Step Into Public Speaking

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As a young elementary school teacher, on Back to School Night, my naturally high pitched voice went even higher, even tighter and I spoke very fast. (Okay, it happened in other settings too. Think Minnie Mouse on steroids.) The excitement, stimulation, and nerves of speaking in front of all the parents influenced my speaking presence. Luckily, I was teaching in NYC where there are lots of theater professionals. Parents of a student invited me to their voice and communication workshops. Both workshops were transformative and gave me a chance to experience myself in entirely new ways.

Even so, growing as a leader and a communicator took time and is still an ongoing process. My passion for coaching communicating with presence and power grows from my own journey of becoming an effective speaker and leader. Periodically, I will use this blog to share some tips that I find working for me and my clients.

How do your nerves show up when it’s time for you to speak in front of a group?

Do you feel as if you are outside your body watching what’s happening?

Do you freeze and forget what you wanted to say?

Do you say the wrong words, say them too fast or too slow?

Do you feel short of breath? Does your pitch go up like mine did?

Do you have painful breaks between words while thinking of what to say?

Or do you ramble as the adrenaline drives your mind forward?

Here are a couple of tips for calming nerves and centering that have helped me and some of my clients. (You may also want to visit the Lighten and Let Go page to help you relax in advance.) You can use these tips to build your confidence and skills with any kind of public speaking, whether it is informal with friends, in leadership or presentational contexts.

Ground Yourself

You can do this sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground or in a standing position:

Shift your attention to the ground beneath your feet and the sensation on the bottoms of your feet. Feel solid and connected to the ground.

Imagine a purple crayon outlining your foot starting at the big toe, going over the other toes, around the side of the foot, around the heel, around the arch and back up to the big toe.

Imagine coloring in all the space within the outline and creating a purple stamp with your foot as you let your weight and awareness drop to your feet.

Do the same thing with the other foot, or do them at the same time.

Imagine all the muscles in your body melting like wax on a candle into the ground beneath your feet.


Before you start your presentation:

Take some evenly paced inhales and exhales before you start speaking. This cues your nervous system to relax. Count 1-2-3-4-5 on the inhale and 1-2-3-4-5 on the exhale.

During your presentation

Take a breath before the beginning of your sentence. Just putting attention onto breathing as you begin a thought or a sentence will naturally slow down your pacing and bring your thoughts and body more into alignment. It will also help your nerves stay calm.

When you lose a word or forget something you wanted to say, taking a few seconds to breathe will help it resurface.

Connect with Your Audience

Imagine that you are the hostess of a big event. Act as if the meeting space isyour home and welcome everyone with your body and your eyes. Feel the welcoming energy and your body will reflect that open invitation.

Send smiles with your eyes. You don’t have to have a full smile if it doesn’t feel appropriate or natural. What’s important is that you are really seeing people and that they feel seen. Try catching the eye of an audience member and let your eyes connect for a moment, just enough to welcome that person with your eyes. Notice and allow the discomfort that may arise. Ironically, if you go with the discomfort you will appear more welcoming than if you try to hide or avoid the discomfort.

You may want to practice these tips at home on your own first and notice how they feel in your body. The more you can grow a physical awareness of how it feels, the easier it will be to use these tools when you want them.

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to grow your impact as a speaker and as a leader.  If you are local, check out my events page for upcoming workshops.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

To Reduce Stress, Free Yourself From The Word “Should!”

Woman standing by the sea with her arms open wide.
Photo credit by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Margaret Atwood writes in The Blind Assassin “Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.”

How often do you think about what you should have done?

What you should do?

What you should think?

Shoulds are often weighted with judgments, assumptions, beliefs, and fear.

Carrying should thoughts is a heavy burden and carrying it every day can add a lot of stress to everyday things.

For years, my front porch has been filled with dead plants, dead leaves and looked like it belonged to deserted owners. Oh, the shoulds that could so easily infiltrate my thinking to me from that small little piece of cement in the front of my house!

“You should clean the porch.”

“You should sweep the leaves.”

