San Francisco, CA- A friend of mine put up a social media post a few weeks ago seeking encouragement. He’d lost the passion to pursue public speaking after years of rejection and denial. This little social media blurb really got me thinking about an internal conflict I’ve often bumped up against, a conflict that relates specifically to realizing my vision as a professional speaker and trainer. On one side: the oft-recommended self-help trope of specifically visualizing your dream, right down to the door knob on your eventual mansion. On the other side: the also oft-recommended self-help trope of staying present in the moment. How do I reconcile these two concepts? Especially when staying present in the moment is terribly painful specifically because I am failing to achieve my door knob vision?
For a highly self-critical and goal-oriented person, living for the future can be the opposite of being present. And even more importantly, when it comes to public speaking, focusing on one’s goals at the expense of being present to your audience can reek of desperation, as opposed to the essential energy of play. Here are three tips to help you stay present while realizing your goals.
Acknowledge that it ain’t easy.
Acknowledging that we’re in a difficult situation rather than getting angry at our inadequacies can be challenging for hard-driving achievers. I’ve heard Buddhists call this “the second arrow.” The first arrow would be the pain of the situation, and the second arrow would be the suffering we place on ourselves by wishing it were different. In a society that focuses on relentless improvement, there is a surprising lack of acknowledgement of difficulty. It can be seen as ‘weak’ or a waste of time. However, I’ve found that some self-compassion can actually improve my speaking performance when in scary new environments. I’m currently reading Dr. Kristen Neff’s excellent book “Self-Compassion.” It suggests simply placing your hand on your heart and taking a breath during difficult moments as a way to acknowledge and give credit to yourself. Give it a try, it works!
Public speaking happens in public. To get better, we must practice and make mistakes. Hence, public speaking mistakes will be made in public. I love clowning exercises because public failure is the path to transcendence. Failure is not only encouraged, it’s essential. I often refer to an experiment conducted by Social Psychologist Richard Wiseman for his 2010 book '“:59 Seconds.” He had 2 salespeople identically demonstrate blenders to mall-goers. However, one salesperson consistently forgot to fasten the top of the blender, so that salesperson was covered with smoothie in each demo. Who do you think sold more blenders? It was the salesperson who made the mistakes. Mistakes are your friend, folks.
Be kind to yourself.
I love asking people what they do for self-care. A few years ago, I had no idea myself. It took conscious thought and experimentation to simply figure out what I liked to do if achievement were not involved. If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you know that my go-to these days is heading off to an afternoon at the Korean spa for alternating hot and cold pool dips. But how do you to figure out what works for you? A good place to start is to sit down and make a list of ten things you enjoyed as a child: coloring, swimming, playing ball, etc.. Some of these can still bring a surprising amount of joy. Credit for this childhood ten things list goes to Julia Cameron’s transformative book, “The Artist’s Way.”
Both vision and presence are critical in the pursuit of excellence. Both practices have their merits, but moderation is the key. Have that mansion door knob image, but hold it loosely in the present moment. And remember, if you don’t believe you are already enough right now, everything else just falls apart. “You are enough” is a primary tenet of my presentation coaching curriculum. Hopefully these three tips can keep you present on that road to your vision-mansion. By the way, what do you do for self care? Please let me know in the comments!