by Daniel Kingsley
Mindfulness is a popular buzzword these days. In simple terms, it means paying attention to your present moment experience instead of getting lost in your thoughts. It’s a small thing that can make a massive difference to your life.
Our revolutionary way of approaching speaking in public can be viewed as a form of mindful public speaking.
To show you how – we’ve made it really simple by condensing it into just 10 simple steps.
Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments below!
1. Prepare with Powerful Posture
Find a private place and stand in a high confidence pose for 2-3 minutes.
You can increase the confidence chemicals in your body and reduce the stress chemicals by holding a “power pose”. There are lots of these power poses, but an easy one to practice is the “Superhero pose”. Stand with your hands on your hips, your shoulders back and your feet firmly balanced and breathe normally. (If you can’t find a private space you can imagine doing this – research shows that it has almost the same effect).
Research shows that paying attention to your posture and consciously altering it in this way for as little as 2 minutes significantly increases testosterone in the body (a hormone associated with confidence) and decreases cortisol (a stress hormone). It also has a powerful positive impact on the way that speakers are subsequently perceived by an audience. These postures look a bit strange if you do them on stage, so we recommend them as a preparation strategy only
2. Take a “4/8” breath before speaking
Before you speak, breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 and exhale through your mouth for a count of 8 as slowly as you comfortably can.
In the first 2 minutes of public speaking your body is going to be flooded with extra adrenaline and your heart rate will increase. This is normal – don’t worry about it. Research shows that paying attention to your breathing and consciously lengthening your outbreath is one of the quickest and most effective ways of switching off the “fight or flight” response, giving you greater ease as a speaker.
Taking a slow deep breath in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 8 will swiftly slow down your heart rate, allowing you to think more clearly and relate better with your audience. Allow yourself between 1 and 3 of these breaths before you start with your opening line and you’ll significantly decrease your heart rate, increasing your ability to think more clearly.
3. Connect your mind with your body
Pay attention to the feelings and sensations in your body and name them without judgment – e.g. “my heart is beating quickly – and it’s OK”.
True confidence starts with the body and not the mind. As we noted in the previous step, it’s normal for there to be some symptoms of nervousness in your body when you’re doing public speaking. By simply paying attention to these symptoms or feelings without judgment and just naming them, research shows your body will automatically start to calm down.
It’s as simple as saying to yourself “my heart is beating quickly” or “my mouth feels a bit dry”. If you find this challenging, it can be reassuring to add the words “and I’m OK”. This technique also gives the mind something to do besides worrying about what’s happening! This brings us on to the next technique…
4. Invoke self-compassion
If you’re feeling uncomfortable feelings, send yourself feelings of kindness in the same way you would share feelings of compassion to someone else who was having a difficult time.
Most of us are very good at being kind to others when they are in difficulty, but when we’re in a challenging situation we often speak harshly to ourselves. This is seriously counter-productive. The scared part of every adult functions as if it’s a small child and it needs to be related with accordingly.
Recognise (1) this is just a part of you and (2) it needs to be spoken to by you with kindness in order to help it calm down. If you find it difficult to speak to yourself with kindness, it can be helpful to imagine that someone you care about is having difficult feelings like these and then to “transfer” those feelings of warmth and kindness to yourself. Check out the blog we wrote about this here.
5. Make effective eye contact
Make easy, relaxed eye contact (no staring) with members of your audience for 5-20 seconds each, to calm down the “fight or flight” response.
One of the quickest ways of calming down during public speaking is to be in soft-focused eye contact with members of the audience for between 5-20 seconds each. This sort of eye contact activates the “social engagement system” which tells our bodies we are safe.
Many speakers make the mistake of making eye contact for just 1 or 2 seconds, but actually it takes a few more seconds per person to help the nervous system calm down. This eye contact isn’t staring, or even looking, it’s “allowing seeing to happen” – the lightest form of eye contact which is still real eye contact. If you want to know more – read this blog.
6. See and be seen
See the members of your audience as individual human beings and let them see (at least) some of “the real you”.
When you’re looking at a member of the audience, see them as another human being – don’t worry about what they are thinking – just notice the human connection “under” the personality. And allow a little bit of “the real you” to be seen by them. This turns public speaking into a much more human act and the audience will feel it and feel more connected to you.
See if you can be in eye contact in this way with someone in your audience at least 90% of the time whilst you’re speaking, in order to feel the maximum sense of connection. And of course, share your gaze around – you don’t need to look at every single person in the audience, but it’s great if every section of the room feels like you’ve had connection with someone in that area. This technique of seeing and allowing yourself to be seen was called Relational Presence by Lee Glickstein who framed the Speaking Circles method for public speaking. You can read an article about Relational Presence here.
7. Keep your attention centred in you
Don’t “leave yourself” in order to meet your audience. Stay aware of the feelings and sensations in your body and “let your audience come to you” in order to connect with your natural power and confidence.
It’s tempting when you’re doing public speaking to get your attention lost in the audience and your mind lost in speculation about what’s happening with them, to the point where you are thinking more about your audience than yourself.
Confidence and power come from feeling the feelings and sensations in your body with non-judgment and compassion (see points 3 and 4 above) and letting the audience come to you, rather than trying to “go out and get them”. This way of being with an audience can be a little counter-intuitive at first and it usually takes some time and practice to master, but the results can be truly amazing.
8. Include the audience in your personal space
Have a sense of warmly including your listeners in your personal space, as if you’re inviting them into your home.
In order to create a feeling of inclusivity, imagine expanding the personal space around your body to fill the whole of the space you’re speaking in, in a way that includes the others in your space. It’s a feeling of “this is my house – and you’re welcome”. Doing this will make you feel more confident and connected to your audience and also make them feel more part of the talk. This means that they will feel fewer barriers to you as a speaker and will tend to create an environment where they pay more attention to what you are saying.
9. Allow the connection to be more important than the content
Pay attention to the connection with your audience, the feeling of seeing and being seen and the exchange between you and your audience will start to “get” you and more importantly feel
You’ve (hopefully) planned a great presentation ahead of time – you’ve done all the hard preparation work. Now in the delivery phase focus on feeling and paying attention to the connection with the audience more than you pay attention to the precise words you’re saying. To some extent by doing this you’re trusting your instinct and subconscious to take care of the details of the words, freeing your conscious mind to enjoy the connection.
This way of speaking will make things feel less “personal” and pressured for you and will help you access a “flow” state where you get better access to your intuition and creativity as you speak. This also helps to access a state where the audience become increasingly on your wavelength – you’ll start to get them and they’ll start to get you and feel you.
10. Let yourself enjoy it!
The more you can allow yourself to enjoy the experience (even if there is still nervousness) the more they will enjoy the experience. So, feel the nerves and enjoy it anyway.
Confidence is not about “not feeling nervous” – it’s about being OK with feeling nervous (if that’s what you’re feeling). The audience will feel what you feel. If you’re enjoying yourself (even if you are still nervous), the audience will enjoy themselves. If you are fighting the nerves, they’ll feel that too. Check out this blog piece I wrote about it here.
Humans are wired with “mirror-neurons” which mimic what those we are watching are feeling. The more OK you can be with you, the more OK they will be with you. The more fun you have the more fun they will have. And an audience who enjoy a presentation are much more likely to remember what you said and tell their friends!
Give these 10 techniques a try and let us know how you get on in the comments below. You may be surprised by how much of a difference they’ll make to your experience as a speaker.
And of course, if you’d like to be taught how to do this in person do check out our public speaking courses in London! We’d love to see you there.