Thousands of Women Taught Me This About Power...

Here’s a LinkedIn article I just published about my work coaching women’s public speaking. NOTE: Although I focused on that particular aspect of my work in this piece, I also still teach singing lessons on occasion. Email me directly if you’d like to try a private singing or public speaking lesson alicia@aliciadara.com Get your tickets for the next “Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women: 5-Hour Edition” on Saturday October 20th in Seattle HERE.

In my job as a professional voice coach, I specialize in working women. In a nutshell, I teach public speaking skills like breath support, pacing, and vocal projection, and help my clients clarify their messaging. I also show them how to push back against acts of everyday sexism, like being interrupted, talked over, and having their ideas co-opted. I do this via group trainings and private lessons. 

Everyone has the same basic vocal anatomy: vocal cords, lungs, and diaphragm muscle. How we use them to produce our own voice is a highly individualized process. It involves kinesthetic, mental, and emotional elements that we engage every single day. No two people are alike, and I'm constantly surprised by the myriad variety of human voices. Yet women's voices in particular compel me, because we are constantly moving between how we want to live and what is expected of us. This struggle is reflected in our voices, and if you know how to listen for it, you can learn a lot about what women are truly capable of (spoiler alert: anything!). 

I love my job as much as a person can. It takes me into many different industries and businesses, such as tech, law, finance, education, start-ups and social justice. My clients run the gamut from huge enterprise companies (such as Microsoft, where I am currently a vendor), and 3- or 4-person small businesses. In 20+ years I've had the opportunity to observe and interact with thousands of women, and I've come to understand something that I believe is crucial to the continued progress of women in our society. 

It's simple. Women's voices are always about women's power: how we feel about our power, how we broadcast our power to the material world, and how the world responds to that power. It's obvious right at this particular moment in our political landscape that when women work collectively and raise our voices, we can accomplish astonishing things. The #MeToo movement is only one example. Women are running for political office in record numbers. We're also drawing attention to the lack of equal representation at the highest levels of business and industry, demanding real change, and creating real solutions. And of course let's not forget equal pay for equal work, a concept that has existed for more than half a century, yet is still not fully enacted into law (or practiced by every employer). 

I'm honored to have a front-row seat to these extraordinary events, as women's voices grow stronger than ever. Are you ready to come and join us? The next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women: 5-Hour Edition" is coming up Saturday October 20th from 5-7pm at The Riveter in Seattle. Tickets are going fast, so grab yours here.

Self-Care for Your Voice (And the Rest of You!)...

Let's take stock for a moment: how has your voice improved in the past year? What do you want to work on in 2018? Got any outstanding questions or fears holding you back? Got some good trainings lined up to learn new skills? How about the overall health of your voice? Believe it or not, it's connected to the overall health of your body.

Being human comes with many challenges. We know that stress is bad for us, and we bravely struggle to maintain a balance of mind, body and spirit that enables us to be our best in the world. Now more than ever, self-care is a worthwhile investment of our precious time. If you're going to speak (and sing) up for yourself, some of that time needs to be dedicated to your voice. 

I'm constantly reminding my clients that the health of your body IS the health of your voice. If you are tired, run-down, and listless your voice will be as well. Getting to good health involves a series of good habits, big and small, that we practice every day. Over time we come to trust these habits as they begin to work, making us stronger, fitter, and more resilient. 

Some excellent habits that can improve the health of your voice (and your entire body) are drinking more water (start with a giant glass of H20 before your morning coffee), prioritizing sleep (try going to bed an hour earlier, and let your body learn to relax into it), and working on cardio fitness (so that your lungs are healthy and strong, for deeper breath support when you speak and sing). These are proven ways to uplift your overall state of health as well as that of your voice. There is one other important issue I want to address, and that is chronic pain/ inflammation.

Inflammation is part of the aging process. The degree to which we experience its effects depends on both genealogical and lifestyle factors. Some of these are beyond our control, but many of them we can improve via our good daily habits. There are some kinds of inflammation, however, that can and should be addressed (and healed) for the good of your voice. Some of these include chronic lung issues, like asthma, bronchitis and frequent colds that lead to coughs. The larynx, home of your vocal cords, sits right on top of the trachea, your windpipe. Coughing and wheezing can cause the larynx to become tense and irritated. Many people try to "power through" these kinds of illnesses, thinking that they'll resolve on their own. But if left untreated for too long these issues can cause terrible hoarseness, and even long-term laryngitis. If your voice is compromised your ability to be effective in the world is limited, because you cannot speak up for yourself in a powerful way.