“You should take time to make it look nice again.”

“You should be better at taking care of the house.”

The truth was that while I would have liked to have a clean and more inviting porch, I just didn’t care about it enough to make it the top of my “to do” list. I forgot about it most of the time and spent my time on things that I valued more.

So, I accepted it to be the way that it was. It became a joke among friends that our townhouse unit could be identified by the dead plants on the porch. Every once in a while, I would be out there and think “we should really clean this.” My should came from external sources about what a porch is supposed to look like, and how someone might judge my homemaking. Since it wasn’t intrinsically motivated or connected to what I truly valued or found important in my life at the time, I let the thought float away.

Here are some questions to help you approach the should’s in your life differently, and if you’re daring, let them float away.

How would you end these sentences?

I should be better at ___________.

I know I should __________, but I don’t.

Pick one of the thoughts that came up as you were filling in the blanks. How would your life change if you let go of that should thought? If it just didn’t exist anymore? To feel the difference, imagine that you did the should or that it ceased to exist. Can you feel that lightness?

“But, I can’t let it go!” you say. “I really, really should do it.”

 Okay, then. It sounds like you have some strong feelings around the should. If you are determined to hold on to your “should” thoughts then do so. You may need them and be ready for them at another time. I am not telling you what you should do. (See what I did there?)

If you’re willing to explore alternatives with me, read on:

Let’s start by identifying the source of this should.

To prepare for the next question, sit for a moment letting out a deep breath and listening to the room around you. Listen for the background sounds and sounds in the distance.

After you read the next question, turn that same listening attention towards yourself and listen for an answer.

From whence comes this should? Is it a should that is emanating from your external environment, from peers, family, societal norms, from something you heard or read?
Or is it a should that emanates from within your own self?

Now listen for an answer.

If your answer is that it comes to you from external sources, then next consider if it provides you with any meaning or if it’s something you value. If not, you may want to consider letting it go at least for now.

If it does have meaning and personal value to you or you answered that it was intrinsically motivated, then it probably is truly a want. It’s something you feel that you should do because it’s something you want to do.

If it’s something you want to do, can you identify what’s in your way?

Is your should too heavy to deal with?

Shoulds carry a lot of weight. The longer we carry them around the heavier they become, the heavier the burdens that we carry.

If this should could be represented by an object, how heavy does it feel on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being as light as a soap bubble and a 10 being as immovable as a boulder?

You always have a choice to let go of the should all together, or lighten the load by relieving yourself of the judgment or by facing the obstacles.

The most common obstacle is fear. Nervousness, anxiety, procrastination, and avoidance are signs of fear. It could be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling incompetent, fear of confronting something or some other kind of fear.

Some questions to ask yourself:

How strong a priority is this for me? Can it wait? (The dead plants on my porch waited for years! Just ask the friends who poked fun at us.)

What would be the worst thing that could happen if you never do this should?

What do you need in order to feel free of this should?

What magical solution, if it existed, could unstick you?

What little bit can you do just for now?

How much does your should weigh now? I hope it got a little lighter.

Repeat all of the above anytime for improved results!

To explore more about releasing any of your shoulds, releasing judgment or getting unstuck, contact me about a complimentary coaching session.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

Three Quick and Easy Ways to Bring the Benefits of Mindfulness Into Your Day



It seems as if everywhere you look, someone is touting the benefits of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness and why is it something you might want to know?

Consider mindfulness as a way of letting go of the mind, of releasing thoughts and becoming more aware of oneself as a living being. In addition to releasing stress, this tool can give us an opportunity to slow down time, gain perspective, feel more in control of our own emotions and respond to people in ways that are more aligned with our values and reduce stress.

Of course, that’s if you can figure a way to build it into your day!  

To help with that, I’m giving you three very short and easy experiences meant to introduce to you the benefits of mindfulness. In a short time, using these tricks, you can taste what mindfulness has to offer. While they each take a minute or less, you will feel more of the benefits if you can do them longer or if you can do them frequently.

