Zoom Presentation Skills 2

Centered, Grounded and Wide

And it all went incredibly smoothly”

‘Green light’ days are easy for the presenter but, actually, they are few and far between. We can’t rely on green lights. Red light days – the presence of obstacles and distractions – are par for the course. The last 2 years, 2020 and 2021, have been red light years packed utterly full of unimagined obstacles and difficulties.

What to do? How can we transform anxiety into excitement and obstacles into resources? 

An Introduction to Alive Relaxation – Postural Landmarks

‘Personal presence’ depends on the practice of surprisingly simple yet fundamental skills. The exercises that follow are similar to those that an actor would use to prepare voice and body for going on stage.

In this section, you will be exploring the physiology of confidence by visiting a number of physical landmarks on your own body:

  • Your centre of gravity
  • Your feet and how your body weight drops through them into the ground.
  • Your shoulders and field of vision

Take a little time to familiarise yourself with these physical landmarks of confidence and you will find it increasingly easy to practise them. Waiting in line – in shops, at traffic lights, at cash machines – instead of getting bored or frustrated, you will now be able to practise and reinforce your new strategies.The more you practise them the more frequently you will experience green light performance on red light days.

The Gravity Line

A performer prepares…

“I’m nicely centred

I’m beautifully grounded

My shoulders are wide and open

My vision is wide and receptive.”

Friend – “Are you feeling quite alright?”

Performer- “Yes. Why do you ask?”

Friend  – “Talking out loud to an empty room isn’t normal!”

Performer  – “All the best people talk to themselves!”

Friend  – “Ha ha, very funny. Not.” 

Performer  – “Ah, okay. Fair enough. I’m preparing myself for this afternoon’s presentation using my centering ‘mantra’.”

Friend  – “You really mumble all that centering stuff on stage before you speak?”

Performer  – “Don’t be daft! I do it now so that I’m confident before I step on stage! Once you’ve got the hang of it you can contract the mantra to just a single, silent, word…

“Centred”

“Grounded”

“Wide”

Performer – “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?”

Friend – “Groan!”

Confident performance begins well before you stand on the stage. Muscle mass accounts for 35-45 per cent of the total weight of your body. Every cell in your brain connects directly or indirectly to muscle. Centring profoundly influences this mind-body system, allowing you to transform performance anxiety into performance excitement.

How should you go about it? The following series of 2 minute exercises will, with a little practice, get you to the 1 minute ‘mantra’. The 20 second mantra will get you to the single 5 second, silent trigger word. Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

‘…a moment of consciousness, however you achieve it, lasts. It has an effect on one’s habitual functioning for much longer than the duration of the moment. Rather like the sound of a bell. You strike a bell and it goes on reverberating long after it has been struck.’

Adam Nott, Senior teacher of the Alexander Technique

The 2 Minute Centering Exercise

If possible, do the following exercise while standing.

1. Make sure that your body weight is reasonably well balanced between your left and right feet. 

     If you are sitting, distribute your weight evenly between left and right buttocks. Place your feet flat on the floor with the weight evenly distributed – as in standing.

2. Find your own centre of gravity by placing one hand halfway between your navel and your pubic bone. Place your other hand over the corresponding area of your back. The area between your two hands corresponds to your centre of gravity. Pat this section of your body two or three times with your hands, then place your hands back to your sides.

3. Now turn your attention to what is going on around you. Use your eyes to notice three things – familiar or unfamiliar. And now listen – identify three different sounds.

4. Gently switch between concentrating on your centre of gravity and paying attention to your surroundings, while breathing gently through your nose.

5. Say “Keep centre of gravity”, Imagine that your voice is emanating from this centre. Repeat the same phrase internally in your mind’s ear.

Practise this centering exercise regularly. Whenever you feel the need to become more centred, place your hands over your centre and repeat the phrase “Keep centre of gravity”  to yourself. This will help you to reach a centred state.

The 2 Minute Grounding Exercise

Good weight distribution over the soles of the feet is associated with improved postural activation. Good postural activation, in turn, is associated with increasing calmness and greater behaviour assurance. So… what are we waiting for? It’s as easy as a walk on the beach!

Footprints in the sand…

  1. Imagine that you are standing with bare feet on warm, slightly damp sand. Imagine the shape of your footprint in the sand — the roundness of the heels, the outside edge of each foot as it runs up to the little toe, the balls of the feet and the toes. There is virtually no indentation from the inside of the foot where the arch is.
  2. You are going to leave two perfect footprints in the sand by ensuring that your body weight is well distributed. Do this by gently swaying your weight from left to right and then from front to back with small subtle movements.
  3. As you continue making these left/right and front/back adjustments allow your knees to be soft and responsive to the movements.

