Many of us have given presentations in our jobs. It could be talking to a group of people in a staff meeting, doing a sales presentation to a customer or giving a talk to a large group. Some of us are in jobs where our role is, literally, to speak in front of a people (as I do, in my job as a yoga teacher). For many, the prospect of speaking to a group brings on paralyzing fear.
Yoga, as a practice, has many practical applications outside of all the wonderful physical and mental benefits you get when you practice. There are many things that you can take from your practice that can help you when you need to give a presentation. Feelings of being grounded, centered and relaxed are just a few. Here are ten ideas to think about:
- Before your talk, take a few yoga poses to help you get grounded in your body and drown out any distractions. Something like a forward fold, a child’s pose or mountain pose (with the eyes closed) all help to ground you and relax your body and mind. If it’s very chaotic where you’re presenting, these poses can help you get centered, despite the distractions.
- Before you start to talk, take a moment to feel your feet on the ground. This involves a mental shift to bring your attention to your feet. This also has the effect of grounding you and decreasing your nerves. It has the added benefit of shifting your attention from your brain to your body. This can have a calming effect and help you be more clear when you begin to speak.
- Before you start to speak, look at the audience. Look in their eyes and make a few connections by looking at them. Smile. This will make them feel acknowledged and will prepare them to hear you.
- Take a few deep breaths before you begin your presentation. Deep breathing triggers the relaxation response, so as you take a few deep breaths, it will naturally ease your nerves. The same thing holds for your practice; the deep breathing helps you relax, even as you strengthen and stretch.
- Keep your heart open. While this may sound like a spiritual perspective, as it relates to giving a presentation it involves facing the group, standing tall, and avoiding, as much as you can, looking down at notes.
- Speak from the heart. Along with keeping your heart open, speak from your heart. Prepare sufficiently for your presentation so you can speak freely. Choose a topic that you believe in and can stand behind. If you’re unsure of the topic’s relevance or importance or don’t believe in what you’re presenting, it will show up in your body language and your ability to speak with conviction and clarity. Yoga is a heart-centered practice and when we practice yoga, we learn to soften our heart and be more receptive to others.
- Leave space between thoughts. Just as in your practice, the space between the poses is an actual pose in and of itself; the sequence is built so that as you move from one pose to the next, you’re still breathing and focused. As you present, leave space between the critical points in your talk so your audience has a chance to let them sink in.
- Be present to what is happening in the moment and adjust accordingly. When we practice yoga, despite how often or how long we’ve been practicing, the challenge is to show up and practice in a way that matches how we feel on that particular day. This may mean we adjust or modify certain poses if we’re injured or not feeling well. It may mean we push to a new edge because we’re feeling strong and energized. As you speak, watch the audience for information. If they’re falling asleep or seem distracted, ask an open-ended question. If they’re engaged, eyes locked on you and sitting at the edge of their seats, stay with what you’re doing. Avoid having a set approach that negates the importance of what is happening in the moment.
- Laugh if you make a mistake. I recently taught a class and a woman fell out of a pose. She let out a few giggles and it was wonderful to see how relaxed and at ease she was with herself. When you beat yourself up over struggles you have on the mat, you work against your true nature and make enjoying your practice that much harder. When you present to a group, if you find you forget something or trip over your words, laugh it off. You’ll allow yourself to stay calm and you’ll diffuse any anxiety the group is feeling as well.
- Be yourself. Did you ever see someone trying so hard in yoga class to mimic the person next to them? This approach robs you of the chance to fully experience the pose and strengthen your unique qualities. By the same token, when you give your presentation, be yourself! Smile, laugh, add in a few personal anecdotes. The authentic connection you make with others when expressing yourself in a truthful way will make more of an impression than trying to sound like someone else.
While these tips work well for presentations, many of them also work well for having difficult conversations with people (or conversations with difficult people). For those times you need to have a heart-to-heart talk, it helps to be relaxed, grounded and present. These qualities all lead to better communication.