1) Have you ever seen something in the distance and looked ahead with curiosity trying to figure out what it is?
Or saw something so colorful that it filled your attention for a moment?
Or walked down a street lined with trees in bloom just taking in the flowers?

Living in NYC and walking a lot, I noticed how walking outside on beautiful days, I could get so attentive to the colors, textures, people, places that my mind felt clear. I could look ahead as if what I was seeing was a two-dimensional photo and take it in visually, without naming or judging it. I didn’t even know about mindfulness then! With practice, it has become a powerful tool for me, giving me a chance to let go of thoughts and re-center myself within moments.

Try this:

Walking or sitting, shift your attention from your thoughts to your senses. Find something that can fill your visual field.

What colors do you see?

What shapes?

What textures?

What lines?

What is in the forefront what is farther back?

Investigate it with open curiosity:

What does it look like right now?

What else can you notice about it?

Even if it only holds your attention for a few seconds, it gives you the beginning of learning how to interrupt your habitual thinking patterns.

To try for longer you may want to think about exploring the visual details of one thing in your view.

Can you trace the outline and contours with your eyes?

Can you notice the small details in the surface and texture of the item?

If/when your mind wanders, just bring it back to the exploration.


2) Listening hard for something directs our attention away from our thoughts.

I use this sometimes when I am teaching a group of students to bring their attention to their surroundings. Oh, the quiet that it creates! 

Try this:

Midstream the chatter in your head, in a conversation with yourself, take a moment to listen to yourself and wonder, “What am I going to think next?”

What happens? Wait for an answer. 

Could you notice how your mind waited, listening for a second?

Try it again. “What are you going to think next?”

Don’t think.

Just listen.

Let the thought come.

This gap between thoughts opens the possibility to interrupt thoughts and to experience a moment with a clear mind.

Do this a few times during the day, and investigate what that gap in the thinking feels like.

This is a short but powerful exercise. The impact comes from exploring the gap between the question and when the answer presents itself. If you can even feel a micro-moment of stillness, you will have begun to experience a mindful break.

If you do this often enough and combined with the other exercises, you may find yourself able to listen for longer periods of time without the soundtracks in your head filling the silences.


3) A short meditation: sit and count your breaths. It’s that simple.
This is how I got started meditating every day. I just sat down and counted my breath as I inhaled and exhaled. I liked imagining the waves of the ocean coming onto the shore with the exhaled breath and drifting towards the sea on the inhale. Hearing the exhale as if the waves were lapping the shore helped me stay focused. You may find something that works for you. 

Try this: Find a comfortable place to sit.

Close your eyes, or let your gaze fall on something so that you notice the peripheral vision.

Imagine your eyes spreading towards your ears. 

Notice how your body shifts when you rest your gaze and shift your attention.

Next, without moving your gaze, give some attention to the air going in and out of your body. Just notice how it feels.

Then start counting. 1–inhale, 1-exhale, 2-inhale, 2-exhale.

If your mind wanders before 60, notice it. Let it be in your awareness as you continue counting breathes from the last number that you remember.

To do it for longer, just keep breathing and counting. Inevitably your mind will wander. That’s great! When it does, you have the occasion to bring it back to the breath. Each time you bring the attention back to the breath, you exercise your mindfulness muscle! As you practice and advance, you can let go of counting and just focus on feeling the inhale and exhale in your body.

While there is a lot to read about mindfulness, the best way to learn about how it can help you is to experience it for yourself. I hope these three easy to do strategies give you a taste of what is possible.

To read this blog in pdf format click here: 3 Quick and Easy Ways to Bring the Benefits of Mindfulness Into Your Day

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to explore more ways that you can integrate more of the benefits of mindfulness into your life.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

How to Step Into Your Power

A male lion at rest looks to the right.
Photo by Sander Wehkamp on Unsplash

What does the idea of “stepping into your power” suggest to you?

Here are responses from some professional mothers who have attended a workshop on the subject:

  • Getting control of one’s emotions
  • Centering one’s self
  • Being able to speak calmly and logically
  • Being able to hold one’s own boundaries
  • Feeling grounded

What resonates with you?

