The thing is, no matter much you hate (or fear) giving presentations, there are probably times when you just have to do it. Professionals in a variety of job fields routinely give presentations of some sort, whether they’re in business, social work, medicine, or university teaching. Seriously, even poets – you know, the shy, reclusive types – end up having to give public readings on book tours and such.
Public speaking can be a challenge for most people. To help you keep calm and focused during an important presentation, you can call on mindfulness as a tool. “Mindfulness” is a fancy word for paying deep attention to this very moment, rather than dwelling on the past or fretting about the future.
Here are the top three mindfulness techniques that can turn you into a confident speaker. They won’t cost you anything, and you can do them almost anywhere (although a little privacy is helpful).
1. Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body
Do you get so anxious that it feels like your head is floating somewhere against the ceiling like an escaped helium balloon? Are your hands shaking like a tiny spring leaf on a blustery day? That’s your body letting you know that it’s time for you to reconnect with it. The poor thing is getting lonely!
The most effective way to ground yourself when you’re super-nervous is to bring your attention to physical sensations. Why? Because you’re not a floating head; you’re a complex human being whose brain, body, and nerve endings are all part of one miraculous integrated system. Checking in with body sensations brings your awareness back in line so that you can focus on your surrounding environment.
Try one of these simple methods to drop into sensory awareness:
▪ Do three rounds of shrink and stretch. First, whether you’re standing or sitting, pull everything inward. Round your shoulders, wrap your arms around yourself, and scrunch all the muscles of your face. Hold this pose for at least five seconds, then relax into a luxurious slow stretch while yawning.
▪ Address your proprioceptive needs. “My what??” you say? Well, don’t be scared off by the fancy technical word. This simply means letting your body know where you are in your physical space. You can do this by jumping up and down (as if on a small trampoline), pushing hard against a wall, or even chewing on something crunchy.
▪ Recall one of your favorite songs. That’s right. When you’ve got it playing in your head, starting gently tapping the beat against your thigh. Keep this up for at least one entire verse and a chorus. This method works best if you tap on both thighs – simultaneously, or alternating the beat back and forth between them. Doing so helps integrate the two halves of your body.
2. Notice Your Breath
This is important: Notice that the tip isn’t to change your breathing in any way. You don’t have to force it into a specific pattern or even try to take a deep breath. Your body is pretty good at getting the oxygen it needs. All you need to do is show up, and notice what your body is already doing to help you out.
If you like, you can count each breath. Try phrasing it this way in your head as you breathe: “Breathing in…and out; one. Breathing in…and out; two.” The number count will fall within the slight natural pause between one breath and the next.
Or you can sit comfortably for about five minutes with your hand resting lightly on your chest, feeling it rise and fall with each breath.
Either way, this little technique of attention to the breath can be quite powerful in assisting your nervous system to self-regulate.
3. Focus on Your Audience, Not Yourself
Once you take the dive into the first few seconds of your presentation, you can use sensory awareness to keep yourself grounded for the duration. While you’re talking, pick one of these things to become generally aware of (but not to the point of distraction):
▪ One sound in the room, such as a clock ticking or an air conditioner humming.
▪ How many instances of the color blue you can see in the audience.
▪ A pleasant smell nearby. (It helps to bring your own pleasant olfactory source with you, such as a fresh cup of great coffee. Or maybe wear a lavender-scented lotion, if that’s your sort of thing.)
You’ll find that these techniques are handy for any stressful situation, not just a presentation. Relatives driving you crazy at the holiday gathering? Take a bathroom break and do two rounds of shrink and stretch. Cross-eyed from that last-minute deadline at the computer? Take 30 seconds to push against a doorjamb as hard as you can, then chomp a piece of gum or eat two bites of your favorite chocolate. Boss berating everyone in the conference room for poor performance? Tap out a familiar song on your knees –under the table, of course.
Want More Presentation Hacks?
If you’re looking for advanced presentation tricks and techniques – including specific advice on using PowerPoint effectively – check out the Slideshop Blog.