Power Without Press: The Foundation of Authentic Communication

Hi. My name is Rena Cook, and I’m here to. I don’t have anything really new to.

No, wait.

Hey, my name is Rena Cook, and I am here to lay it down for you and I am too sexy for my…

No, wait. Hello, my name is Rena Cook, and I am here today to talk to you about what I believe is the root of authentic communication. I call it power without press.

I don’t know about you, but I have been really concerned about the state of our nation, the state of our world. It seems right now that we are so divided, and that authentic communication is not happening anywhere. Not in our own families, not at work, certainly not in the political dialogue that is all around us all the time. So, I have become even more obsessed than I previously was about helping people understand how to bridge the gap. How to reach out and have authentic communication.

Now before I go into power without press, it might be helpful to know that I trained actors my entire adult life. Now I started life as singer/actor/dancer and thought I was bound for Broadway. But I quickly discovered that teaching was where it was for me. Teaching is about us, whereas performing is all about me. Right? Not only that, but what did you think of my performance. I know, right?

I wanted to be a teacher. Theater was all I knew so I trained actors. Well, I trained actors my entire adult life up until two and half years ago. And the thing that I taught actors was how to be grounded and centered and authentic. Well about 17 years ago I became obsessed with voice and body and realized if the voice and body are not present, nothing else matters.

So, I quit my job. I was working at OSU at the time, please forgive me. For a while, I did bleed orange. I quit my job at OSU and went to London for a year and studied voice and body movement at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I became very deeply acquainted with a man named David Carey.

He embodied what I have come to call power without press. In every class he taught, in every group, he was in, he was the most powerful man without ever putting out any effort to be that. He was relaxed and comfortable and soft and powerful and smart. Whatever he said people listened. And not only that, but he had the capacity to listen to others, to take others into his world. I watched him for a year, every day for a year, trying to decide what is it? Is it a talent that you’re born with? Is it a skill that you learn?

Well through teaching actors I have come to believe that power without press can be taught.

Now I introduced you to two characters when I started. Remember her? Yeah, I call her Miss Denial. My energy is folded in on itself. My shoulders are forward. My chin is up. And my voice is creepy, and my breath is high. And anything I say to you-you are not going to believe. Because I am in this position my amygdala is firing red hot and I’m in panic mode. So, nothing you say to me is going to enter this body.

And then I introduced you to Miss Bluff. Yeah, we recognize this character. You’ve seen her or him, shoulders pulled back, the chest is out, the chin is up, the weight is cocked off to one hip. And the voice is kind of harsh. So, I may have the most power in the room because everybody else just gives up and sits down. Yeah, not going to fight with that. Nothing is going to come into me either.

But when I adjust my body things change and I just want you to be aware of how you perceive me from here, to here, to here. How available am I to you, and how much more available you are to me? Let me break this down for you. My feet are hip-width apart. My toes are pointed mostly straight ahead. My weight is evenly distributed over the balls of my foot and the heel. My knees are soft. Locked knees do this. The minute I lock my knees I go into a form of Miss Bluff. You can hear the difference in my voice. You can probably also feel the difference in my energy. I soften my knees and I’m back. I am breathing deeply and centrally. My breath is going all the way down to my belly. When I inhale my belly goes out. When I exhale my belly gently engages toward my spine.

We all know about yoga breathing, deep central breathing. If you do any kind of musical instrument, a wind instrument, or you’re into athletics or you’re a singer, you know about deep central breathing. But as communicators, we don’t understand how crucially important deep central breathing is to every moment of communication, particularly when things get a little triggered. And our breath goes high and we go, oh god, oh god, oh god, what am I going to say? Yeah?

If I check back in with the deep central breathing I am back on board. My amygdala stops firing, my prefrontal cortex comes back, and all of that through the magic of deep central breathing.

Now notice my shoulders. When I’m in denial my shoulders are rounded forward. When I’m in bluff my shoulders go back. When I am in power without press there is no effort across here. My shoulders are relaxed and down in their natural and authentic position. My head and neck, long back of neck, soft front of neck.

