Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools available to each of us today to help us to become far more aware of ourselves; our thoughts, our feelings and the world that surrounds us. Its meteoric rise in popularity and effectiveness has some of the biggest brands in the world offering mindfulness training in the workplace. Mindfulness programs can be found not only in Silicon Valley amongst the likes of Google and Facebook, it is a practice being encouraged in schools and universities and even in prisons.
What is it?
Jon Kabat-Zinn the Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine refers to it as “presence of heart”. If you’re concerned that mindfulness is reserved exclusively for those who can sit still for hours meditating you may be interested in something else Mr Kabat – Zinn said: “It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum, it’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”
Before you join me in exploring the answer to the question, ‘Can mindfulness make you a better presenter and public Speaker?’, It’s worth investing two minutes of your time listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn explain exactly what mindfulness is. Watch the short YouTube video here:
When it comes to training and development it seems to me that many leaders divide the world of knowledge and learning into ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills’. ‘Hard skills’ tend to be associated with the left brain where most things involve logic, structure, rules, systems, processes and measurement. In contrast, ‘soft skills’ are perceived as being more aligned to emotional intelligence, involving areas of life such as communication, personal impact and self- management.
It troubles me a great deal when I hear leaders openly state that they have little if any interest in ‘soft skills’ especially having wrote an article on the topic expressing my belief, ‘The Most Important Skill in the World Today – Public Speaking.’
I would go as far as to say that I believe that the ability to present your ideas and speak effectively in public with clarity, confidence and impact is not only the most important skill in business today, it’s also the hardest. There is certainly nothing soft about it.
One of the keys to success in highly effective communication is self-awareness, let me explain.
The world is full of highly intelligent, creative, responsible and talented people although despite all of our gifts and strengths a great number of professionals mindlessly function on auto-pilot. It seems to me that for many of us a vast number of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours take place with little conscious awareness; in other words we live a great deal of our lives through habit. Those habits extend to the way we think, feel and act across every area of our lives, especially at work.
Mindfulness offers us the opportunity to practice becoming more aware of our own internal, mental, physical and emotional state and the way they drive our behaviours, results and crucially our response to the results we achieve.
I’ve already acknowledged that public speaking and presenting are hard skills for many professionals to master. I believe there are three significant obstacles that make it so difficult. Firstly, its not something that most of us were taught to do at school, college, university or even at work. Anxiety is the second biggest hurdle and then comes the awareness that most people don’t like attending presentations because many are too long, too similar to others they have attended and too boring.
How can increased self-awareness help you to become a better speaker?
- When you become more self-aware you see yourself and other people differently. You allow yourself to tune into whether you are thinking, acting or feeling in the mode of ‘auto-pilot’ and you get a sense of whether others are too. In that moment of awareness you get the choice to continue or to think, feel or act differently
- Even though you may feel anxious about giving a presentation you become more effective at managing your own internal state because you have awareness, understanding and an appreciation of it. The anxiety doesn’t instantly disappear but rather than judging it, labelling and persecuting yourself, you recognise it for what it is and the power you have to manage it.
- Mindfulness allows you the level of self –awareness to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and to think and feel as they are likely to think and feel about the topic you are speaking on and your message.
- It helps you to take your focus way from yourself in terms of trying to demonstrate how clever you are, how hard you work and how good you are at your job to focus exclusively on what your audience wants and needs from you. Rather than assuming that you know who they are, what troubles them and how you can help them you take the time to find out.
- To be a highly effective presenter you need to stay grounded, balanced and authentic and those qualities are hard to attain and exhibit when you are frantically running around on ‘auto-pilot’. Surrounded by so many immediate challenges and pressure in the world we live in today far too many people aren’t even sufficiently grounded let alone authentic. Mindfulness helps you to remember who you really are and that is who your audience came to listen to, not the ‘corporate spokesperson’.
- Self- awareness helps you to pay attention to the present moment to observe and understand the personal impact you have on other people. It helps you to stay true to your personal values because you not only know or remember them but you get to tune into them too. How many of us don’t live true too our own values and how many of us don’t even consider our values or those of our audience when presenting to them?