I advise my clients to take care of these issues quickly when they appear. I also remind them that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", and encourage them to explore new and more effective ways to boost their immunity. For myself, I've always had great success with acupuncture, which I receive regularly. I also avoid dairy products, which cause huge problems in my digestion, sleep, and vocal tone, and make any allergy/cold symptoms much worse. I guard my sleep carefully, and make sure not to stay too long (or party too hard) at parties. If there's one thing I've learned from my years onstage, it's that you should always leave 'em wanting more :)

5 Life Hacks That Strengthen Your Voice...

As I've stated many times, the health of our body IS the health of our voice. We cannot speak or sing with full energy if we don't have that energy available. Good vocal health comes from good physical, mental, and emotional health working in balance with each other. For most of us this ideal state is elusive, because the demands of modern life take their toll on every part of us, and the speed of life often moves too quickly to catch up. Efficiency techniques can help, which is where life hacks come in handy. In the interest of multi-tasking our way toward good physical and vocal health, here are 5 life hacks* that can also positively impact your voice:

1) Morning H20

Wake up, sit up, and drink a tall glass of water. Yes, before coffee! Get ahead with your body's hydration, and you'll feel more energized throughout your day. Your vocal cords are fed by tiny capillaries that need water to maintain robust strength. You might even find that excess throat clearing (bad for your cords!) decreases, as the water thins out extra mucus hanging around in the sinuses and throat. Water up!

2) Deep Breathing Meditation

I designed this one for my clients. There is ample scientific evidence proving that deep breathing brings multiple benefits to the human body. During this process, the parasympathetic nervous system gets triggered and starts to implement its calming, soothing, anti-inflammatory effects. Your voice needs full, robust breath support to be its best, and getting more in touch with your respiratory system will help. Breathe in peace, breathe out calm.

3) Anti-Inflammatory Diet 

Any kind of anti-inflammatory lifestyle choices can positively impact your voice. The vocal cords and respiratory system are subject to the same effects of inflammation as the rest of you. Reducing it can greatly improve the clarity, fullness, and power of your voice. An anti-inflammatory diet is a good place to start. Enjoy the taste of good health.

4) Reduce (or Eliminate!) Dairy Products

This one is controversial, but in my experience it's worth considering. For the record, I am a strict "no-dairy" person. Too much dairy can cause excess mucus to form in the ear, nose and throat, and this can all impact your voice in a negative way. Aside from having to constantly clear your throat, your vocal tone can come out muffled and weak. I've observed that my clients' voices clear up considerably after a period of "dairy rest". Dairy has also been linked to digestive, menstrual, and skin issues. If you suffer from any of these, you might want to step back from the pizza and yoghurt. Calcium and probiotic supplements can fill in for things your body might miss.

5) Regular Humming (or Singing!)

A singer takes time every day to warm-up their voice through dedicated vocal exercises. This process is vital to the long-term health and stamina of singers' voices. Public speakers also do some vocal warm-ups that prepare them for their speeches. A good vocal coach can work with you to design specific exercises for your voice (contact me if you'd like a private session: alicia@aliciadara.com). This is a great way to commit to the long-term health and power of your voice. In the short term, try humming! Light, gentle humming keeps your vocal cords active. Music can also trigger good brain chemicals to start flowing, which can greatly improve your mood. Or try full-on singing! Just make sure you're safe from judgmental eyes and ears. My clients sing in the shower, in the car, or in the kitchen when fans are running on the stove. Try it!

*NOTE: consult your doctor before trying any of these

5 Ways CEO's Can Boost Women's Voices In the Workplace...

In this piece I'm choosing to address CEO's directly, because everywhere I coach (but especially in the corporate sector) women tell me the same thing: they feel that no matter how many inclusivity mandates and diversity trainings their companies provide, the C-suite is out of touch with with is actually happening on the ground. Some of these women have described a deep distrust of their companies' motives, in part because their CEO's do not demonstrate a knowledge of, or regard for, the very issues that they claim to be addressing, nor do they behave in ways that promote real change. The following is based on the feedback I've gotten from scores of women that I’ve worked with directly, and although it contains only 5 examples, there are many more. I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, or email me for further consultation: alicia@aliciadara.com

1) Participate in the exact same unconscious bias and diversity trainings as your employees. Learn the language and behavioral methods of inclusivity, and practice them wherever you go (even in your personal life!). Don’t just talk the talk: walk the walk! Demonstrate that you are just as accountable for your words and actions as any other employee. Don’t stop there: think of it as a life-long learning process. Your commitment could start a genuine revolution, and you could help change your entire company culture for the better. 

2) Know and understand your HR's effect on women and women-identified people. If HR is in a habitual defensive crouch then you cannot expect women to feel supported, or to trust HR to help out if they are made to feel unsafe in the workplace. Work with coaches and consultants who can help build a genuine bridge between HR and your company's female work force. The goal is to change the relationship from antagonistic to amenable, or at least receptive. Make it clear to all that this is the new mandate. If the entire company knows that HR is women's ally, you might actually prevent a whole host of problems before they start. 

