Presence Point: Prime your Central Nervous System (CNS) for Peak Communication Performance with an Audience of 1 or 1,000

 In day-to-day life we are always surprised. We are stressed, short on time and now more than ever being called on for mastery and to “show up” powerfully in a meeting, an interview, a date, a difficult conversation, a performance review or on a stage. How well do you handle the surprise, the stress? How well do you “show up”? Here are some research-based, practical tools for priming your CNS for peak performance.

1.  At the Outset: Be as prepared as possible with your content.

  • Every audience member is asking the same question: So What? (or “what’s in it for me?”) so clearly placing the focus on your particular audience answers that question and takes the focus off of you.
  • Rehearse well before the due date – not just in your head, although that helps, in addition to rehearsing with your full body. No more than once, if at all, on the day of the event.
  • Practice/rehearse in a variety of locations (bathroom, kitchen, car, office) to embed in long term memory – then you won’t have to memorize it – it will just be familiar conversation.
  • Tape and watch yourself. See what really works for you in terms of your nonverbal language and your words.

2. Weeks/Days before leading up to the event:

  • Get as much information as possible about the venue – visit the room and “own the space”, check out the equipment, meet as many people ahead of time as possible.
  • Delve into your feelings of discomfort. When you feel anxious, nervous, tense, say so. Label your feelings out loud. That one act alone will move you significantly more forward than trying to suppress or deny them (which only makes them loom larger), by focusing your mind on one thing vs. freeform anxiety and keeping you very present to what is happening in the moment.
  • Responsibility Transfer: In The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane describes a highly effective practice called the Responsibility Transfer:
    • Sit or lie comfortably, relax, close your eyes.
    • Take 2 or 3 deep breaths. Inhale, imagining you are drawing clean air toward the top of your head. Exhale and let the air whoosh through you, washing away all worries and concerns.
    • Pick an entity (God, Fate, the Universe) that you can imagine as benevolent.
    • Imagine lifting the weight of the concerns you have right now and placing it on the shoulders of your chosen one. They are in charge now.
    • Visually lift everything off your shoulders and “feel” the difference as you are no longer responsible for the outcome. Everything is taken care of and you can now relax.

3. Immediately before a communication event to “prime” your system:

  • Befriend your adrenaline. Actors report that if they don’t feel a surge of adrenaline before a performance, they worry they have lost their “edge”. Adrenaline, the fight or flight chemical, can be used to literally flee the scene, or in the right amounts actually infuses us with enthusiasm, animation and power. To regulate your adrenaline and make it work for you:
    • Bounce on a large exercise ball for 15 – 20 minutes, or a rebounder, or stability disc  – you can use this in a car while driving, on a plane etc. (when traveling, check with the hotel gym – they always let me borrow balls). One client told me that she received 4 different emails from participants in her teleclass raving about the change in her voice from the first class – before the  second class, she bounced on the ball for 15 minutes.
    • Squeeze a stress ball, or press fingertips into center of palms of hands.
    • Knead “worry” stones, doodle, knit: small fine motor movements of the fingers are all calming.
    • Deep belly breathing: You have to breathe anyway, why not leverage it?  Brain research shows that deep belly breathing is the 1st most powerful thing you can do as you face your audience, before you begin to speak. It slows your heart rate, focuses your mind and instantly interrupts the fight or flight chemicals in your CNS, allowing you to be calm and responsive vs. reactive and anxious. Your voice becomes deeper and more resonant. And, most importantly it allows silence, which fosters connection and powerful listening. To do it correctly, put your hands on your navel and take a deep breath in, expanding your abdomen as you fill your trunk with air. Breathe out, tightening your stomach muscles as you empty your trunk. This is the opposite of how we normally breathe when upright, but it’s the same way we breathe when we are lying down. “Get down” and get the hang of it!
    • Visualization practice of previous, highly successful experience immediately before the communication – particularly for the phone, virtual events, etc. Your neurons fire as if you have already achieved the same success for this new event.
    • Look at a picture of a loved one or imagine you are going to have a conversation with your favorite person. This  changes your CNS by secreting oxytocin and endorphins, creating a warm, open posture and voice.
    • Looking a pictures of funny, happy kids/people. Research shows that doing this immediately before taking standardized tests significantly raises test scores.
    • Meet and greet as many audience members before the actual presentation starts.
    • Smile 

What are some of the things that work for you to prime your CNS for Peak Performance?

About Cheryl Dolan

Cheryl Dolan is a specialist in Presence, Communication and Creativity. Her mission is to cultivate clients’ innate strengths to develop the powerful communication and creative skills that will enhance personal and professional performance. Her Platinum Presence® Program has been delivered in international corporations, organizations, and institutes of higher education, including Harvard University and MIT Sloan School. Contact her at [email protected] or visit