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Mindful ways to overcome the fear of public speaking

The first time I brought along a mindfulness expert to one of my public speaking group classes, most got it but one woman wasn't so sure. She said, "yeah, lovely session but what has mindfulness got to do with public speaking?

At the time, in truth, I didn't know exactly why I was doing it either; it just instinctively felt like the right thing to do. Every week I was bombarded with participants sharing with me the reasons why they felt they couldn't be themselves. Every last one of those reasons were steeped in stereotypes. Some of the blockages I could reverse relatively quickly, the bulk of the reasons, however, were cemented in their minds with power glue.

As time went on I became increasingly aware I was up against a massive machine. Unconscious bias and stereotyping were simply everywhere, invisible to the naked eye and unconscious to those even creating much of the material they were churning out. Material that was creating damage to my client's minds similar to an abusive partner who through envy, strips away at your self-esteem and reduces your mental health to nothing so that he/she can control you. I needed to find a way to release these thought patterns from my client's minds. It was making them ill in some cases and, most scarily of all, preventing them from being memorable speakers and reaching their full potential. At the time, I wasn't aware that continued meditation helped to reduce the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for fear). I had no clue that it would help my clients to recognise that the thoughts which were keeping them away from rocking their authentic voices were just that; thoughts. They were not real, came from a place of self-doubt and highly inaccurate. I was simply willing to try anything. 

Every week, my brain was bombarded with participants sharing with me the reasons why they felt they couldn't be themselves. Reasons which were all steeped in stereotypes. 

Ingrid M - The Empowerment Gal

I mean don't get me wrong. Without the mindfulness approach and just some good old basic public speaking training, I could get them to rock up on the stage and do their thing. It would be okay. I see 'okay' speakers all day long boring the pants off of people. It would give me a few bucks for sure, but would my speakers be compelling? No. Would they be remembered tomorrow? No. Would I have felt fulfilled inside to send out okay speakers? Hell no. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than the day when a client throws the heavy cloak of perfection off their shoulders, can express themselves fully and they tell me I have changed their life. That's when I get 'paid.' No money can replace that feeling. 

There is no one more compelling to listen to, more thrilling and memorable than someone who can rock their authentic self both on and off the stage. I want to create speakers who can help change the world. Who can empower and inspire change. People are bored, stressed and looking for a way out of feeling that way. I see little point in sending out yet another boring speaker to the stage. Awesome speakers know that the perfection is in the imperfection and they know that public speaking is a means to an end, not the end goal but rather, one of the many ways to express your voice. 

The world is full of okay speakers. They doubt the awesomeness they were born with. I watch them on the stage all the time and it makes my heart bleed because I can see what they can't. Somebody incredibly wonderful, but with their thoughts and belief systems telling them otherwise. 

That is why I created retreats rather than workshops with a whole mindfulness process as part of my programme. To disconnect you from the noise and the negative narrative that keeps telling you that you are not enough just the way you jolly well are.

Top three tips:

1. Become more mindful of the world around you. Unconscious bias and stereotyping to make you feel bad about yourself is being reinforced on a subliminal level every single day. It has to be a subliminal to impact you because if it was obvious it wouldn't work. During a recent visit to my local supermarket, I realised that positioned at eye level was a whole row of magazines with imagery of women needing to either get plastic surgery, be skinny or find a man to be complete. I can assure you, none of these things will make you a better speaker or make you complete. See these images for what they are, like a dodgy partner who wants you to feel insecure in order to control you and get you to do what they want, in this case, part with your cash.

2. Remember that thoughts are not real, they are like electric currents zapping through your mind. They will intensify when doing something new as you would have provoked the flight or fight response activated within the amygdala part of the brain. Regular meditation reduces the amygdala over time. You will increasingly begin to realise they are just thoughts, are not real and will eventually be able to allow the thoughts to flow in and just flow right back out again.

3. On the way to a gig, it helps to be in tune with nature to keep yourself in the present moment. Try consciously plucking a flower and smelling it with deep breaths. Then, rub the leaf between your fingertips while continuing to focus on your breath and slowing down even further.

Remember there are always two stories, the one others write for you and the one you write for yourself.

Ingrid M - The Empowerment Gal

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