3) Commit to 50% women and women-identified panelists at conferences. It’s utterly ridiculous to claim that your company values women and believes in workplace equality if you can’t produce an equal number of them to speak at these events. This may seem like "someone else's problem", but if you make it your own mission you can have a serious effect on the status, aspirations, and productivity of the women in your company. Stand up for your valuable female employees, and mandate the change that you (and they!) wish to see in the world. 

4) Ask women *directly* what they need to feel seen, heard, and valued at work. Don’t just rely on reports and executive summaries compiled by others. Gather your own information. Block out a period of time on your calendar for "open-door" sessions with any women who want to talk to you. Make this a yearly habit, and take it seriously. While it's true that some (perhaps many) women will be intimidated, there will be a group that will show up and talk about some vital points that you could otherwise miss. NOTE: this action should not replace anonymous surveys, which are crucial for amassing data and giving your company a sense of how best to serve women. Use both actions in tandem with each other, and take time to study the results thoroughly.  

5) And lastly (though it should always be first), speak up against sexism and misogyny in your own life. Don’t underestimate the powerful effect you can have on the lives of your wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. Letting them know you stand by them, and helping to further the cause of political, social, and economic equality in their lives on a daily basis is one of the most rewarding actions you can take. Actively working for these things will be part of the legacy that you leave behind. Take it seriously, and remember to keep learning! 

How to Rock When You're On Vocal Rest...

In my last post I wrote about the importance of using silence as part of your overall vocal health. I got a lot of questions about "vocal rest", specifically about how to employ it when you're a busy working professional, and I will attempt to answer them here.

First, a quick review: Vocal Rest means complete rest, as in: no speaking, singing, humming, or whispering. That last one might seem confusing, but although there is no actual vocal tone coming through when we whisper, our vocal cords are still active. Allowing them to FULLY rest is what decreases inflammation.

Clients often ask, "what about sleeping? aren't we resting everything while we sleep?". For an answer, just watch a dog (a fellow mammal with vocal cords) while it's sleeping. Many of us are just as active, if not more, during the night. We talk, hum, moan, and whisper. Some of us are even chronic sleep talkers, waking up with voices that are sore and hoarse. Even if we're mostly quiet during sleep, it's important to schedule regular periods of vocal rest during the day if we want our voice to function at full capacity.

So what to do if you work in a busy office? First, write the words "VOCAL REST" (in all caps) on a blank sticker and apply it to yourself in a visible place (try somewhere above your heart). Now grab a pen and pad of paper (or small dry-erase board), and place them nearby on your desk. When someone asks you a question that demands an immediate answer, first point to the sticker, then to the pad (or board), and write out your response. You can also do all your talking by Slack, or some other inter-office app. Remember: your voice is all about communication, so it's important to let others know that you are still able to communicate even though you're vocally compromised*.

Wear your sticker around the office, even in meetings. Don't be ashamed! Your co-workers will most likely appreciate your dedication, and the fact that you are fully present at work even when you can't speak. Many of my clients tell me that once they start this habit, others pick it up, and it becomes more commonplace and acceptable. Continue to drink plenty of water, use throat lozenges**, and whatever anti-inflammatory assists your doctor may have prescribed. Stay committed to your recovery, and thank your co-workers for their patience once your voice returns.

*NOTE: if you have a job that requires full vocal power, such as sales, teaching, or trial law, consult your doctor for help with reducing vocal inflammation quickly. Most likely you'll be referred to a specialist, commonly called an otolaryngologist, who can help you navigate the next steps. 

**NOTE: consult your doctor before using them

"Does Your Voice Undercut Your Authority?"

Here's a blog post that I've been working on for Covey Club, a unique online org for women over 40. It's founded by Lesley Jane Seymour, the former editor of More magazine. I so enjoyed collaborating with her and Dara Kapoor, who edited my piece beautifully. It's an answer to the many questions I get form women in the workplace, all about how to respond to criticism of their voices while on the job. Read it here.

How Silence Makes Your Voice Stronger...

The human body is a miracle of form, function, and art. If something is amiss with a certain system, other parts of the body will rush in to help out. During acute heart attacks, when a major artery gets completely blocked, the heart can spontaneously create new channels to keep blood pumping. When a dangerous virus enters our respiratory system, the mucus membranes go to work, deploying an enzyme that can destroy the virus' cell walls. Some of our organs, like the liver, can even regenerate if a part of them is lost.

Our vocal cords also have back-up when they need it. During times of acute stress, such as prolonged shouting, they can "borrow" muscles from around the larynx to help relieve pressure and boost sound. This process is called "Extra Muscle Recruitment", and it can be effective for short periods of time. Relying on EMR for too long can create massive tension and chronic inflammation, even full laryngitis. Once your voice is fully gone it's likely to stay that way for awhile. I usually advise my clients to plan on 3 days of complete vocal rest. 

