SEATING ARRANGEMENTS: Presenting from a Chair

March 21st, 2011

Do you spend much of your working day in a chair? Is most of your presenting done while sitting at a table? If you’re not aware of what you’re doing, this can be a real trap. When you sit down, your energy tends to sit down, as well. It’s so easy to relax back and allow the chair to support you. Your body collapses, your breath is restricted, your voice doesn’t engage fully and you fail to make an impression in the room. How can you make sure you’re cultivating a strong presence and maximizing the impact of your performance, even when you’re seated? The essential principles for success are the same as for standing speech.

Grounding. When speaking from a chair, you still want both feet flat on the ground, but now, you have “a second pair of feet,” your sit-bones. (You can feel those bones under your bottom when you’re sitting erect on a very hard surface.) Your sit-bones become a second point of connection to the ground. If you’re on your sit-bones, your body naturally aligns and supports itself. Sit on the front edge of the chair. Allow yourself to fall back onto your tailbone. Notice what happens to your alignment. Now come back onto your sit-bones and appreciate how the rest of your body aligns. You don’t need to be rigid. There’s no need to look like stiff. But you do want to be in charge of your own support, not collapsing into the back of the chair.

Breathing. When your body is relaxed and aligned, you can still breathe deeply, even when seated. (In fact, some people find it easier to feel their breath in a seated position, than when they’re standing.) Keep your belly relaxed as you inhale through your mouth. Avoid lifting your chest. Feel the in-breath expanding your entire waistline. You can even imagine your in-breath flowing down and filling the seat of your chair. Now, fall back onto your tailbone. Notice how the area under your sternum tends to collapse. Come back onto your sit-bones. Feel how the belly area becomes open to the in-breath. Even when seated, you have access to the same breath power that’s available when you’re standing.

Resonance. When your body is grounded, relaxed and expansive, and when you’re breathing deeply, you have all the basic ingredients for cultivating sound vibrations. Look for torso vibrations (chest, sides and back) and skull vibrations. Allow your body to collapse backward into the chair. Notice how sound vibrations feel muffled. It’s like laying a bell on its side. Come back onto your sit-bones. Feel how every surface of your body is now free to transmit sound vibrations, like a bell suspended from its center. When your whole body vibrates with the sound of your voice, you’ll be speaking with real impact.

Of course, you don’t want to be conspicuous and look like an over-eager student when the rest of your colleagues are relaxing back in their chairs with their legs crossed. But when you have the floor, there’s no reason you can’t come forward in your chair, feel the ground under you, sit up to your full height, breathe deeply and speak with your whole body. You’ll feel strong, look confident, speak with authority, and make a real impression.

Getting Your Feet on the Ground

October 28th, 2010

Gerda Alexander, a 20th century bodywork practitioner, said security is greatly connected to feeling your bone structure. What did she mean? By noticing your capacity to support yourself at a physical level, you feel your potential to support yourself at other levels: mentally, emotionally, socially, professionally. Confidence is not an abstract “something” we have no way of grasping. Confidence, as a feeling, already exists in your body.

This would explain why people feel stronger and, yes, more confident, just by feeling their feet on the ground. It’s a simple approach yielding disproportionate benefits. One client recounted, “I had a difficult conversation with my boss last week, so I made sure I was feeling both feet on the ground, and I was surprised how strong I felt in that interaction.” Being grounded connects you to your surroundings, keeps you present, and that increases confidence.

How can you develop this skill so it works for you, even under pressure? Take your shoes off. Close your eyes and notice the sensations you feel in your feet, sensations of temperature, texture, weight and so forth. Notice if you are standing on your whole foot, or focusing your weight into just part of your foot. What would it feel like to allow your whole foot to support your body, not just part of your foot? The overused part might feel grateful.

Next, ask yourself if you are standing on your bones. If your bones are acting like pillars to support your body, then the large external muscles might be able to relax over that framework, like clothes draped over a hanger. Scan through your body. If your bones are supporting you, you might be able to relax your legs, unclench your bottom, let go of your belly, soften your lower back, drop your shoulders or lengthen the back of your neck. What muscles are working too hard, just to keep you upright? When you perform simple tasks, like standing, with economy of effort, you free yourself to focus on other things. You feel more “able.”

If you’re standing on your bones and your feet are fully in contact with the ground, your whole body is able to relax downward onto the ground. This enables you to breathe deeply. Your voice is more likely to engage with your whole body. You begin to feel you are speaking with your whole being. The effect is often immediate and noticeable. Of course, making that an everyday experience, something that helps you, even under pressure, takes some practice.

You can practice grounding whenever it crosses your mind: brushing your teeth, waiting in line, standing in the office talking to colleagues. At any moment, you can ask yourself, “What is my connection to the ground, right now? Am I aware of the ground supporting me at this moment?” Then continue doing whatever you were doing, noticing what difference it makes. It quickly becomes a feeling you wouldn’t want to live without.

You may not control what life or work throws at you, but you can access your unique strengths, be fully available and connect with maximum impact, by developing a secure foundation for strong presence and peak performance.

Presentation Power: Cultivating a Commanding Presence

August 16th, 2010

I have long believed the whole point of presentation is to make a connection. Whether you are speaking to persuade, to inform, to sell or to entertain, if you fail to connect with your listeners you’re not effective. To make that connection you must be fully engaged and available. You must be open. Tension, bad habits, nervousness, lack of technique—all these factors tend to close doors right at the moment you need to be opening doors. My years of coaching experience have proven there are two crucial elements to powerful speech: grounding and breathing.

Grounding simply involves your connection to the ground and your awareness of being supported by the ground. With this awareness, your body tends to relax down onto the ground and your breath drops deeper into your body. Your voice sounds lower and you feel as though you are speaking with your whole being. It is one of the simplest things to practice and has a profound effect on your communication. Grounding alone can make you look relaxed, sound strong and feel confident as a speaker.

Breathing deeply is the closest thing to a silver bullet in a public speaker’s arsenal. There is almost no end to the list of things that improve if you learn to breathe well, and most common problems presented by my clients are in some way connected to breathing. The in-breath connects you to your message and makes you expressive The out-breath provides power lending impact to what you say. The ability to open yourself easily and fully as you inhale and to spend breath generously as you speak out will transform your performance.

Whenever I evaluate a speaker, the first two questions I ask myself are, “Is she grounded,” and, “Is she breathing?” If those two things aren’t happening, anything else I might suggest will be superficial detail. When those two things are happening, most other desired elements appear effortlessly.

Great presentation isn’t just about what we’re thinking. It’s about how we’re feeling. The openness I mentioned earlier is, especially, an ability to open downward. That cultivates depth at all levels of our performance, and that state of being lends substance and power to our presentations. We don’t have to make it happen; it will be there, spontaneous, authentic and effective.