World-class public speakers generally have a few traits in common. They’re relaxed on stage. They’re spontaneous and often interact with the audience during their speech. They’re expressive and bright; the audience often feels uplifted, inspired or moved after the speech. They know how to flow on stage. While much of this comes with practice, meditation can help you cultivate all of these qualities much more quickly.
Most people have trouble with public peaking because they approach the subject from a place of fear. Their mind creates mental images of disaster scenarios, and those mental images further intensify their fear. In response, they try harder to memorize and recite the speech word for word – taking their attention away from the moment, and from the audience with whom they’re trying to create a connection.
Instead of trying to overcome fear by memorizing a speech word for word, meditation allows you to dissipate the fear in a natural way. It won’t completely get rid of nervousness, but it will allow you to have a positive relationship with the natural nervousness that comes with speaking. It’ll also allow you to be in the present moment – and allow you to be spontaneous, relaxed, and expressive.
So how can you use meditation to improve your public speaking?
Meditate at Least FIve Minutes a Day the Week Before Your Speech
A big part of the nervousness that comes from speaking in public comes from a buildup of stressful self-talk. The week leading up to a talk, thoughts like these often pop up:
- What will the audience think of me?
- What questions might the audience ask? What if I don’t have an answer?
- What if the projector breaks?
- What will this mean for my career if I mess up this speech?
Over the week, this can create a buildup of stress that only gets worse. Meditation can not only help break you out of this cycle, but turn the cycle into a cycle of positive self-talk.
The first step to putting an end to this kind of mental imagery and self-talk is to become aware of it. With regular meditation, you’ll start to very quickly notice when your mind is creating unhelpful self-talk. You’ll also be able to practice stopping that kind of self-talk. Not through force, but through gently guiding your mind back to awareness—or to more positive and self-reinforcing thoughts.
Meditating every day leading up to a speech can work wonders for your nerves when you’re actually on stage. It’ll dispel the “buildup” of stressful thoughts leading up to the speech, which will have you much more relaxed when you’re actually on stage.
Being Relaxed and Spontaneous During Your Speech
Meditation can also be a powerful tool when you’re actually up on stage. The first step starts as any other meditation starts: accepting the moment exactly as it is. If you’re feeling nervous, start by breathing and allowing that experience to exist, as it is. Stay in the present moment and accept whatever the moment brings.
In improv, one of the core tenants is the “yes, and” philosophy. Like meditation, improv actors are taught to accept the moment as it is, and to add on top of it. This philosophy can be very powerful when used on stage. Instead of stopping the flow of the moment, improv actors are able to take whatever is happening in the moment and turn it into an opportunity to connect with the audience. This concept applies not just with improv, but with all public speaking.
A great example of this is a speech on mindfulness by Gopi Kallayil, Google’chief evangelist of brand marketing. During his speech, the projector broke down. Instead of letting anxiety about the situation detract from his speech, he used the situation spontaneously to create a mindfulness exercise. He shared with the group exactly what was going on in his mind, and how he was using his breath to calm himself down. He turned the situation into an educational moment and involved the audience. Instead of freezing up or apologizing, it became a valuable part of his speech.
The best response to these kinds of situations is different from speech to speech. But the key to being able to come up with a good response on the spot is to simply accept the moment as it is—to say “yes and”—and to add to it.
Meditation and mindfulness can help you make big improvements to your public speaking. Best of all? It only takes a few minutes of practice a day for it to make an impact. Why not give it a shot the next time you have a big speech?