How can you become a more mindful presenter? Creating and practicing these 7 habits will help you to present and speak with confidence, clarity and impact.
The most valuable gift a presenter or public speaker has is his or her mind. In the increasingly disruptive and unpredictable world of business, our minds are being challenged like never before. Always on technology, information overload and ever-increasing performance demands are just a few of the countless pressures confronting the human mind today, and that’s just in the work place.
We spend a great deal of our lives on ‘auto-pilot’; driving to work, mowing the lawn, taking a shower and eating breakfast are mechanical tasks for most of us.
Whilst we are of course aware of what we are doing, the truth is we don’t pay much attention to these tasks. Many may be thankful that’s the case as there is so much else going on in our lives, however, it’s not as helpful as you may think when we are called on to present our ideas at work or speak in public. The mindful presenter pays attention.
Our old friend ‘auto-pilot’ knows exactly how to open up our laptop, find that PowerPoint template and simply repopulate it in the same way we have always done. That may be the quick option, but does little for human connection and impact.
It takes courage and mindfulness to switch our ‘auto-pilot’ off while we are crafting a business presentation. If you truly want to stand out from the crowd and speak with presence and authority these 7 habits will help you to become a mindful presenter.
Habit 1 – Me, now, why?
When you are called on to present, rather than complain, procrastinate or leap into your laptop, sit quietly and ask yourself the following questions:
Am I the right person to be speaking on this topic or is their someone else in the organisation who has far more knowledge, belief or impact to lead change? If the answer is no, or you know of someone who would be much better placed, then have the mindfulness to at least present the opportunity to them.
If I am the right person, do I have enough time to craft a story that respects and values my audience’s time? Do I have enough time to research and build a compelling message that will be understood, remembered and acted on by my audience? If you don’t then find the grit to push back. Delay or postpone the presentation until you do have sufficient time to approach it mindfully.
You’ve established that you are the right person to speak on the topic and you’ve created sufficient time to construct a message that will serve your audience well. The next question to ask yourself is why?
Why is this important?
Why should they care?
Why call them together for a presentation, why can’t I just send an email?
Habit 2 – Beginner’s mind
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki
It is highly likely that the reason you have been called upon to speak is because you are an expert in your field or know a great deal about your topic. When that’s the case our auto-pilot’s greatest value is speed; ‘let’s get it done and get out of here’. When it comes to presenting and public speaking, our ‘auto-pilot’ suffers from ‘The Curse of Knowledge’. Simply put, this is when you know things that the other person does not and you have forgotten what it’s like to not have this knowledge.
The net result of this is often unwittingly inflicting ‘Death by Bullet Point’ on your unsuspecting audience.
Cultivating the habit of starting out with the beginner’s mind is the way to switch off your ‘auto-pilot’. That means letting go of your preconceived ideas, assumptions and expectations and opening your mind to see the issue with a fresh pair of eyes. Remember, your audience doesn’t have the knowledge and insight that you do. Putting yourself in their shoes and setting out with the beginner’s mind will leave your audience very grateful.
Habit 3 – One thing
Mindful Presenters know full well that multi-tasking is a myth.
When they are crafting a presentation, they focus on their audience and content at the exclusion of all other distractions. They don’t check and respond to emails at the same time. They don’t open up LinkedIn or Twitter. They give their complete attention to the task at hand; their presentation.
Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert believe that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re currently doing. If you accept the research which suggests that multi-tasking can make us up to 40% less productive, you’ll set aside the time to focus exclusively on your presentation.
Habit 4 – Self – awareness
Trying to connect with an audience without having connected with yourself first is futile. In our presentation skills training workshops we spend as much time helping our clients understand their strengths as we do their personal challenges.
It’s all too easy to record yourself or ask colleagues to tell you your bad habits or what doesn’t work so well for you as a presenter. Most professionals never consider the idea of focusing on what works for them now as a speaker. At Mindful Presenter, our experience is that everyone has a gift; there are no exceptions.
By all means do make it your business to understand and correct what may holding you back today as an effective presenter, but get some personal coaching to understand what works too.
Habit 5 – Internalise
One of the most common sources of anxiety relating to presenting and public speaking is fear. There are many constituents of fear but one of the most troublesome is the fear that we will forget what to say, freeze or stumble.
The antidote to that angst is to internalise your message. I don’t mean memorise. I mean integrate. In other words, becoming so familiar and comfortable with your key message that if you left your notes on the train or your PowerPoint failed, you could still speak. You may not have all of the facts and data but you could still hold a good account of yourself because you have taken the time to make your message a part of you.
The way to internalise your message is to be absolutely clear in your mind what that one thing is that you want your audience to really understand and remember.
If you invest your energy in internalising the very reason you are presenting, you’ll find that a lot of your anxiety is reduced. With the comfort of knowing why you are speaking and how you can help your audience, the data becomes secondary. In reducing its priority, it’s highly likely that you’ll find that your passion and clarity of your message reduces the pressure you place on yourself.
As that pressure dissipates it becomes much easier to relax into your presentation and your recall is heightened.
Habit 6 – Self-compassion
Presenting and speaking is a challenging experience for most people.
The mindful presenter understands that working on developing the habit of self-compassion is a powerful route to success. That means creating a state of mental, emotional and physical kindness to ourselves that allows us to be more open to the perceived challenge of presenting.
The next time you feel nervous before or during a presentation be mindful of your thoughts and sensations. Listen to what you are actually saying to yourself and tune into the way those thoughts are making you feel. As you do so recognise and accept the reality that you are not alone, its part of being human and goes with the territory of public speaking.
If the thoughts and feelings you experience aren’t very helpful and increase your anxiety, imagine what you would say to your best friend if they shared those same thoughts and feelings with you.
Would you be as critical and harsh with them as you are with yourself or would you reassure them by being kind and compassionate?
In the following video Dr. Kristin Neff explains how compassion is easy to understand when it comes to offering it to others. She then shares beautifully how we can apply the same thinking to ourselves in any situation. Dr. Neff reminds us that we can be just as kind and supportive to ourselves and the fact that we are available 24 hours a day to be able to do so.
There is a wealth of resources available on her website https://self-compassion.org/ to help you to cultivate the habit of self-compassion.
Habit 7 – Presence
Presence is one of those words that most of us find difficult to accurately describe, but interestingly we know it when we see it because we feel it.
It comes from a sense of confidence and clarity that is felt in the way a presenter, walks, talks, breathes and connects. It’s not clumsy, stilted or awkward. It’s a graceful sense of self that allows a presenter to be in the room without fear of judgement because they have something important to say.
Presence stems from awareness, which we began to consider in Habit 4, although it extends beyond the self. An important part of presence is understanding where your awareness can, does and will go. It involves directing your awareness consciously to cultivating more focus, presence, and peace to what matters most.
In the case of presenting and public speaking the mindful presenter understands that what matters most is their audience.
Dr. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He offers a number of very useful resources on his website which may help you to develop the habit of presence.
Whether you want to stop a bad habit or create a new and more helpful one, most people are looking for quick fixes. The internet is teeming with tools, tips, tricks and techniques for just about every habit you could imagine; including presenting and public speaking.
Whilst many of these may offer some help the truth is there is no quick fix. Mindfulness is the answer but it’s not easy, which is why most people avoid it especially when it comes to presenting. It takes time, courage, patience and practice but the investment pays enormous dividends.
If you want to stand out from the crowd and become a mindful presenter invest in these 7 habits.
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