In short, inflammation is a saboteur that can wreak havoc on your voice. A good way to prevent it is to build in periods of vocal rest during your day. Many of my clients schedule an "email hour" at work, during which they do not speak at all while they respond to emails and text messages. They drink Throat Coat tea, and allow the voice some recovery time

Another helpful method of reducing vocal inflammation that I often use with my clients is Guided Breathing Meditation (I created this one), during which we focus on deep, diaphragmatic breathing, and visualize the larynx relaxing and settling into its non-inflamed position in the throat. This period of quiet and reflection can work wonders, as the para-sympathetic nervous system starts to work it's calming, soothing magic. Try it for a few days, and enjoy the extra stress-relief. Who knows... it could become a regular habit!

Another Podcast Interview...

Here's another podcast appearance, this time with Lara Dalch, a Seattle-based wellness and empowerment coach. Her show is called "Women on the Rise" and it's a goldmine of great interviews with compelling women. Lara and I talked about the elements of a powerful voice, how to project genuine (not faked) confidence, and the importance of self-care as we move forward through the world. 

Podcast Interview...

I just did a fun interview with Kate Olson on her "Embrace Change Radio" podcast, all about my background as a singer, and my belief that singing is good for humanity. I also spoke about some basic vocal warm-up techniques, and the most important elements of any good singing voice. I even mentioned a bit about why I chose to walk away from years of training in musical theater to pursue my goal of becoming a singer-songwriter. The link is here

Why Your Singing Voice Matters...

It's been awhile since I wrote a dedicated post for singers. Lately I've been focusing on issues related to public speaking, like self-care, breath support, and eliminating extra tension. These same elements apply to your singing voice, as we use exactly the same anatomy for both speaking and singing. But singing involves an extra dimension that is downright mysterious, even magical. 

For most of us, to sing with technique and skill requires hours of practice. We dedicate this time to getting in touch with the physicality of our voice: our respiratory system, vocal cords, and postural alignment are all strengthened and made to work efficiently together. Improvement comes naturally from these efforts, as long as we are listening and feeling as much as we're producing sound. Eventually we start to come into the full power of our voice, which means we can begin to apply our own artistic interpretation and aesthetic values to whatever we're singing. This is, in fact, the ultimate goal of "studying" singing. 

Yet there is something else, a kind of secret energy, that rises up in a singer when they are practicing (or performing) their craft. It is something related to human emotions, and the ways in which we experience the world through them. When a singer is in touch with this energy, it almost doesn't matter if they have good vocal technique. We can feel that person's connection to their own emotional intelligence, and we respect, admire, and cherish it. We can hear this kind of energy across the board in every genre of music, in punk, funk, jazz, blues, country, folk and opera. We know it when we hear it, and we always want more. 

I believe this extra element of energy is also connected to something deeply spiritual, and fundamental to the human experience. In my best moments as a singer, I feel transported to a place where time stops. There is no past or future, no striving or struggle, only a simple yet extraordinary feeling of being completely present. This is a state of being that can transform us, as a species, in profound ways. It makes me feel hopeful for humanity, and I try to bring this hope into everything I do. For me singing is a kind of prayer, and I take it seriously, with much love.  

How to Give A Speech When Your Voice Is Hoarse...

I get this question at least once a week: "what should I do if my voice is weak and I have to give a presentation/talk/performance?" First of all, if you have full laryngitis, as in complete loss of voice, it won't come back until it's good and ready (and of course, you should consult your doctor anytime you have questions about your voice). I advise my clients to plan on at least 3 days of full vocal rest, and to re-schedule their obligations until after that. If, however, your voice is merely hoarse (which I will define here as rough, strained, and set at lower volume), you might be able to initiate at least a partial recovery on your own. Here are some things you can try:

1) Set aside a period of dedicated vocal rest. Set a timer for 3 hours of complete silence. Commit to this simple act of relief, and don't stop until the time is up. Let your vocal cords calm down and settle. You can also take some Ibuprofen to help with inflammation (consult your doctor before trying this).

2) Drink a tall glass of water. Your voice needs plenty of hydration to function at full capacity. Make a strong cup of Throat Coat tea, and let it cool down a bit before you drink it. The soothing herbal formula should continue to soothe and calm inflammation in your throat. You can try some throat lozenges during this time as well. 

3) Focus on breathing deeply, while relaxing and muscles in the throat that are tense. Close your eyes and feel everything relaxing and settling down into its proper place. Keep allowing this release of tension as you go through your day

4) When your period of vocal rest is done, do some light humming, in a vocal range that feels the most comfortable. Don't reach too high, and don't growl too low. Find the center of your voice, and start there. 

5) Work through your speech, song, or presentation at low volume, remembering to breathe deeply into the diaphragm for support. Slowly increase volume, and see how it feels. Make sure your posture is aligned and comfortable. Don't strain your neck forward, or tense your back. Hopefully you will begin to feel stronger, but save your full voice for the actual event. 

Many of my clients book "emergency" sessions if they wake up hoarse on the morning of a big event. I run them through simple vocal exercises, but not before I've advised them to do this protocol. Try it and see how it feels.... you might work your way back!