Where in your life do you already feel powerful?

Here is what some women have said. Notice the verbs that they use:

  • When I’m loving my children
  • When I am serving others
  • When I am self-aware and am caring for others
  • When I am accepting
  • When I am influencing others
  • When I am igniting other people’s inner sparks

Anything sound familiar to you or give you ideas for yourself?

What is Power?

Our personal power comes from within when we accept our full being when we let all of who we are show up and communicate with a sense of wholeness. When we dare to be our full selves even if we experience a world that is trying to diminish us.

Whereas control comes from grasping at what we are afraid we can’t contain, power derives from a deeper place.

Imagine the difference between a grasping clenching fist with knuckles facing up and fingers folded inward, and an open palm rising. One tries to close around something in order to contain it, the other opens up towards possibilities. The grasp is what happens when we reflexively hang on to something we are afraid we will lose. The open palm starts deeper in our body and literally uplifts as it raises someone or something. One pulls inwards towards ourselves and the other extends outwards, an invitation to include others.

Who Am I to Assume Power?

Often as women, we are reluctant to speak with confidence and conviction. We don’t want to sound boastful, step on anyone’s toes or make anyone feel bad. So, we pull back. We apologize with our bodies, our words, our tone of voice.

Which of these behaviors sound most like you when you feel less powerful?

  • Pulling your body inward such as tucking your arms close to your body, crossing your legs, or hunching your shoulders.
  • Ending a statement as a question
  • Using your hands and facial expressions in ways that pull focus from your words
  • Laughing as you speak
  • Speaking softly, hesitantly and carefully
  • Mumbling, dropping the ends of sentences

Simple Exercise for Experiencing Power

Here is a simple exercise that can reveal to you the ease of feeling your personal power.

Answer each question in your head, then answer out loud:

  • What is your name?
  • How old are you?

Can you notice and feel in your body the easy confidence and conviction behind your answers?

You have nothing to prove, no uncertainty to overcome, no fear of offending anyone, of seeming overbearing or of being wrong. There are no emotions to hide, it just is your name. You are expected to know your name and age, and to be the expert about those personal details. Thus, you allow yourself the confidence and conviction in your answer. Most likely, you did not show any of the equivocating signs that I mentioned above.

What if you could bring that ease, certainty and relaxed authority to elsewhere in your life?

Give Yourself Permission

“Be loud and wrong” is the nicest thing I had ever heard anyone say to me in an audition. Permission to be loud, out of bounds, and wrong gives us immense freedom.

Years ago, when I was teaching in an elementary school in Texas, we had a program where teachers donated one free period a week to tutor a fifth-grade student who was struggling with state standardized test. In our first session, I watched my student nervously take a practice test. In the second session, I told her, “Today, just go for it. Go ahead and get them all wrong.” That was all she needed. From then on, she always answered everything correctly. It was a lesson I will never forget. Just having permission to be wrong replaced her fear of being wrong and changed her performance.

What freedom do you need to feel powerful?

Free from perfection?

Free from mistakes?

Free from always being nice?

Find the Courage

How might it be easier to step into your power if you knew that you could handle any fearful challenge that arose?

Amy Cuddy teaches us that we can feel like Wonder Woman and gain some of her strength and courage by posing like her. Stand with your feet shoulder-distant apart, put your fisted hands on your hips.

Feel what it’s like to open between the shoulder blades take up space and feel physically expansive. Can you feel the strength? Can you find more courage standing in this pose?

Feel the Support

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.” What are you looking for elsewhere in the world that you can find within yourself if you only dared? Plan some ways that you can give this to yourself. One way is to surround yourself with people who believe in you.

Who in this world supports you and figuratively stands with you and behind you? Feel those people’s presence with you as you take risks.

