For many, making a presentation is something they endure rather than enjoy. Yet I have learned that public speaking, if approached with the right mindset, can be very enjoyable. Even more, it can provide enormous personal benefits. I have found that public speaking can leave me feeling the same as vigorous exercise. At the end of both, I have an energized and clear mind; and frequently, I obtain insights about my work and my purpose.
Many “experts” give terribly bad advice about public speaking. This is because they approach public speaking from a mindset that it is something to endure, not enjoy. Advice such as “picture your audience naked” is silly and harmful.
This post is the first of a three-part series. I will deal with the “picture your audience naked” advice in the third post. That post will explain why you need to join with—rather than separate yourself from—your audience. In the second post, I will explain the difference between good preparation and scripting your talk. Scripting is deadly to a memorable presentation.
In this post we deal with the issue of presence and why a memorable presentation depends upon forgetting yourself. To be more precise, it depends upon forgetting about your ego. Once you do, your true Self, which arises from the love and intelligence of Wholeness, will rise to the surface.
When you hear the word presence, you may think to yourself, “Of course I am present. Where else could I be?” But your mind can take you to many places; it can take your attention away from this moment. As you stand to speak, you may think, “Gosh, this could be a tough audience. I never do well with this type of audience. I’m not getting paid enough for this job. It’s too hot in this room. This audience is so inattentive.” Clearly there are an infinite variety of distracting thoughts.
When you are thinking those distracting thoughts, your ego is present but your true Self is not. Your true Self is the source of an effective presentation. Ask yourself this simple question: What do I value more? Do I value my ego thoughts, or do I value being present for my audience? Taking a moment to inquiring into your values will allow you to choose again.
But what if the distracting thoughts are coming fast and furious? There is indeed no way out—until you remind yourself that these thoughts are not coming from the situation. Thoughts come to your mind and then the cause of the thoughts is projected by your mind onto the situation. For example, you feel tense and then you blame the fact that you are tense onto the “hot” room that you are in. Once you understand this principle of projection, you have the ability to choose again.
Once you regain the power of choice, then when a thought comes that takes your presence away, you can choose to drop it. The error many people make is that when a distracting thought comes, they engage the thought. We engage our thoughts when we resist them and when we process them. When you resist or process thoughts, you will find that one thought leads to another and another and another. Pretty soon, your presentation is ruined. Instead, choose to observe the thought and then drop the thought.
Many years ago when I was a relative rookie at lecturing, I would very easily make the error of being distracted. I frequently taught in a building whose classrooms were less than ideal. My classroom was situated right over the entrance to a major expressway. Classes began at 5:30 p.m. and the traffic always roared. In addition, the classroom had old heating and cooling units; they frequently made a lot of noise.
Some days when I was teaching, I felt that, even if I spoke in my very loudest voice, I was hardly audible over the racket. As I lectured, my mind drifted, mentally complaining about the expressway and the heating units.
Curiously enough, on other days—with the same level of racket—I would not even hear the noise. I could talk in a normal lecturing voice and feel as though I was speaking in an intimate setting.
Although this was many years ago, even then, I was beginning to understand what was going on. The issue wasn’t the expressway or the heating units; the issue was my presence—or lack of it.
If I was mentally complaining, the room would seem very big and noisy and I would feel very small; I was not present. If I was present, I placed my audience first and I experienced a quiet classroom.
Before your next presentation, there are a few steps that you can take to increase the chances that your distracting thoughts will fade away and leave you to be present for your audience.
Plan your schedule so that for some time before your presentation, you have a chance to be very quiet inside. Center yourself by reading something inspirational. Remind yourself of your purpose in giving the presentation: You are there to share your gifts. Remember that you value your audience above the distracting thoughts of your ego. Remember the distractions are not in the external circumstances; the distractions are in your mind.
If you take these steps to be present and turn away from your ego, there is an excellent chance that you will use your skills to the utmost and enjoy your presentation.