Neck Tension and The Human Voice...

As I've stated before, when our body is weak and/or compromised, so is our voice. Two fundamental elements of vocal strength, namely postural alignment and deep diaphragmatic breathing, are often stymied by whatever other physical conditions are going on. Chronic pain and tension can, over time, weaken our voice considerably if we're holding our body in a position that is not what it should be, causing intense misalignment of the spine. Pain can also steal some of our precious breath, if we're breathing "around the pain", and not allowing a full inhale and exhale to take place. In my 25 years of teaching singing and public speaking, I have observed that there is one particular kind of body issue that can sabotage the voice, and that is neck tension.

Take a minute and put your hands around your neck. See if you can touch your thumbs and index fingers together. If you can then you have a smaller-sized neck, but even if you can't the neck circumference is actually quite small, compared to the enormous job it has to do. Crammed inside that area is your spinal cord, your esophagus (where the food goes down), your trachea (windpipe), on top of which sits your larynx, which houses your vocal cords. As if that's not enough, you also have a series of glands, lymph nodes, and veins, including the vital carotid artery. In addition, the neck contains a series of small but mighty muscles that are used for everything from swallowing to just holding up your head! 

It's no wonder that head/neck alignment are so important to the voice. If we are tense in the neck, our larynx can become mis-aligned from its precise position, causing the vocal cords to over-compensate and strain when we sing or speak. Although our vocal cords can "borrow" from other muscles nearby (in a process called "extra muscle recruitment"), this action is not sustainable in the long term, and can cause strain, hoarseness, or even full laryngitis. 

There are many causes of chronic neck tension, and you should consult your doctor* if you suffer from it. That said, a few things that you can try for relief include changing to a thinner pillow, working out regularly to build more muscle in the back and neck, making sure that your work desk is ergonomically aligned, and gentle yoga. One of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is to stand with my back to a wall, and roll around on this therapy ball, which is soft enough to be gentle, but firm enough to loosen tight muscles in the shoulders and neck. Try it gently at first, for 60 seconds on each side of the spine, and see how it feels.

Once you've freed up some space in your neck, your voice should feel more relaxed, full, and free. Everything we do with our voice should have these qualities

NOTE: consult your doctor before trying any of the neck tension relief methods listed in this post.

Client Testimony...

Here's a quote from Nikki Barron's recent LinkedIn article about her work with me. Nikki is a women’s equality activist, community builder, Jedi-master marketer, and excellent photographer. She's a young dynamo with great skills and drive, so I know she'll go far with her voice:

"When I started going to Alicia I went with a goal. It was July and I had booked a show to sing in on my birthday, December 23rd. I built a showcase with all my friends called A Very Country Christmas. I was to open the show with two songs. I had a long long way to go.

During our first lesson, she asked me how I use my voice. I started with "I have a small voice, I want.." and she interrupted me and said, "No you don't." Which really surprised me to hear. I told her the stories of trying to simply order a beer or not being heard in a meeting and she said: "...that's not because your voice is small it's just stuck in a box." I can't describe the sense of relief I felt when a professional voice coach told me that one of my biggest insecurities could be remedied."

Read the full article here.

 

Every Public Speaker (and Singer) Needs to Improve This....

NOTE: the next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" is coming up on Tuesday March 27th, from 5-7pm in downtown Seattle, and you can get your tickets here.

My voice clients range from complete beginners, working on basic skills and gathering confidence, to experienced speakers, looking to polish their prepared speech for a presentation or event. My job is to meet each client right where they are, and work with whatever's going on in their voice at that time. Each has vocal issues that we address with specific exercises and practice. Each has their own unique vocal qualities and strengths that can be brought out. Regardless of ability, every public speaker can benefit from improving one particular skill.

Quite often, when I'm coaching experienced speakers, I can hear that they've found a comfortable voice that makes sense to them. Their diction is crisp, their inflection is musical, and their tone is smooth. Yet something is lacking in their vocal presence, that elusive quality that makes a truly dynamic public speaker. This quality comes from breath support: being fully connected to the diaphragm muscle as it contracts and expands, and feeds breath to the vocal cords. Support is what gives the voice that extra energy and charisma. 

If the vocal cords are not getting enough breath support they will start to get tense, and this tension will accumulate as you continue to talk. The result is that your voice will start to sound tight and strained. Think of the feeling of shouting across the street to someone, and imagine that feeling growing with every word you say. This is no way to deliver a public talk! Learning how to engage the diaphragm while relaxing the vocal cords takes awhile. As we begin to connect more with the physical action(s) of our breath, we can add more energy and power to our voice. Try this: sit up straight in your chair, and loosen any tight belt or waistband. Now close your eyes and point to your navel. Imagine that you are inhaling and exhaling through the navel, and practice this action with your mouth both closed and open. Breathe deeper, and feel your belly relax and expand. If you're doing it correctly, the belly will contract naturally on the exhale. By the way, I recommend meditation for this particular purpose (here's the one I created for my clients). This video will guide you further.

