Being a comfortable and confident public speaker is a key leadership skill. Here are two relaxation techniques for improved focus and presence.
Let's talk about relaxation and focus in public speaking for leadership.
You and I know that speeches, presentations, keynotes, media appearances, and other forms of speaking for leadership can be nerve-wracking. A high-profile appearance has a flip side, of course: optimum visibility and the chance to contribute something of real value to a wide audience. Speeches have changed the lives of individuals and the course of nations.
But what about the pesky issues of anxiety, self-consciousness, and lack of focus under stress?
For audiences to have complete confidence in what you say, you need to be totally focused. Speakers who are comfortable in their skin not only command attention—they’re inspirational. Download my theater-inspired cheat sheet for presenting with style and substance, “10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking.”
How to Stay Relaxed and Focused in Public Speaking and Presentations
Coming across as a comfortable yet directed public speaker is a key component of leadership. When all eyes are upon you, you need to stay flexible, look confident and in control, and be able to think on your feet.
So having some pre-speech tools to get you to that level is essential. Below are two exercises for maximum relaxation and focus. The first technique takes about 20 minutes, and creates deep relaxation. The second exercise, which you can use just before you speak, takes just 5 minutes and will provide the level of concentration you’re looking for. Both exercises will also help you achieve diaphragmatic breathing for effective public speaking.
You’ll find these exercises and many more in my book for developing confidence and stage presence for public speaking, Fearless Speaking.
Exercise 1: Progressive Relaxation
- Lie on your back on a firm surface, with eyes closed and arms and feet uncrossed.
- Begin by following your breath: Become aware of the respiration cycle. “Watch” your breath as it enters your body and flows through you, nourishing every cell. Take your time.
- Now, as you continue to breathe easily, focus your awareness on the top of your head. Feel any tension there melting away. There’s a pleasantly heavy sensation like warm lava. It covers your scalp and slowly starts moving down to your forehead.
- Anywhere the lava touches becomes instantly relaxed, in a melting away of tension. The feeling now covers your forehead and continues down to your eyes. If you’re keeping any tension in your eyes, it becomes liquid and disappears.
- Allow the warm melting-lava feeling to slowly proceed down your body. With each place it reaches, tightness melts away. Don’t DO anything—just let it happen.
- Once you're completely relaxed, note this state in your muscle memory. When you start to feel tension from now on, come back to this sensation of total relaxation.
- Now place your hand on your abdomen where it rises and falls with each breath. Breathe gently and deeply, feeling the rise and fall of the belly. This is diaphragmatic breathing.
If you'd like a gentle voice-and-music audio clip to help you with this exercise, take a look at my .mp3 file, "Time to Relax."
Exercise 2: Focused Relaxation
- Find a quiet solitary place. Your office, an empty conference room, even a bathroom stall will do. Sit comfortably, with feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes.
- “Listen” to your breath for the first minute. Feel the breath as it enters your body, flows into your lungs, and brings life-giving oxygen to every part of you.
- Now, focus your awareness on a visual image in your mind. Make it a simple colored shape: a yellow circle, a blue triangle, a green square, etc.
- See that object in your mind’s eye—color and shape—as clearly as you can. This usually takes considerable concentration and practice.
- As you do so, images, thoughts, feelings, and even sounds may rise into your consciousness. Don’t focus on them, but also don’t try to force them away. Simply notice them, and “let them continue on their way.” Bring your focus back to your colored shape.
- Your breathing will slow and deepen as you enter a semi-meditative frame of mind. As it does, you’ll achieve a calmer yet concentrated state: one of “focused relaxation.” Open your eyes. Notice what this more relaxed-yet-focused state feels like so you can recreate it at will.
You've just done something important: you've reached a state of both greater calm and sharper focus. While doing that, you've also "taught" yourself not to listen to intrusive self-talk. That's a key skill if you suffer anxiety while speaking. But even if you're not a nervous performer, you're discovering the leadership skill of being a more controlled and comfortable speaker.
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