How to Relax While Speaking or Presenting: A Body-Based Solution

The Alexander Technique, taught by Jeremy Cohn, can improve the performance of any speaker.

The Alexander Technique, taught by Jeremy Cohn, can improve the performance of any speaker.

Body language is extremely important to public speaking. It helps to reinforce not only your expertise, but to back up everything you say to an audience. If your body language does not convey the themes you are speaking about (e.g., integrity, solidity, prosperity, etc.) everything you say will lack full weight. 

More importantly, our body language conveys to ourselves who we are and what we have to give. 

Example: A 42-year-old businessperson, Michelle, has worked very hard to be in a position to transition from middle to senior management at an established company. She feels very confident working with her team but has issues whenever she has to meet with a with a group that includes a Vice President.

Her pulse races, she gets sweaty, she has trouble speaking with her normal eloquence, and her voice reflects her nerves. The VP is patient but is slightly puzzled how Michelle - a star employee - presents herself. 

Michelle tries to calm her mind so she can present better, but it never seems to work. The question Michelle needs to ask herself is: “Can I calm my body?”

In her wish to present her best face for the VP, she is taking on what she thinks of as “confident” body-language: chest out, shoulders back, chin up.

What she doesn’t know is that in taking this stereotypical dominant posture, she is actually conveying her unease to both herself and the people to whom she is speaking. 

On a physiological level, she is putting strain through her chest, shoulders, back, and neck while cutting off air from dropping deeply into her lungs—a defensive stance. By assuming this posture, she essentially tells her body there is a threat it needs to respond to. It cues her into a ‘fight or flight’ response—as a result her pulse rises and she begins sweating.

This rush of adrenaline turns off her ability to think calmly and causes her thoughts to become scattered. She loses her normally calm and collected poise. 

The VP sees all of the effort Michelle puts into her presentation, and she appreciates how much Michelle clearly cares about what she does. However, excessive effort undercuts expertise: truly confident people are at ease with themselves, they don’t have to demonstrate their confidence. They also see this effort has come into Michelle’s face and voice, sending signals that unconsciously turn off the VP from believing in her capability and leadership. 

“The question Michelle needs to ask herself is: ‘Can I calm my body?’”

Michelle leaves feeling discouraged, and vows to try harder next time. However, trying harder is only likely to feed into the pattern of tension that is already harming her. 

What should she do instead? Instead of trying to act confident, she should try to relax her body so she can be confident.

She feels her feet in contact with the floor. This immediately relaxes her as she doesn’t have to work as hard to hold herself up. She notices that she wants to push her chest out and allows it to let go, further sending her weigh through to the ground and freeing up her lungs to breathe deeply. She doesn’t allow herself to fully collapse, but instead finds the balance between effort and release.

She neither leans forward pushing into the VP’s space nor leans backwards shrinking away from it. Immediately, she feels more confident and is able to connect to the VP and the entire audience with surprising ease.

The VP is amazed at the transformation she sees in Michelle between her last meeting and this one. Now Michelle is conveying her full power and expertise. She is quickly picked for a promotion the next time it comes up.

It is important to look into what your body is conveying the next time you have to speak in public—not only to your audience but to yourself. If you can have ease in your body, you will be amazed at how you will feel your expertise bubble to the surface.

And once that happens, you won’t have to worry about what your body is doing or how you are affecting your audience—you will have the experience of standing in your power and giving generously at the peak of your personal performance. And the more success you have at this, the easier it will come. 

 

Jeremy Cohn is an expert in teaching people to consciously unclench their bodies when under stress. He provides body-based solutions to high-level performers throughout the Chicagoland area through his company Freedom In Motion Alexander Technique. He has worked with Olympic-level athletes, Grammy Award ® winning vocalists, and Jeff Award® winning actors as well as business professionals at all levels. Learn more at FreedominmotionAT.