By Millie Baker
A month before my first university class presentation I started to get nervous. The subject was the text of Das Rheingold from Wagner’s Ring (I hated it), and thinking that being well-prepared might help me calm down, I began reading everything on it I could find.
About two weeks before the talk the nerves intensified and I started researching even more fervently. I read the rest of the Ring Cycle (3 other books). I read commentaries on the commentaries of the text. I wrote pages upon pages of notes about every aspect of the piece. It can fairly be said that by the end of all this I was a) over-qualified for the 15 min. intro talk and b) still nervous as hell.
On the day, I trembled my way through the presentation, hating every excruciating second of it, and I’m pretty sure the experience for the audience was just as painful.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap, as I did, of prioritizing the doing of public speaking. We over-prepare, we work hard to persuade, we spend too much time asking ‘how should I stand, sit, look?’.
We obsess about whether we’ll be good, professional, impressive enough, we spend hours tweaking minute details of the text, the slides, or our choice of shoes. We focus on these activities as if our life would depend on them.
But what actually makes a good public speaker? Once you have something to say, what is the magic ingredient that will make your talk compelling? It’s you, of course. Your unique self is the thing that will attract and hold the attention of your listeners, whoever you are and however you be. But this requires that, at the right time, you let go of the doing and relax into the being of public speaking.
Relax into Being
Relaxing into the being of speaking means pausing, breathing, and trusting in the value of your message. It means putting your attention on the connection between yourself and the audience. It means sensing into your body and giving it the support it needs to be relaxed and alert – feeling your feet on the floor, gently acknowledging any tension, discomfort or vulnerability, and allowing your strength and resources to come through.
When you let go into the being of speaking, allowing yourself to be seen by an audience becomes the most enjoyable, energizing and exciting thing imaginable. You can relax and open as your unique self and be witnessed. In this place, firmly grounded in your essence, you are unshakable.
And when a speaker is connected in this way, they become like a magnet for their audience’s attention. It’s like water clustering around a dust particle to form a raindrop – the audience can’t help but be attracted and engage with your message.
Feeling a group’s attention come together in this way is an awesome experience – and it’s open to anyone who is willing to step forwards as themselves rather than who they think they should be.
So the next time you stand up to speak, rather than fretting about the content:
– Pause, allow a moment of silence, and breathe gently into your belly
– Feel your feet and how the ground is supporting you
– Allow yourself to connect with your audience, one person at a time
– Keep your attention on the connection and allow the content to take care of itself
– Relax into the being of speaking, and see your impact ripple through the audience like a raindrop hitting the surface of the water.
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