Bess Gallanis is the founder of Speaking with Power and Persuasion, an executive communications consulting firm based in Chicago. She is a communication coach, speaker, journalist, a student of yoga and insight meditation and the author of Yoga Chick (Warner Books, 2006). For more than 25 years, public and private company CEOs, senior executives, portfolio managers, and financial advisors have sought out Bess to help them develop their leadership voice and to make an impact through skillful communications. She prepares clients for high stakes presentations, media interviews, and sensitive conversations. Bess draws from the universal wisdom of yoga and insight meditation as a model for Presentation Yoga, which emphasizes leadership from within, personal authenticity, and storytelling.
In this conversation, Bess discusses the concepts of Presentation Yoga.
Geetesh: What is Presentation Yoga and how can it help everyday presenters be better-equipped delivering presentations?
Bess: Effective presentations are the product of a combination of skills. Presentation Yoga is a set of exercises to help presenters stay centered under pressure, manage their physical energy, and project their authentic, best selves.
These also are the skills of great storytellers. The minute you open your mouth to speak, the audience is thinking: “So what? Who cares? What’s in it for me?” Effective presenters get ahead of these questions by telling stories. Stories can touch people in their hearts, stir their emotions, stimulate them to question their beliefs and motivate change.
Presentation Yoga begins with exercises in mindfulness, which is the practice of being focused on and present in your experience. Effective speakers use this skill to relive the experience of the story they are telling. As a result, they project a genuine and powerful emotional energy that resonates with their audience at a physical level. This is authenticity. We can use a dictionary to define authenticity, but most people trust that they know it when they feel it.
Meditation, breathing and stretching exercises help reduce stress and manage energy. The breathing exercises also help to develop breath control and vocal vitality. Vocal energy takes your audience from passive listeners to actively experiencing your message.
As a reflective practice, yoga cultivates listening to – and challenging — your inner voice. Every presenter at some time or another has heard that voice, the one that screams about performance anxiety and fear of failure. Challenging your insecurities and trusting your gut instincts are powerful tools to use in scripting a new mental talk track. Presentation Yoga includes confidence-boosting visualization and mantra exercises.
Geetesh: How and when did you discover and practice the relations between how yoga principles can benefit presenters – tell us more.
Bess: After a few years of serious study, yoga, and meditation practice with master teachers like Deepak Chopra and Thich Nhat Hahn, I began to connect the dots between my personal and professional worlds. Yoga and insight meditation are a set of practices that emphasize mindfulness and self-inquiry as the primary tools of self-mastery. If you are not the leader of your inner world, you won’t be much of a leader in the external world.
Like the strands of a braid, leadership and communication skills are integrally linked. As leadership guru Warren Bennis says, “Leaders are driven to express themselves.”
If you study powerful presenters and watch how they connect with their audience – whether it’s around a conference room table or from a stage — you can see that they are communicating from all three levels of consciousness: body, mind, and spirit. This is where yoga provides a model for presentation performance. I don’t mean ‘acting’ performance, but rather the impact a great presenter makes on the audience.
It did not take long before I began to develop business tools based on yoga to help my clients expand their presentation skills to meet the leadership demands they faced.
My challenge was to develop tools that were accessible, particularly to people who were not familiar with Eastern wisdom technologies. Though the tools are different, the concept of self-management and authenticity translates across cultures. My clients have been very receptive to the centering, meditation, breathing and visualization techniques in Presentation Yoga. One of my clients, a middle-aged, public company CEO, practiced yoga to prepare for a challenging presentation to investors.
Storytelling is the most difficult skill for business people to get comfortable with. We’re conditioned to trust data as infallible and to mistrust our own judgment. Presentation Yoga helps the most hardened data cruncher bridge the divide from communicating to connecting.