There is considerable research evidence that even limited use of Mindfulness can decrease stress and help with acutely stressful situations (such as presenting). So what is it? It’s not the same is meditation, but it has grown out of it. Wikipedia defines it as:
Mindfulness is a modern movement, appropriated from ancient Buddhist roots, and clinically innovated by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective.
What that means in real terms is that you simply become consciously aware of what is going on, in detail, right now. So much of what we do on a daily basis is done ‘on auto-pilot’ that we become detached from the reality around us and consequently begin to suffer from ‘non real’ problems (such as stress). I know that stress is real (trust me on this) – I’m only using the term for the sake of having a convenient terminology.
If you’re interested, the UK’s National Health Service has some advice and examples of how to develop mindfulness in a health-based setting here.
The research work into using mindfulness to control nerves has been carried out in all kinds of circumstances (including nurses and students studying for exams etc) so we can be very sure it’s a useful tool in the context of presentations, too. The question is more ‘ how do you develop mindfulness?‘.
Developing Mindfulness – tool 1
Some things are easier to demonstrate than to describe…
(Note that this exercise is sometimes best done using headphones rather than the speakers on your computer.)
Once you’ve done a simple mindfulness meditation a few times it becomes very easy to as part of your warm up and preparation for your presentation. You may even want to consider including it on your Ties and Flies checklist!
Developing Mindfulness – tool 2
The tool above, the simple meditation, is very internally focussed. Recently, research has begun to emerge that a more externally focussed form of Mindfulness is even more effective. The principle is very similar, in that you become consciously aware of what is going on, but with two differences:
- what you’re aware of is outside of you, external to your body; and
- you create a running commentary of it.
Once you’ve got into the swing of things, it becomes relatively easy to apply the tools of Mindfulness to your presenting. By practicing Mindfulness you become more calm generally; and by using the external commentary approach, you will develop (in time) the ability to observe yourself doing things. Not only will that help you can stay calmer at the time but you can be better at doing whatever-it-is. This is because as you observe and comment on your own performance, you can start to make improvements.
1… you might decide to skip a slide in a presentation, commenting to yourself as you do so about how the slide looked
2… you might decide to not comment on something someone has said in a meeting, commenting instead inside your head.