the spine. You’ll feel the muscles in the back of your neck engage. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Again, making sure your head is level. This will awaken the underutilized muscles at the back of the neck and encourage proper head placement over time.
Remember, your body is the medium for your content. Your body and message should always align.
4. Sound check
It’s important to be aware of your voice as it is “a profound manifestation” and signature of your unique style. For example, a symptom of head thrust is vocal fry, which emerges as hoarse, dry or thin. However, the voice should suit the communication, should be easy to hear, and be pleasant to listen to. The best way to achieve a relaxed, pleasant sound is with a relaxed body.
Filler sounds or words, poor enunciation, or repeatedly dropping volume are all examples of unconscious vocal habits that can misrepresent your credibility. Problematic vocal habits can stem from linguistic insecurity or even emotional trauma. The voice contains one’s history, culture, and psychological tics. Conversely, vocal mastery can enhance your presence and ability to connect.
“The voice contains one’s history, culture and psychological tics.”
Try this: Next time you’re at a park, café or restaurant, close your eyes and listen to the voices around you. Think about how each one makes you feel: calm, stressed, agitated, etc. You may also try listening to radio hosts. Notice how he or she puts volume and emphasis on key words or how they separate the end of one segment and beginning of another.
Luckily, audiences, big or small, want speakers to succeed. For you as the speaker, remember that all communication is driven by moment-to-moment shifts in tone and intention. In addition to tone, pay attention to word choices and posture. “Strong, relaxed shoulders and a lifted head greatly enhance a resonant open voice.”
5. Be Present with Improvisation
Gina’s background in theater is embedded throughout her work. In being truly present, or having presence, one must live in the land of “improv” or with the “rule of yes.” When an actor holds out an imaginary birthday cake and the second actor was expecting a cell phone, the second actor must immediately adjust and let their first idea go. That is the “rule of yes.” It allows for a moment-by-moment remaking of reality and accepting each other’s unfolding imaginary world.
In the professional world, every sale, every call or negotiation is an improvisation. One of the most crucial aspects of presence is “one’s flexibility with and effortless management of an ever-changing moment.”
Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success is stuffed with hundreds of exercises, communication training, and connection lessons. As with any exercise tips, if any are too taxing, use your judgment and stop. Remember that How you communicate is what you communicate. Check out Gina’s book and get connecting!