Who do you think is America’s best communicator?
- Oprah Winfrey?
- Bill Clinton?
- Tony Robbins?
I think the country’s (and world’s!) best communicators are babies!
Baby Communicators Make Themselves Heard
Think back to the last time you were around a screaming infant.
Chances are pretty good that every adult within earshot heard that baby’s voice, and got the message.
Because, while not every adult is fluent in “baby speak,” we all understand that a screaming baby needs something.
We also know that when babies want our attention, they communicate by laughing, gurgling, or thrashing around.
It’s a pretty simple transaction: They ask, we respond. They speak, we listen.
What Baby Communicators Don’t Do Well
The list of things that babies, unlike us adults, don’t take into account when they communicate is long:
- Babies don’t apologize for wanting to be heard
- They don’t panic at the thought of being judged
- They’re not plagued with doubts about whether they’re smart, articulate, attractive, classy, or deserving enough to take center stage
- They don’t feel bad about imposing on others; as far as they’re concerned, that’s what other people are for
Since we adults do all of these things, and more, you have to wonder: What happened to that baby?
And of course, life happened: All the myriad frustrations, disappointments, experiences of being judged, shamed, ignored, found wanting, combine to persuade us that we better be pretty damned careful what we say. (And that’s the best-case scenario.)
So now the question is: How do we get that feeling of spontaneity and power back?
To be clear: An adult who takes the Baby Approach literally — routinely interrupting others, or demanding attention all the time — is a full-scale jerk, and I’m not suggesting you become one. But babies have plenty to teach us, metaphorically and physically, about how powerful we can be.
How Can Babies Scream All Day??
Babies are little screaming machines, and if you look at the pictures above, you’ll see why.
See that big, fat, round, firm belly?
The airflow into a baby’s body isn’t constrained by clothes (ties, belts, corsets, etc.) or ego (sucking in your stomach, or throwing out your chest, which locks your rib cage) or fear (stooping to make ourselves less visible).
Because of this, their bodies work, just as nature intended, like little air-pushing bellows (pictured left). The baby’s lungs open wide, sucking in air, and then his muscles force that air back out through the smaller, concentrated space in his mouth — carrying concentrated sound out with it.
It also doesn’t hurt anything that the baby is motivated! She knows that, if she screams long enough and loud enough, someone will probably come along to take care of her.
Now, we can’t show up at a speaking engagement half naked with our stomachs hanging out. But we can wear clothes that are comfortable. We can allow ourselves to breathe (start by breathing out; it works best). We can open our mouths to let the sound out.
And we can do more than that: We can work on our attitudes.
Public Speakers: Emulate the Baby You Use to Be
There’s a lot more to be said about this, step one is to begin to let go of the thoughts and feelings that hold you back.
Start by subjecting them to a reality check:
- People will judge me! Yes, the occasional person will judge you; but most audiences want you to succeed.
- I have to watch every word I say. Yes, we do have to watch what we say, at least in many work situations. But does that mean you can never speak spontaneously, as yourself? If you are never able to be yourself at work, the problem goes way beyond public speaking!
- I’m not smart / articulate / accomplished / attractive / rich / famous / witty / athletic / successful / or whatever enough; no one cares what I have to say. Everyone has moments of feeling this way. I call it the Same Old Shit. No matter what flavor, color, gender, accent, or nationality yours comes in, no matter how complex your story or pain, it’s still SOS to think that you’re less deserving than someone else of the basic right to communicate.
Next time you find yourself thinking this, go out and find a baby to hang with.
Check out the baby’s unselfconscious, unrestrained joy in being heard.
That’s what all of used to be like — and we can be like that again.