This weekend I assisted on my good friend, John Stockdale’s Presenting Magically seminar, which is a highly practical 3-day presentation-skills training, based on NLP techniques. The course was excellent and as usual John’s ability to train groups and keep them entertained at the same time is stunning. I thought it would be interesting to share one of the techniques taught on the training called the Presenter’s or Trainer’s State.

As you know, NLP models excellence, and the author’s of the book Presenting Magically: Transforming Your Stage Presence With NLP, David Shephard and Tad James, identify seven steps (eight steps actually, but step one and two are combined) to achieve the ideal state adapted for making a presentation from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali written around 600 AD. Referred to as the Trainer’s State by the authors, the steps are as follows:

  1. Empty your mind of all external thoughts and cares;
  2. Get physically comfortable and stable;
  3. Calm and control your breathing pattern. Take a few deep breaths inhaling through your nose into your belly and exhaling through your mouth while making a soft ‘haaaaaa’ sound from the back of your throat. The inhale should take you half as long as your exhale;
  4. Momentarily pull your attention within yourself;
  5. Focus on a spot opposite you above your eye level. This is called foveal vision;
  6. Expand your focus into your peripheral vision as far as you can horizontally and vertically until you are aware of the entire room both in front and behind you;
  7. Become one with the room.

This state is very useful, and variations of it exist and are taught for different purposes including the Learner State which is useful for students to absorb information at much higher levels and recall it at test time; and the Readers State taught by Paul Scheele to students of his Photoreading courses to use before they start the reading process to increase absorption, recollection, understanding and reading speeds.

Peripheral vs Foleal VisionThe key common denominator in all of these states is shifting from foveal vision into peripheral vision. Foveal vision is when the eye is highly focused on an object or objects central to the position of the eye, such as when reading a book or looking at a computer screen or TV. When in foveal vision people receive less visual information from their peripheral and their awareness is focused on a reduced area. When in peripheral vision, however, our awareness is expanded greatly and we can become aware of a far larger range of visual information as the size of our visual range increases both horizontally and vertically.

There are two more key benefits to shifting from foveal vision to peripheral vision when presenting to an audience. Historically, humans spent much more of their time in peripheral vision than we do today. In peripheral vision we are more aware of our environment so it helps us watch for potential threats and dangers as well as opportunities such as food. When we are in peripheral vision we are focusing our attention and awareness on our surroundings and being in peripheral vision activates the non-sympathetic nervous system so we experience less emotional intensity. When we find something interesting or threatening we zero in on it in foveal vision which gives us access to more detailed visual information focused on what caught our attention and our awareness moves much more internally. Foveal vision also activates our sympathetic nervous system that enables us to experience more intense emotions, like stress, so we can stimulate our ‘fight or flight’ response if we are attacked.

In a presentation, we obviously want to be able to see as much of the room and the audience as possible. We want to move our awareness from an introverted state to a extroverted state that will be far more appealing to our audience and enable us to interact with them more effectively. We also want to limit the intensity of, or remove altogether, ‘stage fright’ that we all feel either before or when we start to speak in a presentation. The Presenter’s State and peripheral vision can help us achieve all of this, and leave us to concentrate on delivering an impact on our audience.