What is the value of mindfulness in public speaking?
Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools available to each of us today.
It can 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.
What is mindfulness?
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.”
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, 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’. I wrote about this some time ago: ‘The Most Important Skill in the World Today – Public Speaking.’
I believe that the ability to present our 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
The world is full of highly intelligent, creative, responsible and talented people.
Despite all of our gifts and strengths, a great number of professionals mindlessly function on auto-pilot.
Mindfulness offers us the opportunity to practice becoming more aware of our own internal, mental, physical and emotional state. We learn more about what drive our behaviours and results.
How can mindfulness in public speaking help you become a better speaker?
You see yourself differently
You allow yourself to tune into whether you are thinking, acting or feeling in the mode of ‘auto-pilot’.
In that moment of awareness, you are given the choice to continue or to think, feel or act differently
You become more effective at managing your own internal state
Even though you may feel anxious about giving a presentation, you become more effective at managing your own internal state.
This is because you have a greater awareness, understanding and 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. This gives you the power to manage it more effectively.
You see others differently too
Mindfulness allows you the level of self-awareness to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. To think and feel as they are likely to think and feel about the topic you are speaking on.
You shift your focus
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.
Your focus shifts to 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.
You become grounded
To be a highly effective presenter you need to stay grounded, balanced and authentic.
These qualities are hard to attain and exhibit when you are frantically running around on ‘auto-pilot’.
Mindfulness helps you to remember who you really are. That is who your audience came to listen to, not the ‘corporate spokesperson’.
You pay attention
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 remember them but tune into them too.
You de-clutter your mind
It helps you to remove the clutter in your mind. You remember what’s important to you, stop worrying so much and show a great deal more compassion for yourself and others.
You notice things
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 many professionals which often stifles self-awareness, creativity and the free thinking.
The Mindful Presenter will make sure that the very last thing they open is their laptop. The very first thing they open is their mind.
You get to be present
You get to be in the room with your audience, not just physically but in mind, body and spirit too.
The practice of self- awareness and mindfulness changes allows you to be fully present in the room.
You become less anxious
So many highly experienced professionals are daunted by the very thought of presenting to colleagues or clients.
A surprising number of people become distracted or even paralysed by anxiety and fear.
Mindfulness helps to greatly dissipate the unhealthy anxiety. It allows you to respect it and use it to connect with your audience.
You fix bad habits
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 often find that many of those bad habits that concern professionals are largely products of their own imagination.
The practice of self-awareness allows you to examine the reality and severity of these bad habits. You then get to understand and challenge them in an effective way.
Where do you start?
Let me start by saying that mindfulness is not easy.
It takes diligent focus and commitment.
I would recommend that before you do anything else, develop a simple mindful meditation practice. It takes less than 10 minutes and can be done in 5 very simple but powerful steps.
Sit comfortably in a quiet place, with your eyes closed and your feet flat on the floor. Somewhere you know you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes.
Focus on your breathing and tune into each breath.
Breathe slowly and calmly, in through your nose filling your lungs completely.
Gently release 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.
As you continue focusing on your breathing, notice how good each inhale and each exhale feels from moment to moment.
As you enjoy each 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.
As you enjoy 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.
As you gently scan your body, if you notice any tension, aches, pain or stress, acknowledge the feeling. Slowly breathe out, imagine releasing the tension in that part of the body.
This is 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. There are also many techniques and practical mediation classes that you can engage with.
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 commitment to find one that works for you.
Mindfulness is the future of high impact presenting and public speaking
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.
If you would like to learn how to use mindfulness in public speaking:
– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.
– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.
– Get yourself some excellent presentation training
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