Look what happens when I lift my chin. You can hear it in my voice. This is part of the bluff thing. It’s also part of a people pleaser thing. Please like me. The chin comes up. When that happens anatomically you are stressing the amygdala, which causes it to start firing, which triggers fight or flight and shuts down your prefrontal cortex, which is your brain. It shuts down your ability to think clearly and to listen empathetically. So, it’s long back of neck, soft front of neck, with chin parallel to the floor.

That is power without press. I am owning my authentic power without denying it, without pushing it in your face. I am present and when I am present in my authentic power without press I can also hear and listen empathetically to what you are saying, and I am free to respond from my heart. Now I’m going to teach this to you. And I was so glad that Clark got us on our feet early, kind of got you warmed up for this. So, I want you all to stand up. Did I hear somebody groan back there? You heard it.

Alright, now I want you to show me your familiar stance. This is your familiar when you’re waiting in the checkout line. You know you’re looking, oh she’s the fastest, I’m going there. The minute you get in her line she slows down. And so, you stand and wait. Alright, now in this familiar alignment I’m going to give you a line of text to say. And your line is, hello, my name is, your first and last name, and I am so glad to be here. That’s all. And that is hello, my name is, and I am so glad to be here. Now, all together in your familiar, tell me, go! Hello.

[Audience] My name is, and I am so glad to be here.

Good. That’s a great place to start from where we typically communicate. Now find your feet hip-width apart, weight evenly distributed, come forward on the ball of your foot until you feel your toes dig in to keep you from falling. That’s too far. Put your weight back on your heels where you feel your toes come up to keep you from falling backward. That’s too far. Come forward and feel the weight evenly distributed. Soften your knees. Just for jollies to show you how powerful this is, lock your knees and say your line. Hello.

[Audience] Hello, my name is, and I am so glad to be here.

It’s hard to talk with your knees locked. Soften. Say your line again, go.

[Audience] Hello, my name is, and I am so glad to be here.

The warmth of your collective sound was off the charts when you released your knees. And it felt better, didn’t it? Alright, now this deep central breath right here. Put your hand on your belly and forget about sucking in your tummy to have the smallest waistline ever. We’ve got to just let that go. It’s all about the belly.

Blow all of your air out hard and fast like this. And then wait, don’t take in a breath until you really need one and let a breath drop in by releasing your abdominal muscles, go. Yeah, about half of you did that right, I could tell. Blow it out again, real hard and fast. And wait until you need a breath and then let a breath drop in by releasing your abdominal muscles, go. Good. That’s abdominal release on the inhale.

Whenever you are communicating just allow your belly to release when you need to take in a breath and the breath will be down there. I just want you to spend a few seconds breathing deeper, slower, quieter, calmer. Deeper, slower, quieter, calmer. Good.

Now just be aware of your shoulders. Just jostle your shoulders a little bit. And then let ’em drop. There you go. Long back of neck. Just feel this part of your neck just floating up. It’s not like a cat is on my back. It’s just easy. And your chin is parallel to the floor. Now I want you to take a deep central breath and say your line again, go.

[Audience] Hello, my name is, and I am so glad to be here.

Yes! You guys are amazing. Didn’t that feel fabulous? Have a seat. Best audience ever. That is power without press. Never go into an important conversation without checking in with your body first. If someone says to me, yeah, Rena, but I just get triggered! Then you have not done your prep work. If you prepare your body, it doesn’t matter what your emotions are doing. your body can control your emotions.

Putting your body in the right place and getting the breath deep in your center prepares you to have those difficult conversations, prepares you to be present when someone needs to have a difficult conversation with you. Whether it’s a sales situation, one on one in your home, one on one at work, a small group or a large auditorium, you are ready to share the best of yourself and to receive the best that the people or person you are dealing with has to give you.

This simple technique of power without press can be medicine for our troubled families, troubled communities, troubled world. It can also just be glorious to have a wonderful conversation with a wonderful friend when you are both breathing centrally and sharing the space of power without press. Thank you all so much for your time today. Thank you.


Rena Cook

Rena Cook is Professor Emerita at the University of Oklahoma. She is a TEDx speaker, author, voice, speech, confidence, and presentation coach. She is the founder of Vocal Authority, a training consultancy serving attorneys who want to use their voice in more commanding and authentic ways. She has authored several books, including Her Voice in Law, which she co-wrote with Laurie Koller. The book provides additional advice on the above topics and more, and is available at https://www.americanbar.org/.

Leave a Comment