Why being present to the moment matters
There are two very natural reactions to uncomfortable situations: We either try to avoid them completely or – if that is not an option – we try to get through them as quickly as possible. Get it done somehow, shake off the awkwardness we felt, and move on. What is much harder though is being present to the moment with all its stress and embracing it fully.
As someone who does public speaking on a regular basis I am more than familiar with stressful situations. Whenever I have to deliver a big speech, I dread it for days. I curse myself for getting into this situation in the first place and can’t wait for when it is finally over. Even when I am up on stage I don’t enjoy the moment I worked so hard for. Instead, I see it only as a necessary evil to get to the relaxation afterwards.
Needless to say that this attitude will not result in your best performance. And this is as true for public speaking as it is for any other stressful situation. How are you gonna give it your best if you don’t even enjoy being there? How can you focus fully on your task at hand if your mind wanders off constantly? And how are you gonna learn and get better if you don’t fully take in the experience?
How to become more present
So how do you become more present to the moment, especially if that moment is full of panic, pressure and pulse-racing? Here are three tips that work well for me in public speaking.
The mental preparation begins hours, sometimes days before the actual event. Picture yourself in the stressful situation. Think about what could go wrong, so nothing catches you by surprise. But also think about all the things that will come out of it and carry that feeling with you. Live through the event as detailed as possible in your mind, so that during the real event you can feel like you’ve been through all of this before. Repetition is what makes us better, and this repetition can also be in our head.
2. Prepare, don’t memorise
Preparation is key to feel confident and at ease. But the secret of good preparation is not to learn everything by heart. The secret is to build a skillset that allows you do deal with any unforeseen situation. Compare it with learning a language: if you are not advanced yet, you memorise phrases and sentences while being completely focussed on not forgetting them. You are in your head. If you become fluent however you can react appropriately to anything that is thrown at you while staying fully present to the situation. So if you find yourself in the same stressful situation again and again, start building the skills that are needed for you to handle it more effortlessly.
3. Have fun!
Enjoy the moment, even when you feel uncomfortable. Try to have fun with how your body and mind are reacting to the stress! Isn’t it hilarious how your knees are shaking? Or how your mouth gets really dry? And isn’t it really funny that our ancestors had to fight rival tribes and wild animals, while we are scared of talking in front of 20 people? It’s really all just in our heads, so why not see it with humour. And while you acknowledge all your mental and physical stress symptoms (without taking them too seriously), you become more aware of what is going on inside you, thus increasing your presence.