Want to be a clear-headed and dynamic presenter? Here's how to be both relaxed and sharp every time you speak.
You've heard of muscle memory, haven't you? It means remembering a physical state, not with your mind, but with your muscles themselves.
There are many ways we need to "get out of our heads" when it comes to public speaking and enlist nonverbal communication skills, and muscle memory is one of them.
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Muscle Memory and Speech Anxiety
Inhabiting your body (i.e., becoming aware of your physical self rather than analyzing each moment to death intellectually), can also come in handy during a presentation. This is especially true when you’re facing a tight moment physically during a speech.
In stressful moments when nervousness causes you to tighten up, muscle memory can summon up a remembered state of relaxation. That will help you stay flexible and in control. With sufficient practice, you’ll be able to banish at will the “freezing” effect of speaking anxiety.
The following activity is another way to help keep you relaxed yet sharp, by (1) banishing the tightness and rigidity that may be overtaking you, and (2) clearing away your mental focus on your uncomfortable state, allowing you to get back to your message and listeners.
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The exercise is called “Mini-Vacation.” It’s not only the best-value getaway you’ll ever find, but it can also leave you refreshed and "clean" to enjoy your upcoming speaking moment. And here's a third benefit: it will help increase your sensory awareness. That physical state will leave you much better prepared to be in the moment—and in literally the right place—for your speech.
The Mini-Vacation Exercise
- Lie on your back, with your eyes closed and arms and feet uncrossed at your sides.
- "Follow your breath." Allow your body to relish each life-giving, delicious breath. Give yourself over to your breathing. Let it fill your consciousness.
- Focus your awareness on the present time and place: the here-and-now. Think about where you are. Listen to the sounds around you. Smell the air in this room. Become aware of the floor underneath you and the sensation of the air on your skin. Does this place have any taste associated with it? If you opened your eyes, what would you see? (You’re using all five of your senses, of course, as you experience this time and place.) For a few minutes, fill yourself completely. Now, imagine that the reality of this place and time is dissolving, melting away into nothingness.
- In its place, you find yourself traveling to a favorite location—someplace you love to go. This place is now assembling in your consciousness. It might be a beach on a warm summer day; a field in springtime; a hammock outdoors in the early autumn; or a cozy fire in a ski lodge at the end of a day on the slopes. Perhaps you’re lying in a rowboat bobbing gently at the dock. Wherever you are, this is your new reality, and you’re relaxing there.
- Open yourself up completely to this special place. Experience it sensually, with all of your senses as you did in the here-and-now. What sounds are you hearing? Seagulls? Waves slapping at the bottom of the boat? Bees buzzing? A crackling fire? Can you feel that breeze on your face as you lie in the field in the sun, or the warmth of the fire at the ski lodge? Are there any smells noticeable in this place? If you were to open your eyes, what would you see? Do you taste anything—the salty air at the beach or the smoky air in front of the fire? Allow your senses to feed you the entirety of this world that you’ve recreated.
- Spend the next 10-15 minutes enjoying this place. Take it all in deeply. Then slowly let it too begin to dissolve in your consciousness. In its place, bring back the present time and space where you’re doing this exercise. Keep the level of deep relaxation and sensory input you achieved in your special place. The present time and place is the same as before, except now you’re experiencing it much more fully. Let it flood you.
- When you’re ready, open your eyes. While staying completely relaxed, sit up slowly (no need to rush). Relish the sensations of the here and now you’re still bathing in.
- Now take this feeling with you as you go about your tasks for the rest of the day. Keep the relaxation of your “mini-vacation” not only in your mind, but also in all of your senses and in your physical response to the world around you. You're relaxed yet sharp. Away you go!
The above article is excerpted from my book, Fearless Speaking, chosen as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time," Click here or below to get your copy!
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. Contact Gary here.