Golfer Jack Nicklaus said that he never hit a shot, even during practice, without visualizing it first. He won 18 major championships. For decades, professional athletes have considered visualization an essential tool, often spending hours visualizing their victory. Public speakers can use this same technique to improve their speaking.
“So you’re saying that by daydreaming about being a good speaker, you will suddenly get better? That’s ridiculous.”
I agree it sounds bogus. But after reading about several studies that proved visualization works, I decided to try it in a debate round. I had some extra preparation time before my last speech, so I closed my eyes and visualized myself giving a brilliant speech. When I stood up and spoke, it wasn’t brilliant.
But it was good.
So good, in fact, that the judge gave me the maximum 30 speaker points.
How does visualization work?
Visualization is basically using your imagination to improve your actual performance. Right before you speak, close your eyes and imagine every detail about a successful speech. That includes the audience having a receptive attitude, your confident posture, the charisma you want flowing from you, and the brilliant rhetoric you’re going to use.
It’s important that you imagine the tiny details of the scene. Make the visualization as specific as possible. Think about the techniques that you will use to speak well.
“Visualization is weird”
I know it seems strange, or even self-centered to just imagine yourself being a successful person.
I get that.
When I first read about visualization, I put it aside as something odd that I didn’t have time for.
Trust me when I say that this works. Not only does it work, it feels natural after you get used to it.
I would encourage you to try it at least 10 times before deciding whether you like it. If you try your first time right before a speech you’ll probably feel self-conscious.
Why does it work?
The same reason method acting works. Method acting is a technique that many famous actors, such as Daniel Day-Lewis, use. When he was playing a character in a movie that was crippled, he went around in a wheelchair even when he was off-camera. This helped him get into the mindset of the character he wanted to play.
Many actors, instead of going to the extreme of method acting, settle with visualizing their performance. They try to feel the emotions and empathize with their character.
Here’s the tricky part about acting: it’s impossible to fully fake body language. There are thousands of individual parts to the body language of a particular state of mind. You can try acting confident by adopting the posture, but other parts will give away that you’re not confident.
Visualization bypasses this problem by helping your brain to automate your body language. Basically, you’ve convinced your brain that you’re a confident speaker, so it helps you act that way.
“There is good evidence that imagining oneself performing an activity activates parts of the brain that are used in actually performing that activity,” said Professor Stephen Kosslyn, director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
You’re essentially tricking your mind into thinking you’re a good speaker!
Extra stuff you can do
If you’ve got the idea of visualization down, and want to go even further, here are a few extra tips.
- Come up with and memorize simple catchphrases to calm yourself down. “This too shall pass.” “No one cares if I mess up.”
- Play your favorite pump-up music. Play anything that makes you feel awesome, confident, and ready to speak.
- Smile to yourself. This is very important. If you frown while listening to your music and visualizing, you’ll just make yourself nervous. A confident, smug smile makes you feel better. Trust me.
- Come up with a visualization that works for you and rehearse it so that it’s easy for you to remember it in times of need. That way you don’t have to make one up on the fly when you’re nervous.
- Read the book “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane. This is where I learned about visualization. If you take the book seriously you’ll learn a lot. It not only improved my speaking, it improved my social skills.
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