- It helps you to remove the clutter in your mind as well as your life, remember what’s important to you, stop worrying so much and show a great deal more compassion for yourself and others.
- Next time you are called on to give a presentation take a moment to notice the first thing you do. For many, the very first thing you will see them do is to open up their laptop and start typing. That is an automatic response for most professionals which I believe stifles self-awareness, creativity and the free thinking critical to dare to be different. The Mindful Presenter will make sure that the very last thing they open is their laptop and the very first thing is their mind.
- You get to be in the room with your audience, not just physically but in mind, body and spirit. Many presenters do their audience a huge disservice by being in the room with them physically but not fully emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. The practice of self- awareness and mindfulness changes that completely, you get to be fully present in the room.
- So many highly experienced, creative and gifted professionals are daunted by the very thought of presenting to colleagues or clients. Regardless of status or experience a surprising number become distracted or even paralysed by anxiety and fear. Mindfulness helps to greatly dissipate the unhealthy anxiety to respect it and use it to connect with your audience.
- As a presentation and public speaking coach and trainer I have yet to come across anyone who does not believe that they have bad habits when they are presenting. On much closer examination I find that many of those bad habits that concern professionals are largely products of their own imagination. In other words, whilst they believe they are real almost to the point of paranoia, in many cases they just aren’t visible to their audience. The practice of self-awareness allows you to examine the reality and severity of these bad habits and then to understand and challenge them in an effective way.
Where do you start?
Let me start by saying that mindfulness is not at all easy; it takes courage, diligent focus and commitment. The good news is that once we have made the decision to live more mindfully it is a possibility for all of us.
To develop your personal speaking skills it would be remiss of me not to suggest that you attend one of our high impact presentation and public speaking training courses or work one to one with us in a personal coaching session. I understand of course that may not be practical or suitable for everyone so the very first thing I would recommend before you do anything else is to develop simple mindful meditation practice. It takes less than 10 minutes and can be done in 5 very simple but powerful steps.
1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and your feet flat on the floor in a quiet place where you know you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes.
2. Focus on your breathing and tune into each breath as you breathe slowly and calmly, in through your nose filling your lungs completely and then gently releasing the breath out through your mouth. As you breathe in acknowledge it as a breath in and feel how it feels, as you breathe out acknowledge the breath out and notice that too.
3. As you continue focusing on your breathing notice how good each inhale and each exhale feels from moment to moment. As you enjoy your breath it’s inevitable that you will interrupted by thoughts. Each time you are don’t fight, challenge or engage with them simply acknowledge them and bring your focus back to your breath.
4. As you enjoy your breath acknowledging those thoughts and letting them go as you return your awareness to your breath become aware of your body. Gently tune into how your body feels as you relax in the chair. Gently and slowly scan your body up and down noticing and acknowledging anything you feel. Once again don’t challenge, fight or judge what you feel, simply notice it.
5. As you gently scan your body if you notice any tension, aches, pain or stress then acknowledge the feeling and as you slowly breathe out imagine releasing the tension in that part of the body.
This is simply one short mindful meditation practice you can begin to practice and develop in a way that works best for you. There are countless books and articles available on mindfulness and there and as many techniques as there are practical mediation classes that you can engage with. Like mindfulness itself the first challenge is to have the level of consciousness of its value and the benefits it may offer you. The second is to have the self- awareness, courage and commitment to find one that works for you.
Please be aware that at Mindful Presenter our presentation training courses, workshops and coaching sessions are not focused on meditation. Whilst it is a crucially important and influential element of approach as we say on our website: “We coach you to be completely in the room with your audience rather than simply in your head. We show you how to do far more than present; you will learn how to connect with impact, authority and grace in a way that is compelling and memorable.”
I passionately believe that mindfulness is the future of high impact presenting and public speaking and that the best way to experience the concept of mindfulness is to try it for yourself. The moment you do so you embark on the most exciting journey of self-awareness and if you aspire to connect with your audience emotionally with clarity, purpose and impact there is a great deal more that you can do.
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If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.
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