5 Ways A Strong(er) Voice Can Change Your Life....

Some of us are able to meet the everyday demands on our voice. We might occasionally feel a bit strained, or even hoarse, at the end of the day, but our overall vocal health is stable, and we don't have a ton of fear about speaking up in public. Yet our voice is more than just the physical anatomy of communication. It is our most powerful way of expressing who we are, and all our thoughts, dreams, desires, and plans. As I've said before, when we strengthen our voice we are also strengthening our personal power, and our ability to be fully effective in the world. Here are 5 ways that a strong voice can change your life:

1) Greater impact in business: this is the main reason why clients take my trainings, and come for private lessons. A strong voice gets noticed, for all the right reasons. Asserting yourself at work has been linked to greater career advancement. Making a presentation with a full, clear voice helps others take you more seriously. Negotiating a raise or salary bump with full vocal confidence helps remind your superiors of your value. BTW: here's some info on the next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" events.

2) Greater overall confidence: having a strong, resonant voice feels great! Being able to make yourself heard under any circumstances is a skill that approximates a super power. Knowing that your voice can last through an evening of noisy parties, or a day of team sports, can help you feel more secure in your social life. 

3) More effective communication: voicing your ideas and opinions with gusto is important, but as your voice gets stronger you might no longer need superfluous chatter just to keep someone's attention. The more we feel the effects of our strong new voice's charisma on those around us, the less we are inclined to abuse it out of social insecurity. Judicious use of our vocal power means being selective with it. We'll speak when we have something to say, and we'll be noticed and heard. 

4) Greater leadership ability: a commanding voice is the minimum we expect of a great leader. Everyone's voice is unique, and while there are some vocal qualities such as high-volume and booming resonance that naturally lend themselves to leadership, your voice may have other qualities that make it compelling. In any case, speaking clearly without strain is a skill that can be learned (it is the one most of my clients are working on). Most of us could stand to get used to the new, confident sound of our voice once it is fully supported and resonant. This process can take awhile, but it is always rewarding.

5) More powerful manifestation: articulating out loud what we need and want in our life can bring magical results. I often ask clients to write out a paragraph that describes their goals. Then I have them read it aloud, standing up in a presentational posture, and filling the room with their voice. Hearing themselves proclaim what they are seeking makes their goals clearer. If there is something that sounds or feels false, clients usually know it, and either cross it off or edit until it's right. This process can produce new ideas about the next part of a client's journey, and helps get them closer to where they want to go. Through the years I've gotten many glowing reports from clients about all kinds of progress that started with this exercise of simply stating their target(s) clearly. 

How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking...

Public speaking has been identified as most people's number one fear, more terrifying even than death! Yet we actually do it all the time: when you order in a restaurant, when you make a toast at dinner, when you call to your children across a crowded playground, you are raising your voice in public to serve a particular goal. For each of these tasks you use the same vocal cords, respiratory system, and diaphragm muscle that you need for public speaking on a much larger scale. 

The main difference between performing the daily tasks listed above and giving a prepared speech is the presence of a dedicated audience. While it's true that the waiter who takes your order is listening intently, his/her job (for which they are paid) is to serve your food needs, not take stock of your presence, digest the meaning and tone of your words, and ponder them in a way that applies to the topic at hand. A listening audience has the right to feel anything they want to about our presentation. The way we deliver our talk can win them over completely, or turn them off forever. This is enough to make most of us start to shake.

So where does nervousness come from? It's both a physical and emotional phenomenon. Any kind of perceived threat to our safety can trigger the "fight-or-flight" response, whereby the body starts to flood the body with adrenaline. This powerful hormone is designed to sharpen our senses, ramp blood flow to major muscle groups, and get us ready for a literal fight. Our breath can feel like panting as our heartbeat speeds up. We might start to feel hostile, hyper, or out-of-control shaky, anticipating whatever is coming at us next. Needless to say this is NOT the ideal state from which to deliver a public talk! 

The scientifically-proven antidote to the fight-or-flight response, and one that applies particularly to public speaking, is simply to slow down and breathe deeply. This is one of the reasons why I encourage my clients to meditate daily, so that they can get good at calming themselves. It takes awhile to learn how to slow down our breath when we feel nervous. Like everything else in life, when we practice enough we start to see results. Eventually we become so good at it that we can start channeling the extra energy that comes with nervousness into excitement that helps us give our very best. Ever wondered how your favorite singer manages to put on great shows, night after night? Turning nerves into energy is their secret, and it all starts with the breath.

When I'm coaching a client's talk I'm also reminding them to breathe deeply (through the mouth) each time the opportunity arises. This is most often at the end of a sentence, but sometimes it's necessary after a comma, so that we have enough breath to finish a sentence, and also so that the listening audience can keep up with what we're saying. In order for our voice to ring out confidently we must have full breath support, which is yet another reason to slow down and breathe deeply before you begin. 

