How Mindfulness Can Make You A Better Speaker with Clarissa Kristjansson

May 30, 2019 | Knowledgebase, Thursday Talk Tip

Content Contributor – Clarissa Kristjansson SE – Clarissa is a Mindfulness Coach and Speaker. She helps mid-life professional women manage their stress, anxiety and sleep problems. Become a Content Contributor today!

How Mindfulness Can Make You A Better Speaker

As public speakers, we all want to become better at speaking and to be able to connect more deeply with our audiences. Mindfulness is a skill that can help you be more successful as a speaker. Practising mindfulness provides you, not only with techniques and tools to calm your nerves, but to gain insight into yourself as a speaker and cultivates awareness of how your audience is responding.

It’s the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness that make it a valuable support in becoming a better speaker and these are

  1. Acceptance – bringing openness and welcoming the experience just as it is in the moment
  2. Non-judging – assuming the stance of an impartial witness to everything that happens during a speech
  3. Patience – a recognition that to get to B you start at A
  4. Beginner’s mind – a curious open mind
  5. Trust – faith in the validity of our own experience
  6. Non-striving – a willingness to allow the present to be the way it is without to change it. Responding rather than reacting to the situation
  7. Kindness and compassion – remove reactivity and blame

Applying this mindful approach to speaking can play a vital role in making you a more engaging, passionate speaker who a deeply engage the audience from preparing the presentation, dealing with difficulties that may arise to deeply reading your audience and connecting on a new level. I have outlined a few specific scenarios we may encounter as public speakers and how mindful awareness and simple practices can provide support to overcome our brains that are often our worst enemy.

Calming the Anxiety

Even the most experienced speakers feel anxiety at some level when giving a presentation.  When faced with a stressful situation, which public speaking is, we go into fight or flight mode automatically. Our limbic system in the brain and in particular the amygdala is triggered, and we unconsciously feel fear.

When we practice being mindful of our emotions, bringing curiosity and acceptance to them, it calms the limbic system, while activating the neocortex, which helps to regulate the nervous system. We Increase our capacity for flexibility, decision-making, and thinking skilfully.  Mindfulness reduces the fear response related to public speaking. Moreover, a regular mindfulness practice, as science has shown, shrinks the amygdala, the part of the brain that’s responsible for the fight-or-flight response, making it easier to have emotional balance and quickly calming any anxiety that arises before or during any public speech.

Mindful breathing is the simplest and most effective way to calm the body and mind. This doesn’t mean deep breathing or trying to feel something special. Try staying with one full breath as you inhale and exhale, keeping your mind open and free. Abandon any ideas of getting somewhere or having anything happen. Just keep returning to the breath over and over. Your mind will want to wander and that’s normal. But every time it does bring it back to the breath again and again.

Coping with Unexpected

Everyone has experienced this type of situation at least once and the sinking feeling it creates. Familiar challenges can include technology that decides not to work or the person who invited and briefed you not being present at the meeting, and therefore, the expectations may have changed and your presentation is a bit off kilter. I’ve certainly been in those situations and felt a rising level of discomfort.

Or alternatively, you get tough questions or even have a hostile audience. For me this has occurred when people feel they have dragged along to ‘mindfulness’ day that they don’t feel comfortable attending.

Mindfulness lets us cope better with difficult experiences. Why? So often we experience unpleasant or unexpected, and immediately we move into ‘doing-mode,’ a kind of problem-solving which can escalate any distress that we may feel. We feel pressure to stop the discomfort, whether that’s anxiety, embarrassment, irritation, or some other unpleasant emotion. And often we do this with our thinking.  This sets the mind racing and we are in fight-flight or freeze and react according. Talking to fast, sweating or forgetting our line of thought as common examples and then the mind takes over. We need to interrupt this train of thoughts and mindful grounding in the present moment is a more effective way, and quick to do.

Here are my top 5 ways to do that:

  1. Sip a cool glass of water.
  2. Feel the clothes on your body, whether your arms and legs are covered and the sensation of your clothes as you move in them. Notice how your feet feel encased in shoes and socks. If you are sitting, feel the chair under you and the weight of your body and legs pressing onto it
  3. Stop and listen. Notice and name the sounds you can hear, gradually expanding outward to focus on what you hear in the distance.
  4. Get up if you’re sitting and walk around, noticing each step as you take one, then another. Notice the sensation as you connect with the ground.
  5. Wear an elastic band on your wrist (not tight) and flick it gently, feeling it spring back on your wrist.

Preparing With Awareness

When you accept a presentation opportunity, you can often find yourself caught in a whirlwind of tasks and deadlines to meet. As a result, you may not stop to think about the way you feel or think. Consider what excellent presentation you can make when you fully connect with yourself. Influencing the behaviours, feelings, and thoughts of others without awareness of your own is hardly the best way to go about presentations. As a mindful presenter, you invest time to think about how you come across. How you sound, and the way each of your actions is perceived.

Once you are an experienced presenter, maybe with few signature speeches, you find that you are doing the same routines over and over. The brain starts working on automatic pilot, and you may start making less and less conscious decisions. Such repetitive behaviour is never a good thing in public speaking. When you practice mindfulness, you will become much more aware and open to insight. That way, you more able to access your wisdom and creativity to adapt and evolve your presentations and the way you say things.

Simple mindfulness practice that helps us is to slow down. Try doing a few everyday tasks a bit slower and notice the urge to speed up, to get things done, the sense of future orientation and the mind’s urge to get onto the next thing. The more you do this exercise, the more you are training your mind to be here, in the present moment, and this becomes your default position.

Deeply Connecting to Your Audience

As a speaker, you want people to hear and understand you and more importantly, connect with you. When you have a greater sense of self-awareness, you will more quickly and more deeply connect with your audience. It doesn’t mean you should scrutinize yourself to the point of obsession. However, we have the extraordinary in-built ability to read inner states of other people, and when we speak in a room full of people, we are co-creating the experience thanks to ‘mirror neurons.’ Plus self-awareness can change the way you see others and connect with them. Mindfulness helps us to ‘read’ our states and to slow down cultivating a sense of calm that means you can ‘take others in.’  

A powerful, mindful approach to do this is to extend your interaction with at least three people daily consciously. Each time you interact, take a moment to pause and consider all that you share, the breath, a longing for connection, a dislike of pain, and delight in joy. Keep a journal of how it feels, noting insights at the end of each day. In this way, you are becoming more in tune with yourself and bolstering the social bonds that encourage you to cooperate with others. This slower cooperative approach stimulates the calm-connect system and leads to greater emotional balance and perspective.

Remember, when it comes to improving your public speaking a little mindfulness goes a very long way. One of the striking implication of mindfulness is that our thoughts and speech become clearer and we become confident and a positive force for change as we connect on a deeper level to our audiences.

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