07/14/2014 01:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Reasons to Let It Go Before a Presentation

Without thinking I drank iced coffee at 5 p.m. the day before I was to lead a mindfulness workshop the next morning. When you typically avoid caffeine due to the jitters it causes, it was definitely dumb. But I was having fun with a group of new friends I had met at Catalyst Week in downtown Las Vegas, and the cool drink was refreshing on a hot day. When I laid down later that evening to go to sIeep, I realized my mistake.

As much as I tried for the first few hours, sleep was not happening, and so I found myself thinking about the workshop. I had not given the talk before nor did I know any of the attendees before arriving at the Downtown Project the previous day. I was pretty certain most of the people had not come to the event thinking about meditation and mindfulness. For that and many other reasons I really wanted the talk to go well but was feeling the kind of fear you get when you are about to go outside of your comfort zone. With the hours passing by, I realized that the already revised, many times over, version of my talk was not where I wanted it to be which led me to rethink everything.

As panic began to surface, I paused to consider that I couldn't very well teach others about mindfulness if I wasn't practicing it myself. This led me to begin my regular morning meditation practice at about 1:30 a.m., figuring I could do the meditation now and then have some extra time to sleep in.

As with my usual practice, I started by generating a feeling of loving surrender which calmed me down quickly. With a more settled state of mind, I shifted my attention to the breath and then onto the visualization of letting go of the tension in my body through the breathing process. As I lay in this state of calmness, I could see that not being able to sleep was a blessing in disguise as it gave me a chance to reconsider the talk. In that split second realization it also came to me that instead of rewriting it, I needed to let it go and focus on being present for the experience even if that meant complete failure. Having a high level idea of what I wanted to cover was enough and the rest was to be surrendered in the moment. This was the exact opposite of my normal type-A, "must be prepared," approach and even though my head was thinking it was sheer craziness, my heart loved the idea.

With my heart winning out, sleep came quickly and I arose the next day without feeling tired. I got up, got ready and arrived at the workshop with time to spend a few minutes meditating. Even though I had some remaining fears with the new plan, deep down I knew it was the right path.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Even though I am not exactly sure what I said and did, I could tell that people were deeply moved by the talk. By showing up as I did, people were caught off guard and then found themselves opening their hearts at a level that took them by surprise. It was better than I could have hoped for and I learned a great deal about the power of letting go when you are about to give an important presentation.


Here are five reasons to consider letting it go before your next talk.

1. The real you will shine through.
Living in a world of overly-staged and highly-produced experiences, many people are eager to listen to speakers who are real, fully present and open to their audience. When talks are super-rehearsed, the heart and soul can get drained out. However, when I let go and surrendered into the experience of being present, my soulfulness emerged and the real me shined through. Of course, it helps to have a large body of interesting information to pull from but there is nothing quite like knowing a speaker is speaking from their heart and soul in the present moment. Yes, my talk was about mindfulness but so is everything else at some level.

2. You share more.
After years of teaching mindfulness and helping people live more satisfying lives, I've witnessed the power of telling a story to make a point. Most people have the ability to tell stories, we do it every time we talk about something that has happened to us. Maybe some do it better than others, but by paying close attention to important details plus a bit of practice, everyone can successfully talk about a personal experience in an interesting manner.

During my talk, I took a chance and told a story I hadn't shared with more than a few people about a horrific event I witnessed last December. Thinking I had reached a point where I could tell the story without crying, I still had some concern about how it would be received and if it would be helpful to others. Judging from the comments received after the talk, the story touched people deeply. By taking a leap of faith, I learned the immense power of sharing my personal stories with others even when it isn't easy and even when the "why" isn't totally clear.

3. Your presence touches people deeply.
I've noticed several discussions about the power of presence lately. Presence is your ability to be open, available, and vulnerable. When we learn to let go in our presentations, we become more vulnerable which naturally leads to an increase in presence. When your energetic power becomes so focused on your audience rather than your words, your audience hears you at an experiential level. This also shifts what you talk about because you become more likely to talk to your audience, not about what you want to tell them, but what they are ready to hear.

4. You get to enjoy it.
Even though I had some fear inside when I started talking, my concerns went away quickly, and I was able to enjoy the incredible opportunity to share my gifts with others.

5. You help your audience in bigger ways.
When you let it go and become vulnerable, you gain the courage to share things that may be embarrassing and uncomfortable. By sharing personal stories of your challenges and difficulties in a public setting you help others avoid taking similar paths.

At Catalyst Week we spoke a lot about collisions, connectedness and colearning which are all amazing concepts, but the one that really sticks is ROI, Ripple of Impact. If you are ready to make a ripple of impact in the world through your presentations, I suggest you learn to let it go.

Photo credit: Andy Dean Photography/