Public speaking is a lot like yoga. When viewed as a spiritual practice, public speaking offers an amazing opportunity for an exploration into the self.
People start doing yoga for all kinds of different reasons. For some, it’s an athletic endeavor. Others consider it a spiritual practice. For someone else, it might be healing journey. That’s why they start. But for those for whom yoga becomes part of life, it’s because the practice itself has seeped in to a deeper place in their souls—far beyond that original reason. They keep coming back because the practice has changed them in some way. It’s that inward journey into discovering who we are at a deeper level that is the essence and magic of yoga.
That same beautiful journey is how I experience the path toward public speaking. It’s not a common way of looking at it. More often than not, people think of public speaking as something to be endured, or avoided, or something they plan to do ‘someday.’ They come to public speaking workshops in order to learn ways to make it easier, with a minor sense of dread, still trying to convince themselves it’s worth the pain.
Public speaking as a spiritual practice
What if we started to view public speaking as spiritual practice? My experience, both as a speaker and a teacher, is that public speaking is one of the most rewarding paths to personal growth on the planet. It is about so much more than learning how to deliver a competent presentation or a way to sell a product. It can be that, and is that, but to stop there is selling it short. It’s like describing yoga as simply a form of exercise.
The real value in public speaking is an inner one. It’s an opportunity to practice presence, acceptance, and compassion for yourself while simultaneously getting comfortable being authentically you in front of others. The result is pure magic. Like yoga, the transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but for those willing to commit to the journey, speaking changes you in some way. You become more comfortable in our own skin, not just on the stage, but in life. Because in order to speak up in front of others, you have to be willing to let go of ‘what everyone might be thinking’ and be okay being exactly who you are.
Imagine, for example, sitting in front of someone who you deem more powerful than you. What usually happens is that we unconsciously start to feel small. Our bodies contract in subtle ways, we get tongue-tied, and our palms sweat. Or we do the opposite: We puff ourselves up to impress the person and in order to come across as bigger than we truly feel. In either case, at the end of the encounter we find ourselves energetically drained, unsure of what just happened, and knowing unequivocally that it wasn’t the way we really wanted to show up.
Now instead, imagine the same situation in which you feel completely confident being who you are no matter who is in the room. You might still see the people around you as more powerful in certain areas of life, but knowing that doesn’t in any way diminish your power. You feel comfortable in your own skin, confident in your opinions, and okay with where you are in your life. It’s instead a pleasant conversation or an interesting exchange, and you leave feeling enriched by the experience.
The simple truth is that when you’re comfortable in who you are as a person, others no longer have power over you. You stop shrinking or dimming your light in the presence of others, and as a result your own brilliance starts to naturally shine brighter.
That’s a spiritual revelation—and an empowering one as well. After all, we are not on this earth to pretend to be something we’re not, to puff ourselves up, dim our lights, or in some other way shift our behavior so that others can feel comfortable. If we are ever going to raise the vibration on the planet, we are going to need each and every one of us with a heart-centered core to step forward into our own brilliance—authentically, and in that powerful, beautiful, and heart-centered way that only you can bring. It all starts with being willing to speak up and show up exactly as you are in this present moment. And that’s exactly what you tap into when you start public speaking.
4 tips on how to be a better public speaker (as an aspect of a spiritual practice)
1. Accept yourself. Trust that you don’t need to be anything other than exactly who you are at this moment in time. So much of our anxiety comes from thinking we ‘should’ be further along. But public speaking is a skill like any other. If you’re a beginner, accept that, in the same way you might accept not being able to touch your toes in yoga on day one. Because it’s in the acceptance that the unfolding will happen naturally and much quicker than any kind of forcing it ever could.
2. Ground yourself. Recall a time when you were fully in the moment, and compare that to a time when you were doing the same activity but feeling distracted. The difference is being grounded. When you’re grounded, speaking becomes so much easier because you can think calmly and react accordingly. This might be as simple as taking a few deep breaths.
3. Understand it’s not about you. When you’re standing center stage with all eyes gazing your way, it’s easy to think it’s all about you. But thinking that way keeps us in our heads and usually in a state of self-consciousness. When you shift the focus from you to your audience, speaking feels more natural. Start by asking yourself, what can I give to this group today, or how can I make a difference to them?
4. Own the energy. When fear and self-doubt creep in, usually our natural reaction is to get serious, perhaps overcompensating for our nervousness. However, the audience will meet your energy, so be the energy you want to create. You’ll have more fun and feel much more like you.
Debbie Sipowicz is a startup expert for visionaries and creatives. She teaches clients how to blast through visibility and self-doubt issues so they can start speaking up, having influence and making a difference.