Mindful Awareness and Authenticity

When most people think of acting mindful, they imagine showing consideration toward others and/or using awareness to dwelling in the present moment, but being mindful requires more than mere awareness. Mindfulness involves three main components:

  1. Demonstrating acute awareness of one’s surroundings and senses within the present moment;
  2. Possessing a nonjudgmental acceptance of the way things exist at that moment;
  3. Being intentional, or as Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn states, “paying attention on purpose.”

What does this have to do with public speaking though? Everything! Most individuals, when placed into a public speaking scenario, have a sort of out-of-body experience.

Note to Self

It may almost seem as though your conscious, rational, thinking self exits your body and starts to float somewhere above you and off to the side, all the while pointing out a barrage of self-criticisms: You’re blowing it! Stop shaking so much! Talk louder! Why didn’t you practice more?

This strange sensation often compounds and increases the natural biological anxiety response by shifting the focus away from where it should be, on the audience and how they receive the message, and instead, onto the escalating number of nervous symptoms. As a result of this sensation, the communication style shifts into the antonym of mindfulness, mindlessness, or the act of going through the motions (i.e., on “autopilot”). Audiences can easily tell when a speaker has proverbially “checked out” and no longer seems “in tune” with the audience. Perceptions such as these are indicative of a speaker who no longer fully functions in the present moment, and in such situations, the audience could likely stand up and walk out and the speaker might not notice.

By incorporating techniques to facilitate more mindful behaviors, public speakers have the capability to reconnect that conscious self with their physical self. Speakers who intentionally remain more focused on the present moment, begin to develop the valuable communication skill of consciously thinking about the words before speaking, allowing them to shape and choose their communication more carefully—more mindfully. Achieving such a state requires practice and skill, however, it also involves more than possessing an intentional awareness.

The final facet of mindfulness involves nonjudgmental acceptance or acknowledgment. Nonjudgmental acceptance entails recognizing when speakers feel the peak of their biological anxiety response, usually within the first 60 seconds or so after the speech begins, and accepting those uncomfortable symptoms as a natural part of public speaking. Most individuals find these symptoms rather unpleasant, so learning to accept them requires a conscious effort to alter any perceptions of them.

Think about how a roller coaster fills riders with excitement and, simultaneously, dread. The body and brain undergo an identical process prior to such a thrilling experience, and yet, the perceptions of the two situations feel all together differently. In one, the anxiety response might make people giddy, causing the hairs on their arms stand on end, and forcing an almost unstoppable smile. On the other hand, the pre-speech jitters may feel like the worst punishment humankind has ever devised. The brain, however, cannot tell the difference, biologically speaking, so it is up to the neocortex to redirect this energy and use it positively.

Note to Self

How might you reframe the way you look at public speaking nerves? What if, instead of dreading the experience of speaking in front of an audience, you viewed it with anticipation by looking forward to an opportunity to share with others information that either mattered to you a great deal or you find quite fascinating? Combined with positive visualization, you can see how beneficial reframing can transform public speaking anxiety into anticipation.

By adopting a more mindful approach to public speaking, the potential for an out-of-body experience dissipates, allowing more fruitful interactions with the audience. Note the reactions from the audience and feel the “energy” of the room, and adapt in the moment to the changing nature of the presentation. Such practices exude authenticity to audience members, as opposed to speakers who “phone it in” and speak from a memorized script, regardless of the audience.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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