Once we begin to feel the calming effects of deep breathing, we can start to address the emotional side of our task. What is our big fear all about? Most of my clients tell me that they think of public speaking as standing before a firing line; if they get one word or sentence wrong, or if they don't dazzle enough, or if they fail to make an impression they will be (metaphorically) shot. This paradigm gives far too much power to the audience.

The truth is that when we give a public talk, we are in actually participating in a group activity. Each person has a part to play, and a way of playing it. Some audience members will indeed be highly judgmental and seek out all our flaws. Some will be merely polite, and some will be indifferent. Some of them will be genuinely interested, and we'll feel their kind attention on us as we speak. The point is that an audience is made up of fellow human beings, just like us, who are doing the best they can, just as we are. The audience has assembled to receive the information that we are delivering. Feel their eyes on you? They are receiving you, not judging you. Visualize yourself giving your talk to a kind, attentive, and grateful audience. Breathe deeply, do your very best, and remember that we are all human. If you would like to book a private coaching session, contact me directly: alicia@aliciadara.com

REMINDER: the next "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" is Tuesday January 30th from 5-7pm in downtown Seattle. Contact me directly to register: alicia@aliciadara.com

Your Top-Ten Public Speaking Questions Answered...

In 2018 it will be 25 years that I've been working as a professional voice teacher (singing and public speaking). My students and clients are smart, curious, and dedicated, and I'm lucky to be part of such a great community. Through them I've learned that a teacher's job (in a nutshell) is to be an example, a guide, and a resource of information. I take great care with the questions I'm asked, and I work to help each person find an answer that works for them. That said, there are some questions that seem to be universal, and can be answered in a more general way. BTW, "Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women" is coming up on Tuesday November 28th from 5-7pm in downtown Seattle. The fee is $100. Contact me directly to register: alicia@aliciadara.com Now to your questions:

What if I don't care about/am bored by the topic that I'm supposed to give a talk/announcement/presentation about?

You might not love the topic you're speaking on, but you can be passionate about the people you're speaking to. Focus on being a trustworthy and transparent channel of information for your audience. Speak as if the thing(s) you are saying are valuable to them directly. This is probably true, if only for a small percentage of your audience. Give your best with them in mind.

How can I learn to look in people's eyes when I'm giving a talk? 

Understand that your audience's eyes are not judging you, they are receiving you. In order for them to properly focus on what you're saying and absorb it fully, they need to look right at you while you're speaking. Maintaining eye contact with them helps facilitate their trust in you, so take deep breath, raise your head, and look up.

What should I do if I mess up in the middle of my speech? Should I start over again?

There's no need re-do the beginning of your talk. Simply pause, take a deep breath, and start the "messed up" words over again. Your audience will understand your taking the time to enunciate clearly, so they can fully understand what you are saying. They will recognize that you take them seriously enough to pay them this courtesy.

How can I stop shaking before I give a public talk? 

Some degree of nervousness is natural before speaking in public, and there are physical symptoms that go along with nerves, including a light flutter. Extensive practice, visualization, and work with a good coach can help you greatly reduce these symptoms and better ground yourself, but one good habit is to stabilize your blood sugar before you give a talk. Don't skip a meal! Fuel up on protein-rich meals and snacks. I always keep an extra protein bar in my purse for clients who have forgotten to eat.

What should I do if no one is paying attention while I'm delivering my speech(es)?

This is a tough one. Ask yourself some basic questions: are you speaking loud enough? Is your pacing so fast that no one can keep up, or are you so slow that you're putting them to sleep? Do you speak in a boring monotone? Is it a body language issue? Are you slouching, cowering, turning away, not looking them in the eye? These are all actions that "tell" the audience not to pay attention to you. Correct them and see what happens.

How can I make my voice louder when I'm giving a public talk?

Most "low talkers" are not getting nearly enough breath support to the voice. Learning how to take a diaphragmatic breath, and using the air as you speak, is something that a good voice coach can help with. You can also try pitching the sound of your voice a bit higher, which can help the sound travel farther. But be aware that you're going to have to get used to the sound and feeling of your full voice... are you ready to rock?

What if I "blank" in a part of my memorized talk?

Typically my clients who "blank" (forget a line or section of at talk that they have memorized) have not spent enough time visualizing themselves giving the entire talk. Practice makes perfect, and visualization is a vital part of a good practice regimen. Olympic figure skaters don't just practice triple-jumps, they visualize themselves jumping and landing perfectly, over and over. See it and be it.

What if my voice cracks when I'm speaking?

A tiny "crack" in the sound of your voice is entirely human, and usually remedied by light throat clearing. Don't over do it, or you might start to cough, which will rough up your voice further. Say "excuse me", drink a sip of water if you need to, and carry on. 

