I took a walk today at Lake Lagunitas, one of my favorite Marin County hiking spots. This lake is part of the Marin Municipal Water District and supplies good old tap water to our entire county. It is a beautiful spot—a hidden jewel of raw wilderness just a short drive from the bustling small towns of Marin and the big city of San Francisco.
I hiked up my usual route and climbed the steep path alongside the water culvert to the top of the hill and the reservoir. I was completely alone, except for one large Great Blue Heron perched on a log at the edge of the lake. The elegant bird stood on one leg, poised, erect and perfectly still. How could this stillness create such a powerful and captivating presence?
It struck me that a similar phenomenon occurs in the opening moments of any presentation. My clients often tell me that these moments are challenging for them because that’s when they feel the most nervous. They want to feel strong and confident at the beginning so they can capture attention and engage with the group. But instead they feel jittery and their bodies twitch and fidget. So I work with them to prepare for that uncomfortable opening moment. And one of the things I encourage them do is stand, like the Great Blue Heron, perfectly still!
Here are a few tips to help you create powerful presence when you open any presentation:
Stand up and stand still
When you first step into the spotlight, even if it’s at an informal meeting, take the time for stillness. Many people believe that unrelenting physical movement and lots of fast talk creates energy and pleases a crowd. And sometimes it does. But stillness, as witnessed with the Great Blue Heron, has incredible power.
When you stand still for a few seconds, it gives your audience a chance to stop what they’re doing and focus solely on you. Because they don’t know what you are about to do or say, you raise expectations and create suspense. Stillness commands attention. And when you are ready to begin your talk they will be ready to listen.
Take a deeper breath than usual
It is no secret that deep breathing calms your nervous system and triggers your body to relax. When your breath moves freely it shapes your expression and makes you appear more confident and in control. It’s good to take several full breaths before you step up to speak, but be sure to take one deep one during your moment of stillness as well.
You’ve heard me say this before: You can smile in a second and that smile sets the tone of your entire presentation. When people feel that you are relaxed, they too become relaxed and that allows them the freedom to trust you and get involved. Your smile tells your audience that you are comfortable and confident, so they can be too.
So the next time you’re about to stand up to present, remember the Great Blue Heron. A little stillness at the onset can give your presentation the power it needs to be a soaring success.