Do you believe that having great content is enough for effective public speaking?
It never is. Your content can't create the responses you want in your listeners— whether it's learning, persuasion, or inspiration. That's your job as a presenter. If it weren't, you could email your PowerPoint deck or handouts to your audience, and say, "Read this. Then you'll have everything you need to know!"
(To be as comfortable with listeners as you are with your content, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience").
Charts and bullet points work wonderfully to accomplish the tasks they're suited for. But when it comes to explaining, putting things in context, or discussing what's really important about the data, well, that's your job. It's why you give speeches and presentations in the first place.
Presence Means Being Present
To accomplish these things and more, you need to be mentally present for your audience. And that means understanding and embodying the concept of mindfulness. It's a key skill of effective public speaking. In terms of speaking effectiveness, mindfulness refers to the ability to speak to audiences with total awareness of the task and the people at hand.
To be mindful, in other words, is to be fully "present" for your listeners. In fact, it's one way to reach that holy grail of public speaking: presence. It's not a mistake that the two words have the same root: praesent, or Latin for "to be present before others."
This doesn't just mean physically, of course. It also refers to having a strong sense of focus and inhabiting the present moment. To improve your own focus to speak with greater impact and influence, download my cheat sheet, "10 Ways to Stay Fully Focused when Speaking."
Speaking Well Means Single-Tasking
Ideas similar to these appear in Daniel Goleman's recent blog, "Mindfulness: When Focus Means Single-Tasking" (LinkedIn, October 6, 2013). As Goleman points out, these days we're sitting ducks for distractions: emails, beeping phones, enticing links in onine stories; even those newsfeeds that scroll across the bottom of other news.
The opposite of the multitasking demanded by these applications is single-tasking, or "the ability to bring our focus to bear fully on just what we are doing" (Goleman). If there's any task filled with possibilities for distraction and attention-fracturing anxieties—and where laser-like focus is needed—it's speaking in public.
Two Ways to Achieve Mindfulness in Public Speaking
So how can you achieve the concentrated focus you need to be a more effective speaker? Here are two ways to follow a more disciplined path to speaking success:
1. Unlearn Multitasking. As you probably realize by now, multitasking is the enemy of impactful public speaking. By its nature, multitasking splits your consciousness into partial attention to any task. Trying to do more than one thing at a time reduces your control over any one of them, and that means reducing your effectiveness as well.
The key here is to develop the habit of single-tasking in everyday activities. It's simply too difficult to suddenly achieve mindfulness in order to give an important presentation. Learn to be fully present without a single distraction in low-key situations; and the more of a chore the task is (like washing dishes), the better. An excellent book with practical exercises along these lines is Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.
2. Limit Your Speaking Objective. Speeches have limits both in terms of time and the attentiveness of your audience. So, be realistic about what you can accomplish in 20 minutes, a half-hour, or even in a day of training. For instance, don't try to drag into your talk the complex past relationship between you and your listeners, or the objectives for an entire project if you're here to discuss just a single aspect of it.
Focus on the single purpose you're there to accomplish. That's enough of a challenge for a brief presentation. If you can limit your objective to what you can achieve while the window of your presentation is open, you'll be demonstrating mental discipline. From there, it's only a small step to remaining focused on the task at hand—an important step in achieving true speaking effectiveness.