  4. Now focus your attention on your centre, then on the world around you.
  5. Gently shuffle your attention between your footprints, your centre and the world around you. Build up a sense of the unity of these interconnected parts.

Practise this centering exercise regularly.Distribute your weight repeat the phrase “Keep well grounded”  to yourself. 

The 2 Minute Widening Exercise

Extend a strong, positive feeling to the world around – even sometimes when you really don’t feel like it!

Our English word ‘anxiety’ has its roots in Latin and ancient Greek. Some of the meanings refer to ‘narrowing’ and even ‘choking’. But let’s not do that.  Life, after all, is too short. Let us, instead, learn to deliberately and consciously expand and contract our personal presence. Like a flexible second skin. Smaller for one to one communication. Medium for the meeting room. Really big for the conference hall. And when we travel home on busy public transport it’s probably a good idea to adopt a comfortably insulating little cocoon.

More confident, experienced presenters have an ability to encompass the whole audience with one broad, spacious sweep of their eyes. They can also make soft and personal eye contact with individual members of the audience. The first quality, the broad visual sweep, helps to bring the presenter to his or her full stature and enhances the impression of a larger than life presence. The second quality lends the presenter a feeling of approachability with all its associated qualities.

The 2 Minute Widening Exercise

1. Start by remembering your centre and your footprints. 

2. Link the fingertips of your left and right hands in front of your centre — thumb to thumb, index to index. Smoothly raise your linked fingers until they come to rest, at arm’s length, in front of your face.

3. Continue looking straight ahead and move your hands out to your sides until they just start to disappear from the edges of your vision. Move your hands in and out of the edges of your vision a few times. See the illustration of Luciano Pavarotti below!

4. Bring your hands to rest so that they are slightly inside your field of peripheral vision. Your arms will be almost fully extended, as if you were preparing to give someone a big hug. Be aware of the big hemisphere of your vision in front, to the left and right, above and below.

5. Imagine you have an audience before you. Give them a big hug! 

5. Maintain this sense of your hemisphere of vision as you gently bring your arms down to rest at your sides. Be aware of just how much you can see in your peripheral vision.

Case Study – Luciano Pavarotti


Luciano Pavarotti was a twentieth century operatic superstar – a real stadium filler. When he sang in public he would use certain ‘tricks’ that made him feel more secure. Pavarotti spoke about his use of a handkerchief on stage:

‘Everybody knows about my white handkerchief, which I used in my first concert in Missouri in 1973, in case I started to perspire. I find that I feel much better if I have it out there with me. It has a function but it’s also for good luck’.

If you are too young to remember Luciano Pavarotti, do a YouTube search to get a sense of his larger than life presence.

What About Zoom?

Zoom is the most wonderful tool and we have much to be grateful to this platform for keeping us connected with colleagues and loved ones during the pandemic years. But, when it comes to presentation skills, it so often seems to encourage the exact opposite of what I’ve been promoting above…

Hunched sitting posture, narrowed shoulders, restricted vision and, inevitably, a smaller than life performance.

Try this:

Go into your Zoom account and use the ‘record meeting’ function. Go through your centering, grounding and widening exercise. And then deliver a mini-presentation or recite a bit of poetry or prose. In other words – start to make an association between your performance postural landmarks and the computer and the Zoom platform.

Ding-a-ling! Ivan Pavlov to the rescue again.

(Google it if you’re confused.)

Conclusion

The world pandemic from which we are now beginning to emerge has given us all a painful and unforgettable lesson in the power of uncertainty and in the need for continuing flexibility, resourcefulness and adaptibility.  

Successful performing artists become incredibly adept at consciously developing a sense of inner security and confidence that persists regardless of external circumstances. Or, as the veteran British comedian Bob Monkhouse put it:

‘And the moral is: if you’re a superstitious person and derive comfort from some lucky mascot, keep it with you — don’t depend on it so much that its loss will weaken your self assurance. There’s only one charm you should rely on – your own.’

If you want a lifetime of employability and more, then make sure that your lucky charm lives with you by repeating the 2 minute centering, grounding and widening exercises several times. After a short while you will run them together into the 1 minute ‘mantra’:

“I’m nicely centred

I’m beautifully grounded

My shoulders are wide and open

My vision is wide and receptive.”

Or the single word silent reminder:

“Centred”

“Grounded”

“Wide”

Happy presenting!

“Ding” 

“Dong!”

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