Try this exercise:

Sit in a chair with a back support and let your feet gently touch the ground. Feel the bottoms of your feet and the surface area that makes contact with the floor. Know and trust that floor is supporting you. Feel your weight on the chair, know that chair is holding you up. Lean into the back of the chair. Feel the surface area of the chair make contact with your body. In your mind draw those points of contact. Now let go into the chair and the floor. Trust all that supports you in the world.

If you can trust that you are supported, that all will be okay, how does that free you?

What does the idea of “stepping into your power” suggest to you now?

Hopefully, with these strategies, you can gradually step into owning more of your own powerful presence.

To take a bigger step, sign up for my newsletter to learn about upcoming live and online workshops or contact me for a complimentary coaching session.

How to Raise a Child

Recently while appearing in Seussical the Musical, as Mrs. Mayor, I had a breakdown in Act 1 when I saw the “ceiling peeling” and the “flooded den” as a result of our son JoJo’s “thinks.” I vented frustration with my husband Mr. Mayor about raising our child, “Where are the instructions on how to raise a child? Who has all the answers? I don’t know…”

Have you also wondered about the instruction book for raising children?

It’s virtually impossible to write one definitive book because every child is different, every parent and every family is different, and there are so many possibilities.

Coaching, on the other hand, is a customized conversation that facilitates insights and discovery for the client. In an individualized conversation, parents have an opportunity to develop content for their own instruction book.

What if Mrs. Mayor could have worked with a coach? How might that have changed the story? Listen closely and see if it gives you any ideas for working with your child:

(For the ease of imagining and sharing this session, Mrs. Mayor will not be speaking in Seussian rhymes. We will, however, retain her use of the word “thinks” as a noun for things that have been thought.)

Me: I’m so pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mayor! Thank you so much for the honor of coaching you.

What’s going well for you these days?

Mrs. Mayor: Oh, I’ve been so worried about our speck of dust and what will happen to Who-ville. But, Horton has found us! We are safe on a clover. Well, for now. Oh! And the PTA has scheduled a bake sale coming up soon!

Me: That sounds huge! It must be such a relief to be safe on a clover. Congratulations!

What excites you about the bake sale?

Mrs. Mayor: Oh, I promised 10 pill berry bush pies! They are always so popular and sell out quickly! The proceeds will go to the Grinch’s Christmas Fund for Orphan Children.

Me: That does sound exciting! How dedicated of you to bake 10 pies for the bake sale!

Mrs. Mayor: I’m also excited for my husband’s opportunity to lead us, and for us to be safe. He’s just been elected and upstanding behavior is expected of our son JoJo. But, I am so worried about my son’s thinking! His teachers have nothing good to say about him. He gave Miss O’Dooley a nervous conniption! His thinking takes him places where no one has been! Then yesterday, we came up the stairs to discover that the ceiling was peeling and he had flooded the den. My husband and I just don’t know what to do!! We are beside ourselves!!

Me: That sounds very hard for you and your husband. It sounds like you know you want your son to stop having thinks that flood the den.

Do you have an idea of what you would like for him to do?

Mrs. Mayor: Before this thinking began, he was a perfect little boy, he did everything that he was told, he didn’t make any messes, his teachers all loved him because he did everything just the way that they asked. He even got an award once for how well he colored inside the lines!!

Me: It sounds like you are pretty sure that it’s all the “thinking” that’s been changing his behavior. and you’d like for him to stop!

Mrs. Mayor: We want him to think, we just want him to have normal thinks!

Me: What would normal thinking be?

Mrs. Mayor: He needs to stop turning minnows into whales!

Me: “Turning minnows into whales!” It sounds like he likes to have creative and inventive thinks. What a great strength!

How might you guide him towards using this strength in a way that feels more aligned with your vision for your family life?

Silence as Mrs. Mayor thinks and reorients around this question.

Well, what do you think?

What strength does your child overuse in ways that frustrate you?

How might you answer this question to guide your child to use her strength in ways that feel more productive and aligned with your vision for your family?

Does this question give you any new thinks about the instruction book for raising your child?  

Discover new insights for your own personal parenting instruction book through a complimentary coaching session.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.