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Posted: August 08, 2013

Chef Laura: Now and Zen, gimme a break!

Avoid creating zombies full of facts

Laura Cook Newman

 “Mr. Osborne, may I be excused?  My brain is full.”  

That old Far Side comic has resonated with me as a student, a teacher and now as a corporate trainer.

After an hour of sitting in a classroom, our bodies and brains crave a break. Otherwise, we’ll end up like that boy in the cartoon: stuffed.

Most presenters schedule a break two hours into their lecture.  They’ll conjure their inner drill sergeant and bellow “Okay folks, 10-minute break!”  While attempting to synchronize their watches with the already mentally checked-out class, they warn “Back here at 14:42!”

The audience bolts out of the room to (check all that apply):

  1. Play Angry Birds
  2. Smoke
  3. Eat
  4. Chug coffee
  5. Update FB status
  6. Return calls
  7. Snapchat a selfie
  8. Email
  9. Pee
  10. #Hashtag #random #words

Whew!  The mob silently agrees to drag it out longer, trickling in around 2:45 p.m. Their façade indicates they are once again bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but the unrewarding mad-dash “break” they experienced is still running distractedly through their crammed craniums. I’ve seen it done. I’ve participated in breaks like that. Heck, I’ve given breaks like that.  Then one day I had a “light bulb moment”:  Breaks shouldn’t be a hurried after thought.   If done correctly, they can be an integral part of the training.

To help realize my vision, I leaned on three trusted advisors: Maya Angelou, Brad Pitt and me.

  • Maya said “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”
  • In World War Z, Brad urged “Movement is life”
  • And I say “You don’t need a mat to do yoga.”

I’ve been a certified yoga instructor since 2000.  After yoga class, my students comment that they feel refreshed and happy.  They don’t think they are refreshed and happy; they actually feel this way.  When they recall my class, they emotionally connect to a positive feeling.  Score one for Dr. Angelou.

Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic claims the “design of a human being is to be a mobile entity.” He further warns,  “Excessive sitting, is a lethal activity.”  Score one for Mr. Pitt.

Recently, I’ve taken my yoga teachings out of the studio, and applied them to my corporate trainings with wild success.  Score one for Chef Laura.

You don’t need to be fluent in Sanskrit to create beneficial and memorable respites during your next presentation.  Here’s my strategy.  Adapt it to play up your strengths:

Write “Yoga” on the agenda.  This will create a buzz which takes care of three things:

  • The agenda will actually be read (for a change!)
  • People will be curious about the entire presentation
  • Their attention is immediately captivated

Schedule the first break one hour into the presentation. This is earlier than most presenters take their initial break.  You want your audience to be pleasantly surprised there’s a pause, not fully depleted prior to the break.

First Break = Stretch it out.  Your bodies, not the allotted time.  Lead the class to limber up (in order):

  1. Blow Off Steam – deep and deliberate breath oxygenates stagnant blood
  2. Heart Openers – interlace fingers behind back and squeeze shoulder blades together to correct slouched posture
  3. Turn the Doorknobs – arms spread wide, rotate imaginary doorknobs with hands to release neck and shoulders.  Women will especially enjoy this as they tend to dump their stress here
  4. Let’s Twist Again – while seated, grasp the back of the chair and rotate the torso.  Most men hold stress in their lower back – guys will love this
  5. Tree Pose – standing up, balance on one foot to keep the mind sharp
  6. Forward Fold – inversions send much needed blood to the brain
  7. Standing Cat & Cow – undulating the spine feels divine!  And it eliminates “seeing stars” as you slowly stand up
  8. Lion Pose (aka “The Gene Simmons”) – after a big inhale, exhale with tongue sticking out, eyes open wide, and a loud guttural “Ahhhh!” sound.  Close your mouth and eyes and enjoy the tingling sensation. 
  9. Laugh Therapy – the Lion pose always leads to hysterics.  Don’t fight it – go with it!  Great for the abs and a natural endorphin release.

Second Break = Bio Break – An hour later, take a “freestyle” 10-minute break.  Your audience might do the frenzied and prolonged “Caged Animal Decathlon” mentioned earlier, but you will see most won’t need to.  Due to the refreshing yoga break prior, they’re no longer clawing to escape. Typically, they return faster than the assigned 10 minutes.

Third Break = Sugar Rush – After another hour, throw Kit Kat bars into the crowd and karaoke like Nel Carter.  The class will inevitable chant the last three chords of the classic jingle “…Kit-Kat-Bar!”  Sugar and singing creates a euphoric feeling.  And since chocolate is an aphrodisiac, they will fall hopelessly in love with you!

Final Break = Get Zen – You’ve earned their trust and won them over with candy.  As you wrap up, it’s time for some seated meditation.  With their eyes closed, you speak: “Reflect on today’s presentation.  What did you learn? What will you start implementing tomorrow? Visualize yourself being successful.  What does that look like?  What does that feel like?”

Does this mumbo jumbo work?  Without fail, people will approach me months later and excitedly say “You’re the one who taught us yoga!”  Should I be concerned that they remembered that more than the 20 features and benefits of our widgets?  

Not at all.

Because to paraphrase the wise words of Maya Angelou, when they think of my training, they feel good.  And when a salesperson is emotionally connected, not just a zombie full of facts, they will sell the heck out of my company’s widgets.

#awesome training #Brad Pitt #KitKat #Namaste

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

You should consider compiling your best pieces into a book - I can hear the Amazon computer whirring now in its attempt to fill all the orders. By Pater Familias on 2013 08 20
Laura-thank you for sharing. We are all faced with those dreaded sleepy eyes at some point in our presentations. Your confidence is demonstrated in the willingness to help others. By KWG on 2013 08 10
Cat, cow, cat, cow. Looks the same? No my head is moving! By Aunt B on 2013 08 09
Andi - thanks for your story that supports my findings as well. Music & memory are closely connected. Curious - yes, I do use food analogies in my yoga class. My favorites are "Stir the soup" "Squeeze the grapefruit" and "Act like molasses". Skeptic - you may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you're looking for. TaTee- sound advice, but if this article helps just ONE presenter to break free of "Death by PowerPoint" then I'll happily share my tips n' tricks. By Chef Laura on 2013 08 09
I was a teacher and often renewal credit classes. Once, the instructor taught us a song and movements during the break. We all laughed and sat, stood, grimmaced, reached, etc. That was many years ago and I still remember the song. Just goes to show you.... By Andi on 2013 08 09
don't give away all of your secrets. wink By Ta Tee on 2013 08 09
You mention that you also teach yoga. I'm wondering if you break up your yoga classes with information about food? By Curious on 2013 08 08
Dr. Laura, Color me a skeptic, but I've delivered a few training sessions over the years and I wonder if you are putting "form over function" here. I recognize a short article doesn't convey a day or so of training, but you make it sound too easy. Certainly these tips can assist in making the training more enjoyable, but feeling good about training is not why I go, I go to obtain knowledge. If these tips help me get more bang for my buck great, but a presentor's greatest responsibility is to be able to pass knowledge on to the audience. By A Skeptic on 2013 08 08
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