Being Present – Improving Your Life With Mindfulness Practice

Whenever I start to talk about mindfulness practice with my clients, I tend get a lot of blank stares or resistance. Generally, I think people picture a Buddhist monk engaged in seated meditation for hours or weeks on end. Actually, mindfulness is a very simple practice that is easily integrated into our everyday lives. You can even do it while you’re washing dishes!

What is Mindfulness practice?

A great definition is provided by well-known researcher and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the moment without grasping onto judgment. That is, intentionally noticing present experience without labeling it as good or bad. Simple, yes. Easy, no.

It takes a lot of practice to pay attention to the moment. Our minds naturally wander. For instance, how often do you actually pay attention to the experience of washing the dishes or for that matter, playing with your children? Never? You wouldn’t be alone. We’re raised to multitask in our current day society. You wash dishes while going over your day, talking to your kids or partner, planning for tomorrow, etc. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to really experience washing the dishes. Feel the temperature of the water. Notice the smell and feel of the soap running over your hands. See the bubbles. Hear the sound of the running water or the clink of the dishes. What emotions arise? What thoughts come up?

Why bother with mindfulness practice?

The benefits are nearly endless. According to another well-known expert and author of numerous books including The Mindful Brain, Dan Siegel, M.D., research indicates that meditation or mindfulness practice has significant effects on the body, mind and even relationships. Dr. Herbert Benson, author of the Relaxation Response and president of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard reports that scientific evidence shows that the relaxed state achieved through meditation can lower blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. It reduces anxiety, anger, hostility and depression. It alleviates insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes and infertility. It has also been used successfully to treat individuals with chronic pain. It increases emotional balance and mental flexibility, which helps to overcome emotional pain, compulsions and addictions. It improves concentration and mental clarity. It enhances insight and empathy. It improves our intuitive ability and provides us with a heightened sense of connectedness to others and the world. Relationships improve when we are able to be more present with people and less caught up in fantasy, projection or negative emotions that get in the way of successful communication. Researchers have also found that meditators report increased life satisfaction and optimism. All that without a pill? Who wouldn’t want to try it?

How is Mindfulness Practice done?

Mindfulness is a state of mind rather than a specific activity. There are many paths to mindfulness. It is important to choose a method that works for you! In order for it to work it has to be enjoyable (or at least something you’re willing to practice). It has to fit into your schedule. It has to be something you can do. Don’t take an ashtanga vinyasa yoga class if you’re out of shape and have never taken a basic yoga class. Don’t sign up for a week long meditation retreat if you’ve never meditated five minutes. Start small.

Yoga, Tai chi, Chi Gong, and various forms of Meditation are wonderful options to begin to train your mind to pay attention. But, Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a formal practice. There are endless opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout your day. You can wash dishes, go for a walk, play with your kids, be with your partner, take a bath, eat a meal, etc. The point is to pay attention, notice when your mind wanders, and gently bring your attention back to the experience of the moment. It’s as simple as that.

Presentation Skills: Do You Know Your Audience?

Sometimes we get so caught up in the idea of public speaking – be it from nervousness or excitement – that we often do not have a clear idea about those to whom we will be addressing. In truth, you cannot even begin to create your presentation until you know about your audience. And, the best way to gain that information is to ask.

Someone is going to email you, phone you, or send you an actual letter with an invitation to speak to their group or at their conference. Your job is to then ask questions. Speak directly to the individual inviting you. If the person inviting you is calling you on behalf of someone else, ask the questions anyway. Make a list of the questions for which you need answers; refer to them throughout your conversation; and, if the individual inviting you does not know the answer, make sure he or she gets back to you.

If a company is hiring you to speak to their employees, find out the level of the employees. Will it be just the managers and/or the top level administrative staff or will it be a particular department within the company?

If you are speaking at a convention, find out who is invited to attend. Is it a real estate convention in which your audience will consist of realtors who have paid hundreds of dollars for a Vegas weekend or is it a flower show in which your audience will pay at the door to browse the displays?

Should you be invited to speak to a local club or organization which meets monthly, for example, ask the same questions. The more information you can gain about your audience, the better prepared you will be.

After you have gotten your answers, go to their website and do more research. Whether it is a convention, a business, or a local club, read all the literature you can about that organization or company especially press material. You may find something in your research that could be very advantageous to know before addressing that group.

Even if you are speaking to a local chapter of a club, search the internet for any press coverage they may have had recently. Businesses and clubs will be impressed if you are familiar with their firm or organization. Being on top of current events makes you more knowledgeable and thus increases your level of credibility.

No matter how much money you are being paid, or whether you are doing it for free, no matter where and when your presentation, no matter if it is 10 minutes in length or 40, no matter what your topic, no matter why you are speaking, the most important question you must answer is: to whom are you speaking?

Presentation Skills That You Have to Master

Competence in presentation skills is a definite asset. Not only will these skills help you advance as an employee (great presentations help win deals!) they’re also a reliable source of steady income as a freelancer. Indeed, many today who need something extra aside from their regular 9 to 5 job, find moonlighting as a speaker a great way to make ends meet.

If you want to be a great presenter, and consequently get that speaking career off the ground, what are the presentation skills that you should master?

Content Design

Delivering a talk begins with designing a great program or speech. If you’re presenting a learning workshop, you would need to ground your presentation on the learning objectives of the course or training program. If you’re delivering short keynote speeches, you would need to anchor your speech on an overarching theme or central message. A speaker able to structure their speeches strategically are more effective in reaching their audience.

Designing great content relies on two sub skills: research and critical thinking. If you want your audience to leave the auditorium feeling like they spent their time well, make sure you share something useful in your talk. You can prepare quality content by researching books, academic journals and formal company literature; or you may draw from your experience or ability to dissect ideas. Critical thinking helps you lay your ideas with logical flow in mind.

Public Speaking Skills

Content design is for behind the scenes, but what about presentation skills for the day of the talk itself? To deliver a talk effectively, you would need to be a good communicator. Start with the clarity of your verbal communication; make sure you know how to project your voice well, enunciate properly, and vary the inflection in your voice so that you don’t sound monotonous. Non-verbal presentation skills are also critical; you must be able to exude confidence as you talk.

Public Speaking presentation skills also involve effective use of presentation aids, such as audio-visual aids, hand-outs and even actual samples for the audience’s review. These aids should enhance a presentation, and illustrate concepts and ideas that can’t be effectively described by merely using words. Care must be given so that they don’t distract your audience from what you are saying.

Facilitation Skills

If you have the opportunity, it’s great to make your presentation interactive. You can ask the audience some guide questions, solicit their ideas, or constantly verify understanding of what you are discussing. All these require facilitation skills. Facilitation skills include, but is not limited to, encouraging audience involvement, linking similar responses, brainstorming techniques, and throwing back questions to the group. A speaker who can not just deliver talks, but actually facilitate a group-centered discussion is a more dynamic speaker.

Evaluation Skills

Lastly, if you want to hone your presentation skills, you must know how to gather and use feedback. Evaluation is usually a neglected aspect of the presentation giving process, but it’s critical to not just a program’s growth, but the speakers’ as well. Handing out evaluation questionnaires, soliciting the opinion of randomly selected audience members, and getting peers to critique a presentation are just some of the ways speakers can evaluate their work.