Presentation Skills and The Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique is more than just a way to improve your posture; it can revolutionise your communication skills, enhance your sense of confidence and improve your function in all that you do.
But what is the Alexander Technique?
Created by F.M.Alexander, a stage actor with a perpetually strained throat, the Alexander Technique comprises a series of concepts and instructions, known as ‘directions’, which are designed to act as sign posts showing the way to optimum function for the mind and body.
The theory being that as babies and young children we function with ease and perfect poise, but as we age, as a result of life’s psychological buffetings, we develop unhelpful physical habits without even noticing. This throws our internal compass, or kinaesthetic awareness, out of kilter, so we can’t tell that we’re standing poorly or not breathing freely or that we hold huge tension in our shoulders.
The technique has found its way into performance training for actors, dancers and musicians, as well as being recognised as a viable and evidentially substantiated alternative health treatment for stress, back ache and other common ailments.
So far, so dull...
...so how can it help us present and communicate?
Firstly, the Alexander Technique is process focussed: the end result is not necessarily as important as the way you get there. Put another way, if you pay attention to the proper process the desired end result will naturally emerge.
In presentation terms, this translates as proper rehearsal with continued self-awareness.
More on that later.
Secondly, it helps us break bad habits.
The Alexander Technique teaches ‘inhibition’. Not the negative kind of inhibition which prevents you from dancing at parties, but positive inhibition which encourages you to observe your automatic response to an event and, in the space created by that observation, insert a better response.
For example, if you are suddenly called upon to talk to a crowd with no preparation, your automatic response might be to panic, run away and collapse into a heap of nerves. Through practise, you can learn to inhibit that response and employ some helpful directions to point you to better performance.
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes?
Next, the Alexander Technique establishes what it calls the ‘primary control’.
This is where the importance of proper process pops up again. Primary control is achieved by aligning and balancing the relationship between your head, neck and spine. If these are out of sync, then your performance will always be skewed. Once you have established this sense of primary control, which takes a bit of work and focus, you begin to feel free in presenting and communication situations – it gives you a home to return to at all times.
So far, this all sounds a bit abstract doesn’t it?
Let’s be direct.
The Alexander Technique uses directions to guide the body and mind to best function. They sound and look very simple indeed, but without guidance can easily be misunderstood. The tricky thing about the Alexander Technique is that you can’t really apply it to yourself as you will be applying from a foundation made up of all your current tensions and imbalances.
Here are some simple suggestions, based on the Alexander Technique directions, which may kick start your awareness when preparing for a presentation:
1. Allow you feet to relax and spread into the floor
2. Let your knees be soft and unlocked
3. Let your back broaden and widen
4. Let your neck be free
5. Breath down to your centre, below the belly button
Sound so simple, don’t they? They are. The key is turning them into unconscious habit; the key is ensuring that these elements are present at all times – they are an important part of the proper process.
The Alexander Technique is profound. It re-establishes the link between the mind, the body and the breath, enabling the mind to inform your direction of movement, and performance, without rigidity or excessive control.
Once the underlying principles of the technique are embedded in your everyday self, then many other less subtle communication and presentation techniques become obsolete.
Have a look at our presentation skills courses to find out how we use the technique in our training.