Thursday, July 28, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Mindfulness meditation

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the first in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to learn mindfulness meditation. Also called present-moment awareness, mindfulness meditation isn't complicated: You focus on your breathing in and out, or how your body feels, or the sounds that come to your ears, and when your mind wanders, you bring it back to the present moment. Over and over and over again, without chiding yourself for mind-wandering.

Mindfulness meditation works best when you develop a regular daily practice; over time, you will notice yourself becoming more calm and focused. It's not a magic bullet, but if you do it with regularity, it works. It also is a great back-pocket tool for backstage nerves, because you can do as little as a few minutes of meditation to get the beneficial effects. Try these 1-minute and 4-minute meditations from Tara Brach to see what a short meditation can do.

Mindfulness can help you combat fight-or-flight syndrome, which shuts down the part of your brain you need for complex activity like public speaking, and turns on the part that makes you want to run and hide. Full Catastrophe Living offers a good introduction to the benefits of meditation, and a great description of how fight-or-flight syndrome affects your body.

This past year at TEDMED2015, I had the opportunity to work with two experts in meditation. They were not only calm, but were focused and aware of what was happening in every moment. But they know and I know that every speaker could have that advantage!

This is a good fix for nervous speakers, particularly those who jump ahead to imagine catastrophes or think back to mistakes; over-preparers; speakers who blush uncontrollably, since that is a playing-out of your stress on stage; and anyone who gets fight-or-flight syndrome before speaking (aka, everyone).

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.