The Disciplined Mind of Public Speaking

peter orszag public speaking

A recent article from Forbes compared public speaking to competitive running. Your state of mind is in a constant balance between directives from your conscious mind and the randomness from your unconscious mind. While your unconscious mind can sometimes be a great help, there’s no place for it in public speaking. Finding ways to put your unconscious mind away so you can consciously give a presentation is essential.

Think of it in terms of a running athlete. When you don’t have control of your unconscious mind, you’re allowing fears and past experiences dictate your present action. A runner who was allowing their unconscious mind to prevail would flail, look behind them – lose the race. They’d look more like a scared kid than a professional athlete.

While an occasional bizarre movement while running wouldn’t matter for most of us when running recreationally, Olympic athletes know that
even subtle movements outside of pure running efficiency could be the difference between a world record and a loss. Athletic training at that level isn’t just physical – the mental discipline to keep your conscious mind under control is paramount to success.

Public speakers aren’t timed to the hundredth of a second, but at a high level, self-destructive behaviors matter and can be held against you. You know what memories, actions, or anxieties from long ago are preventing you from behaving at your best on stage. There’s no sense in denying them. You must take charge of your mental instruments and learn to manage your unconscious mind.

Athletes build their focus by practicing mentally imaging their races and games. Seeing success for yourself, allowing yourself to feel it ahead of time, has had a major impact on teams of athletes, including the gold medal counts of the Soviets during the cold war. The practice has since spread worldwide, and is used by many American athletes.

For public speakers to live up to their true potential, here is a three-step process. Allow yourself one to three months to complete them, with regular maintenance. First, identify irrational fears, beliefs, and habits that get in the way of your performance in some way. Next, develop new dialogues to replace the old fixations – like finding effective mental images that you really respond to. Then, implement the new thinking. At the very least, your heightened awareness and drive to correct old habits will leave you better off.

from Peter Orszag


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