Mindful public speaking

When speaking in public have you ever felt like your mouth is talking but your brain isn’t really contributing? Have you ever noticed that you’re trying to robotically recall your script, rather than engaging with the audience. If that’s the case don’t worry, you’re not alone.

As our careers progress, we might find ourselves speaking in public more frequently. And for many of us we find ourselves consumed by the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Dry mouth, sweaty palms, racing pulse, tight chest, hot face, the list goes on. This can affect our body language, facial expressions and our ability to speak clearly, rendering us unable to communicate effectively.

When this happens you are usually in a state of fight-or-flight. Cortisol and adrenaline are coursing through your body, blood is rushing to the muscles in your arms and legs, and you find yourself reacting as if in a life-threatening situation. If you were being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger this reaction might have saved your life, but it’s not helpful when presenting slides in the boardroom.

However, public speaking is a skill you can improve, and one effective strategy is to use mindfulness to reduce the symptoms of stress. This enables you to really connect with those in the room, and communicate with clarity and confidence. Listed below are 5 ways that you can use mindfulness to improve your public speaking.


1. Steady heart rate

With mindfulness practice you can develop the ability to observe your heart rate and assess whether it’s starting to speed up. You can also notice any other symptoms of stress as they appear. With that awareness you can start to take some deep breaths, or carry out some other activity to help you move into a more relaxed state. The key is to not ignore what is happening. It’s about accepting it and taking control.

2. Clear voice

When we’re nervous our voices can tremble, speed up or become more high-pitched. With mindfulness practice you can observe these feelings and determine what kinds of sounds are about to come out. If there is some tension you can do some vocal exercises to loosen things up before you step on stage. You can also develop the ability to monitor your voice while presenting, so that you can make constant adjustments in the moment.

3. Body awareness

When we’re nervous, many of us are prone to moving around and shuffling our feet. Even if you’re saying the right words during a presentation, it could distract the audience and make them uncomfortable. With mindfulness practice, you can identify this happening in the moment, and calm yourself down. One effective technique is to create a dramatic pause if you feel like you’re losing control. This fools the audience into thinking you’re supremely confident, but actually it just gives you a few valuable seconds to regain composure.

4. Connect with the audience

When nerves take over it’s easy to just put your head down, read through the script and then run away. However, an audience wants to feel a connection. Good eye contact, positive hand gestures and expressive voice are all great ways to achieve this. And as the speaker it’s useful to observe how people are reacting to your presentation. Are they interested? Bored? Offended? By paying attention and being fully in the moment, you can react immediately to ask questions or address any concerns.

5. Bring authentic self

The one thing that could improve your public speaking more than anything else is bringing your authentic self. It’s amazing how much mental energy goes into trying to be something you’re not. When you let go of this, you might notice you’re able to focus fully on the audience, and the message you’re trying to convey. Sometimes it means showing vulnerability, sometimes it means telling bad jokes. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the real you. Mindfulness can help you to cultivate self-compassion, so that you can go out there and just be yourself.

6. Final thought

Now to be totally honest, this doesn’t always work. Mindfulness isn’t a magical solution. It takes dedication and practice. Sometimes all the good advice goes out of the window and the nerves take over. But that’s ok. The key is to embrace this reaction with kindness and gratitude, so that you can get on that stage and have a great time. Wishing you all the best in your public speaking engagements.

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