Public speaking and presenting is often perceived as a skill that only extroverts can excel at because you need to be loud, elaborate and super bold. Mindfulness on the other hand is commonly associated with being far more reserved, contemplative and even a little meek.
Both perspectives of course are misplaced, which means that regardless of your personality mindfulness can be extremely valuable in helping you to become a better public speaker. In fact, at Mindful Presenter we believe that the key to high impact presenting and public speaking starts with awareness, clarity and focus.
If you have to present regularly at work you’ve probably noticed that it often arrives on your to do list as an interruption and inconvenience rather than something you look forward to. Once you’ve resigned yourself to the harsh reality that it’s simply part of the job it’s often something put to the bottom of the list. When it raises itself back up to the top of the list again we often then become experts at procrastination.
The moment arrives when you can’t put it off any longer and you just have to spring into action.
– The laptop comes out.
– The templates leap out.
The mind switches over to auto-pilot and the damage is already done.
Or is it?
It’s only the beginning.
In terms of content alone some people then go on to craft a presentation which looks and sounds almost identical to previous ones they’ve written. Many are then delivered in exactly the same way too; regardless of the message or the audience.
Highly intelligent, creative, talented and responsible professionals all over the world are presenting the same things in the same way to the same people every week.
Mindfulness is changing the world of public speaking and presenting in a way that is illuminating and refreshing because it compels and equips us as speakers to connect emotionally as well as intellectually.
1. You get to meet you
Many of us are so busy being busy that we rarely take the time to really think about how we are thinking and how we are feeling. Imagine how much more powerful your presentation would be if you connected fully with yourself first before attempting to do so with a disparate audience. Trying to influence the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of others without awareness of our own as presenters is akin to swimming in quicksand.
Long before they even open their laptop the Mindful presenter invests the time, energy and effort to focus on themselves at the exclusion of all other distractions.
How do I feel?
How do I sound?
How do I look?
What are my natural gifts as a speaker, what works for me?
Am I present with my audience in the room in the moment or am I there in body but not in mind and spirit?
Why am I here anyway?
How are my thoughts helping or hindering me and what impact would they have on my audience as a consequence?
Am I doing this for me or them?
Am I excited or nervous; what’s the difference?
Do I do anything repeatedly to the point of distraction when I’m presenting and how do I know?
2. You get to know your audience before you meet them
When we learn to become more aware of and less dismissive of ourselves we stand a far greater chance of connecting emotionally with our audience. Whilst it may sound selfish we owe it to our audience to connect with ourselves first. The process of healthy and balanced introspection has to be our first priority. That doesn’t of course mean that we scrutinise ourselves to the point of destruction, it means creating a thoughtful awareness that inspires personal growth and development. Once we begin tuning into and understanding ourselves a little more we can then do the same with our audience.
Who are they really?
How much do I know about them?
How much do I care about them?
How can I help them?
What difference can I make to their professional or personal lives?
What do they want and need the most from me?
These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, husbands, wives and partners how do I connect with them as such as well as professionals.
Do they really just want information from me or do they want to feel something?
What do they want to feel?
How can I help them feel it?
3. You get to make wise choices
When we wake up at the same time each morning, eat the same breakfast each day, wear the same clothes ,take the same route to work to sit at the same desk in front of the same computer to largely say the same things to the same people each day life can become a little too routine. When life is too unremarkable we often make choices and decisions less consciously as we work hard to maintain the status quo.
When it comes to presenting and public speaking such repetitive behaviour isn’t at all helpful for our audience. When we practice mindfulness we become far more aware, open to insights and can access our own creativity and wisdom far more easily and effectively.
Our audience’s become extremely thankful for the wise choices and decisions we find ourselves making.
Do I really need PowerPoint or any visual aids?
Is this slide, fact, statement, quote or number completely relevant to my audience?
What is my message and if I were to ask them to tweet it to the rest of the world after my presentation what would they say?
Do I really need 40 minutes of their time or could I connect far more effectively in 20 minutes?
Would they be far better served by me them simply sending them a self – explanatory email asking them to call me if they have any questions when they’ve read it?
Have I invested enough time and energy preparing and practicing my presentation and if I haven’t should I postpone my presentation until I have in fairness to my audience.
4. You get to connect
We live in a world full of noise, knowledge, information and distractions. Whilst knowledge and information will always be at the top of most people’s search lists the last thing anyone needs more of is noise and distractions.
With over 7 billion people on the planet rapidly becoming more and more disconnected with each other that’s the one thing many of us are crying out for; connection.
We want to be heard, we want to be understood, we want to have our voice and have our say. What we want and need more than anything else is to feel connected to each other. Despite what many of us have been led to believe, presenting and public speaking creates an incredible opportunity for each of us to make and feel that connection.
To achieve that bond we can no longer rely on the way we have been presenting to each other at work for decades. We need the facts, the information and the data but on its own it’s not enough. At mindful presenter we would argue that presenting in this way at the exclusion of all else supresses emotional connection and serves to alienate us from each other even further.
Fact and data on their own don’t stimulate connecting they need to be brought to life through:
Stories and anecdotes
Metaphors and similes
Thought provoking questions
Passion and purpose
5. You get to stop lying to yourself
“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” Mark Twain
Everyone feels some level of anxiety when presenting and speaking in public and a great many feel extremely nervous; even to the point of experiencing panic attacks.
Whether you are truthful and acknowledge and express your discomfort with public speaking or you are in the second group that Mr Twain so eloquently refers to, mindfulness may offer you the solution you have long been searching for.
The human mind is conditioned to wander at least 50% of the time, a vast number or our thoughts are repetitive and for many of us far too many of them are unhelpful. When it comes to presenting and public speaking anyone who has experienced that paralysing feeling of anxiety will tell you they simply can’t stop those repetitive destructive thoughts.
This extremely simple 3 step solution can change everything.
Step 1– Sit down with your spine straight and supported but in a way that you are comfortable.
Step 2– Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath. Notice how it feels each time you breathe in and each time you breathe out.
Step 3 – When your mind wanders, and you can be certain that it will, bring your focus back to your breath and just notice how it feels again. You don’t need to challenge or judge your thoughts just notice and feel each breath. Each time your mind wanders return it to your breath; don’t worry about how many times you have to do so.
If nervousness is something which you find particularly challenging when presenting you may find the following video very helpful as Mel Robbins shares her way of handling anxiety and panic.
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.
Image: Courtesy of flickr.com