Yoga For Powerful Presentations
Public speaking is at the top of many people’s phobia list. Like it or not, when we’re in the business environment, sooner or later we’ll be in the spotlight. Sometimes the foray into public speaking is as informal as a peer-to-peer interaction. Other times it’s as structured as a presentation to an entire division. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned professional, the walk from your seat to the podium can be a heart palpitating experience. Everyone wants to come across as strong, clear and convincing on the stage. No one wants to be seen as scared, nervous, or hesitant.
The ancient art of yoga can help calm frayed nerves, center your body for a thoughtful delivery and increase your breathing capacity for a stronger voice. Yogic techniques can help you connect in a powerful and relaxed way to your audience.
The tendency when giving a talk is to stay in the head. Before we’re introduced, our mind is busy trying to remember at least the beginning of the speech. Our body is giving us all kinds of disturbing messages — from a racing heart, to a confused and unfocused thought pattern, to sweaty palms and a dry mouth — which we duly try to ignore so that we can stay focused on the task at hand. Unfortunately, these body functions serve to create a “flight or fight” response in our system, only increasing our nervousness and anxiety. Rather than ignore your body, you can become more focused and alert through connecting your mind and your breath to your body.
Here’s how to do it. While sitting in your chair before the presentation, get comfortable. Put a slight smile on your face. Scan your body slowly from your feet to your head, using your awareness and your breath to soften unnecessary tension in your muscles. Pay particular attention to softening the big muscles in your legs, your belly, your shoulders, and your face. Imagine that each body part you are scanning becomes heavy and melts under the light of your awareness.
Once you make it to the top of the head, completing the body scan, start over again at the feet. It’s always interesting to see where tension has quietly reentered.
Use this technique in combination with the breath and you’ll notice an immediate difference in your state of mind.
In yoga, the breath is called prana, which is Sanskrit for life force or energy. It has tremendous power to affect your state of mind. Most of us meander through the day using only a small portion of our lung capacity, taking incomplete inhalations into the top of our lungs. To utilize the breath fully, expand the inhalation into the whole lung, right down into the belly.
Here’s a breathing practice called three-part yogic breathing. Practice it before the day of the presentation so that you’ll be familiar with it. Since the belly is the part most people are unfamiliar with, place most of your attention here. Soften the belly muscles so that it expands when you breathe.
Imagine you have a balloon in your belly that you’re blowing up with your breath. Once you see how you can send your breath down to the belly, expand the inhale so that it goes from the belly, to the chest, to the upper chest. This inhale is all using the same breath. It may feel like you run out of air. Just have patience and practice. When you exhale, exhale belly, middle chest, and upper chest, letting go completely of the breath.
One cycle looks like this: Inhale deep into your belly, then take that same breath into your middle chest, then take that same breath into your upper chest — right underneath your collarbones. Then exhale belly, middle chest and upper chest. Slow down the breath. Elongate it. With each inhale imagine you are expanding and opening your chest, with each exhale imagine you are softening, relaxing and letting go of any tension.
Use this practice in your chair before your presentation in conjunction with the body scan. If the three-part breathing is too much for your mind while you’re scanning your body, simply breathe deeply into the belly.
The mind can send us down slippery slopes when preparing for a presentation. Have you ever had a comfortable experience when delivering a speech, perhaps before a small group of friends? Contrast this with a work presentation when the boss is in the audience evaluating a project. The mind sets up two very different scenarios, potential outcomes, and the associated risks involved in each. If left unchecked, the mind can trigger an avalanche of unwelcome, anxiety-producing thoughts.
Luckily you can re-shape these thoughts. The first order of business is to recognize the way in which you’re framing the upcoming event. Do you see it as important? Perhaps a make or break career event? Will people be in the audience that you want to impress? Does the thought of making a mistake send waves of shame and embarrassment through you? These frames are mutable; they are not set in stone. Consider that what appears to be the absolute truth may in fact be distortions. Presentations are not life or death situations, even though they may feel like it at times.
Approach the mind only after you have relaxed the body and the breath, and well before the actual presentation. Sitting quietly, think about the upcoming event. Simply notice what thoughts arise. When they come into your mind, your job is just to notice them as an impartial observer. This act of noticing, without engaging in an inner dialog, strengthens the idea that you’re not at the mercy of your thoughts. Thoughts don’t have to trigger an automated, unconscious response.
The next step is to pick a new thought or frame that settles your mind and resonates with you. Say to yourself “it’s not a life or death situation” if a thought comes up about the high importance of the presentation. Keep the process simple and relaxed. If you feel yourself debating, then bring your awareness back to the breath, back to the body, quieting the mind.
Some new frames of thought might be: all will be fine; the audience is on my side; I trust the message will be valuable; I’m open and flexible; the audience is fully engaged and I welcome questions; new experiences make life interesting. When you have found a frame that does not create a strong inner debate, use it.
e that statement into your body, relaxing into it.
After practicing these three steps, the day has arrived for the presentation. When they call your name, breathe into your body. When you walk to the podium, allow your legs to be heavy, feeling each foot as it makes contact with the floor. You’ll feel like it’s slow motion. It’s not. From the outside it looks relaxed and comfortable. Take you’re time. Pause before you speak, thinking a calming thought.
Conscious connection to your body, breath and mind can have a powerful effect on your presentation. And on your life.
Megan McDonough is a Business Yogi, helping people work with ease using introspective yoga techniques. (http://www.urinfinityinabox.com). Megan teaches yoga at Listening, the Barre Integrated Health Center (http://www.listeningbihc.org), where she is also the Marketing Director. She can be reached at 413-477-6841.