Joseph Pilates, the man who created and promoted the Pilates method of physical fitness, may not have been a public speaker, but all presenters can still learn a thing or two from him.
Pilates formulated six key principles to improve people’s strength and endurance. Though these principles were designed for physical fitness, they can also be applied to public speaking—and to all aspects of life.
Joseph Pilates wrote, “Above all…learn to breathe correctly.” Correct breathing oxygenates the blood and increases circulation. This certainly holds true for the public speaker. Proper breathing will help you maintain control, calm your nerves, and give you the air you need to speak effectively with an even and modulated rate of speech.
Just as there are no mindless or careless moments in Pilates, there should be none in your delivery, either. Keep your focus on the task at hand, and direct your body, voice, and words to carefully deliver the message with deliberate control.
Pilates called his method of exercise “Contrology” or the “The Art of Control.” Nothing could be more appropriate for the public speaker. In any physical discipline, control must be practiced and developed. Whether you are learning to play the piano, cook a meal, or hit a tennis ball, you need to practice increasingly difficult levels of control. This concept was intended to reduce the risk of injury and train your body for life. It works for public speaking, too.
People often describe Pilates exercise as “movement flowing out from a strong center.” Your center is the foundation for all movements. I like to think of this as a “girdle” that surrounds the midsection, from your navel around to your lower back and including your lower ribs and buttocks. Having a strong core is essential to creating a powerful presence in public speaking. Lifting through the core gives you strong posture and an upright stance. You can move anywhere on the stage when you have a strong core.
Precision gives each Pilates exercise the intensity of purpose. Each exercise is to be performed as perfectly as possible according to Pilates’ technique. This is true for the public speaker, as well. A philosophy of precision in both content development as well as performance delivery is the key to reach success.
Flow is a key distinguishing feature of the Pilates philosophy. Because physical movement is continuous in daily life, you should focus on the aspect of flow during each Pilates exercise. The intent is to strengthen control, balance, and coordination so you move through life with ease and agility. For the public speaker, moving smoothly from one idea to the next and using body language that is congruent with your message will help you stay in control so you can tackle any presentation challenge.
So as it turns out, Pilates is good for your health and your speech! But maybe I’m a bit biased. You see, my husband and I have a house in Maine that used to be owned by a well-known dancer. She once told me that not only did she know and admire Joseph Pilates, but that he came to visit her on occasion. So I can legitimately brag that “Joseph Pilates slept here!” May his legacy live on in exercise enthusiasts (and public speakers) everywhere.
Angela DeFinis is the CEO of DeFinis Communications, a presentation skills training company.