How should I move my face and body while I'm speaking? 

Studies have shown that actions and gestures that point upward are inviting and attractive to others. Your eyebrows, your hands, and the corners of your mouth can all make upward movements that will draw people in. It's alright to clasp your hands together at your waist, as long as you unclasp them to gesture (upward) when appropriate. Never cross your arms over your chest, or your legs over each other. Align yourself comfortably, then lift your sternum up an inch, so that your chest is relaxed and open. Breathe deeply and feel the power of this stance. Everything should flow from there.

How can I get people to take my talk seriously when I'm the youngest/ least important person in the room?

Use your physicality and voice together. Stand up to your full height, lift the sternum an inch, open your eyes and look around the room before you start talking. Breathe into the diaphragm, and speak from your belly power. Take your time. Don't uptalk (it's that thing? when the end of each sentence? goes up in pitch? and sounds like a question?). Keep your objective in mind, and don't back down. Act like someone who is confident (not arrogant), and you will be.

What if I have laryngitis? How can I strengthen my voice in time for my speech?

First the good news: full laryngitis (no sound coming out at all) is temporary. The bad news is that the human body typically needs 3 days to fully recover from it. I advise my clients to reschedule talks if they have full or even partial laryngitis, because trying to force the voice to work will only prolong the problem. Reschedule, heal, and come back strong. 

How can I make my speaking voice sound more compelling? 

Download your favorite book on tape, and pick a paragraph to work with. Record yourself reading that paragraph, and compare it to the sound of the actor's voice. What are the fundamental differences? Are you speaking too low, too fast, to monotone? Practice the inflection of the other voice by speaking along with it, at the same pace, using the same pitch and volume. Now take a deep breath and try it louder. Record yourself again once you've worked on it, and listen for improvements. And work with a good voice coach to help you develop your own style of speaking. 

An Announcement, A Wish, and a Long-Cherished Dream...

Friends, I've come to a decision that I want to share with you. I've been thinking lately about how I can better contribute to my community and the world at large. If you're a regular reader of my blog you know that I've included tons of resources for health and wellness. In my view the total system of a human being -mind, body, and spirit- must be kept in healthy balance in order for us to live fully, and give our best wherever we go. In my volunteer work as a public health advocate with Planned Parenthood over the past 11 years, I've witnessed the dramatic difference that excellent health care can make. A good health care system can uplift an entire population, and I've always wanted to be part of that process in a deeper way. Today I am announcing that I've accepted the position of Board President of the Udistrict Community Acupuncture Clinic!

Why acupuncture? I've been receiving it since I was a teenager, and I've experienced its benefits firsthand. I've also seen it work on many people that I've known throughout my life. Here in Seattle, our clinic founder is Susie Sabunciyan, an extraordinary healer. I've been her patient for almost 8 years, and I trust her abilities and her vision. Community acupuncture is exactly what it sounds like: acupuncture for everyone. Instead of an office with individual spaces, treatments take place in a large, communal room (you can see it on the front page of the clinic website). This arrangement helps keep the cost down, at a sliding scale of $20-$40 per session. Our goal is to reach people form all walks of life, particularly those who would not ordinarily have access to acupuncture, for reasons that include financial hardship, lack of insurance, lack of knowledge about acupuncture, and abandonment by "traditional" health care institutions. 

Right now the clinic is offering 5 sessions for $75, which is about as good a deal as you can find anywhere! You can also come in and try one session. Some common reasons that people seek acupuncture are sleep trouble, anxiety, PMS, arthritis pain, digestive problems, and migraines, but the treatments have been known to help all kinds of ailments. Tell Susie what's up when you come in for your appointment, and she will create a personalized treatment plan for you. Once the needles are in you'll relax in your easy chair while soft, soothing music plays as the treatment works its way through your body. Susie will check in on you, and when you're ready she'll remove the needles and send you on your way. Most sessions last 30-60 minutes, but some people need more time, which is perfectly fine. Come and try it out for yourself, and let me know how it goes.

My dream is to help get the clinic into a permanent space (right now we rent), and turn it into a huge community resource. There's a ton of work to do, problems to solve, and many questions to answer. With acupuncture to fortify my constitution, I know I'm up for it! See you at the clinic...

My Monthly Newsletter is Ready to Launch!

Friends, for the past year I've been working on an exciting new project that I'm getting ready to launch. It's my very first monthly newsletter, filled with all kinds of awesomeness! Along with behind-the-scenes access to my music projects (for example... did you know my band Diamondwolf is about to release our first new single in 3 years?) and short pieces of writing, I'll also include a curated list of magical stuff I've found on the Interweb on arts, culture, politics and more. If that's not enough, I'll throw in links to the things I use on a daily basis (as a musician, author, teacher coach and human) that I can't live without. 

My first goal is 250 sign-ups before I launch in April. Enter your email in the box below, and get ready to rock with me!