How Teaching Yoga Has Helped Me Become A Better Public Speaker
I was recently in a work training that culminated in a group presentation, where we presented a solution to a fictional client. Leading up to the presentation, I was nervous. We were the last group to present, and I had spent the entire afternoon going over the points I wanted to cover. My section was pretty technical, so I wanted to be accurate, succinct, and impactful, without coming off too rehearsed.
Public speaking was never something I did lots of growing up. I didn’t raise my hand to ask questions in class; I didn’t volunteer to share my opinions often; I didn’t put myself in leadership positions that would require addressing a group of people. I wouldn’t consider myself that shy of a person, but I’m also not one to put myself in the spotlight.
Then, ironically, I decided to become a yoga teacher. I thrust myself in a position of sitting in front of a class multiple times a week, of sharing my knowledge to a group of people, and of leading people with my words – definitely not the comfiest of comfort zones for me. At first, teaching yoga gave me all of the same feelings that public speaking did: stressing to remember the poses, heart beating out of my chest, body temperature rising. My discomfort was palpable. One of the first pieces of feedback I received was that my teaching was too robotic. Anyone sitting through my class could tell I was not aware of the class in front of me. My mind was occupied, just struggling to remember my sequence, and I was being far too rigid.
But I kept showing up; I kept teaching. Through my teaching, I became more and more comfortable with speaking to a large group. I learned to feed off the energy of the students and cater my class to the people in the room. I knew what I was doing! I knew what was physically safe for the body and what cues to give to transition through poses. I’ve studied with incredible teachers and I just had to trust myself. It’s no easy feat to read the non-verbal cues of my students and offer to them what their spirits needed. In order to do this, I had to become fully present in my teaching. Being fully present allowed me to respond to feedback from student and focus on the students in the room. Just as if I were having a conversation with them. When I’m in the moment, there are no nerves about missing a pose in my sequence or forgetting to practice the other side. I give my students what I have to offer, and in return, they respond with their body language.
Three things I keep in mind when I’m teaching yoga:
1. The attitude that you enter the room with is the attitude you’ll teach with. Give yourself plenty of time to get there and take time to ground yourself. Maybe a little meditation or listening to a song you love.
2. Imagine yourself speaking to someone one-on-one. Make eye contact with each person and imagine speaking to them individually.
3. Remember that your words are guiding people on a journey. Use words with intention and purpose.
While each of these are my steps to teach yoga, they are directly applicable to any public speaking. I applied these steps to my group presentation. Though my heart was beating a million miles a minute, I took a moment before I spoke to find my grounding; I scanned the room slowly, to make eye contact with each person; I projected my voice as if I were speaking into someone’s soul. After my group presented our topic during the training, the observers in the class gave me feedback that I sounded confident and my vocal
inflection was persuasive and appropriate for the topic. Everyone in the class voted on the best presentation, and my group won!
When people ask me where I see myself in 10 years, the only thing I know if that I want to be able to share my experiences with others. As I find my voice in the world, I keep coming back to the teachings of yoga.