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4 Reasons why Body Awareness is important for Public Speaking

Beginning of August I attended two great workshops at the Impulstanz Festival in Vienna. Feldenkrais Method with Sascha Krausneker and Presence and Movement with Nicole Peisl. It was an intense weekend, with 9 amazing hours daily filled with exercises that helped me pay attention to my spine, my breathing, the way I am standing, moving in space, what impulse leads to which movement... I won't go too much into the details - you just had to be there ;) But I felt like my whole body was aligned and I could breathe freely.

Since body awareness can really help you in dealing with stress linked to public speaking, I have put together 4 tips on how you can be more aware of your body. But first let me explain to you, why being present in and conscious of your body can help you become a better public speaker.

Your body can (and will) take you by surprise
Preparing a speech or a presentation is usually a mental process. It all happens in our heads. We think about the best things to say, we wonder about what questions our audience will most likely ask. We exchange e-mails on content, structure and speaking time. We hope to have it all figured out by the day of our presentation, we sit in front of our computer and tweak at the slides of our PowerPoint presentation. Maybe – if we have had the time - we have written the most important points on cards or highlighted points on the printed out transcript of our speech. We think it's all under control... theoretically.

Then the day of our presentation comes and all of a sudden there are all these signals our body is sending that we are not used to. We have a hard time sleeping the night before, in the morning our heart beats like crazy, we cannot eat, we cannot breathe properly. The moment we have to step out in front of our audience, it just gets worse. Our mouth is dry, our knees are shaking, we are afraid to reach for the glass of water, because our hand is shaking so hard. And not only are we surprised (or even shocked) by the way we are feeling, we are afraid it shows and our confident personality will be compromised and people will judge us (… which stresses us out even more!).

Here are five ways you can use body awareness to stop the craziness that comes with stage fright and public speaking.
  1. Be conscious of your spine. I had never visualised my spine until the workshop with Nicole. Yes I had learnt and taught people to stand up straight and breathe into their abdomen, but I had always thought of this more in terms of a muscular movement. As in “Pull down your back muscles and use your abs to breathe in and out”, but focusing on my spine and how it is aligned helped me to “naturally” put myself in a better position for my back and the deep breathing just came with it automatically, without focusing on my breath.
    → Action:
    Before your next presentation, take time to visualize your spine – and adjust your posture to give it it's optimal shape.

  2. Be conscious of how you are standing. We started the Feldenkrais sessions with just standing up straight and closing our eyes. Paying attention to the way we were standing. Were our feet towards one direction or the other? Were our hips pointing forward, left or right? Were our shoulders pointing in any particular direction? Was our head pointing or tilted to one side or the other? It is amazing in how many different directions one's body could point while we were claiming to just simply be standing up straight! By taking the time to notice how I was standing, I had the chance to listen to my body and adjust my posture so I could stand comfortably.
    → Action:
    Before your next presentation, stand up straight, close your eyes. Notice how you are standing - then move your shoulders and hips slightly left and right, find a position that feels comfortable.

  3. Be present in your body – be present for your audience. When we are afraid of public speaking, we might feel the urge to hide, because it would be so much easier than standing in front of all these people with their eyes all expectantly directed at us. So obviously we cannot hide physically, if we have agreed to hold this speech, but it is possible that we are somehow caught up mentally in our strong wish to be somewhere else. This translates to your body. Imagine a dancer or an actor on stage being mentally somewhere else? Do you think he or she could still give their best performance and grab your attention? Would you be interested to watch? Probably not. When you are standing in front of an audience, it is the same thing. If you are not present in your body and giving your work 100% of your attention and energy it needs - people will be less interested, pay less attention to you (classical e-mail checking on phone will start) and make you feel insecure.
    → Action:
    Next time before you give a speech or a presentation - close your eyes and mentally go through your body, consciously paying attention to your head, shoulders, arms, belly, back, hips, legs and feet. Feel your PRESENCE.

  4. Be conscious of the sound of your voice. Your voice is also part of your body. And it is also something that can take you by surprise on the day of your presentation. I always urge my clients to practise their presentation or speech out loud before DAY X. Our brain gets used to the sound and content of our presentation and will be more relaxed the day you actually articulate those words in front of an audience. When you don't do this beforehand, you will be taken by surprise by the sound of your voice. Because obviously you will have imagined it to sound completely different.
    → Action: Practise what you are going to say out loud and on the day of your presentation – warm up your voice. You can do this by breathing in and sighing several times and moving your jaw around. You can also sing a little tune in the car or while preparing breakfast. Or you can say the opening line of your presentation several times, so you are even more familiar and comfortable with it that day.
I hope these tips were useful. If you would like to get more tips like these or tried them out, please let me know. You can also subscribe to my newsletter, like my facebook page or read my other blog posts on tips about voice training and feeling confident as a public speaker. You can even join one of my workshops or sign up for individual coaching. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sonja Nannan




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