You may be familiar with the phrase “Your Thoughts Shape Your Reality.” For those of us who make regular presentations, we know that our thoughts are words that can create images in our minds as well as in the minds of our audience. Let me take a moment right upfront to share with you a glimpse into how imagery improves our performance, especially for public speakers.
Let’s glimpse a little scientific understanding and an important distinction, first. Then zoom in on a close-up of imagery enhancing performance for presenters.
The Human Brain
First, this is an MRI image of the human brain.
This is not. Although it is creative.
And this is really not, but in North America, a light bulb above someone’s head signifies a “bright idea.”
Distinguishing between the human mind and the human brain is essential. We all know that the brain is our physical machinery. Consciousness is what we can do with or create with that machinery. Physical apparatus, or neurons specifically, fire when stimulated. They apparently do not distinguish between physical performance and imagined performance.
Our minds, on the other hand, clearly knows the difference. You cannot fool the mind. However, the human brain will respond in roughly the same manner despite whether we perform a specific act – such as making a public presentation – or imagine performing that same act.
Once again, this signifies the human brain.
The following image signifies the mind. This woman, at least for the purposes of this demonstration, is using her mind’s imagination. She may be wondering what her fiance will do tonight at dinner. Will he propose to her in the manner in which she has clearly laid out for him, as her preference?
The man below – let’s call him the fiance – seems to be capturing on paper the image that he holds of himself in his mind’s eye proposing to his fiance in just the manner that he has remembered as her preferred mode. Perhaps he is down on one knee, gazing lovingly up into her eyes…
A little more science. If a researcher was to look at the following image, she might say that while this person was alive, he had Alzheimer’s disease. She can tell by the small bright yellow area that is lit up. This is a neuro-signature, and it represents a little bundle of neurons that are typically activated when an Alzheimer’s patient is listening to communication.
We don’t have to limit how we utilize the knowledge of neuro-signatures. We can use it to assist us in becoming better speakers. I’ve always imagined that a neuro-signature looks a little like a lightning bolt, especially in the early stages of learning something.
Our physical machinery and our conscious mind are distinctly different. Let’s say that the MRI scan below and to the right here is of myself while swinging a golf club when I was seven years old. The administrative center of my brain, which is always alert to what’s going on, yells out loudly, alerting all other neural resources within my cortex to wake up!
“All neural functions man your stations! This little kid is trying to do something new. I think he wants to hit that little white ball with the end of this stick. We want him to be successful. Everyone help!”
The MRI scan above and to your left is of me much more recently. With each subsequent rehearsal – and I have rehearsed thousands of times with a real golf club in my hand and in my imagination – my neural signature is changed, improved, and refined. It now takes far fewer neural resources to perform the same task as when I was just seven years old.
If we had a world-class professional golfer’s MRI scan to compare to, we’d find that their neural-signature would be just that much more refined again. Their brain’s neuro-signature would be more efficient and more sophisticated. Their brain would require far fewer resources to accomplish an even better outcome.
We are born with a brain, but spend a lifetime developing our minds. Our brain thinks and feels, but our mind is what gives meaning to our experiences, and it is our minds that find ways to use our brains in new and creative ways.
Being a member of a club like Toastmasters provides an excellent experience that I can highly recommend. Yet it has its limitations. We can practice and become better speakers, but meetings are only one to two hours long, once per week, and we have to share the hour with 20 or 25 other people. Solution: Take 10-20 seconds before you get out of bed in the morning to imagine yourself giving the best speech of your life. Before you go back to work each day at noon, spend 10 to 20 seconds seeing yourself in your mind’s eye, meeting all the feedback that you’ve received since becoming a Toastmaster.
Don’t pretend that you’re the best. Utilize the full power of your imagination. Allow yourself to practice seeing yourself performing at your best. Your mind won’t be fooled into thinking that you’re standing in front of an audience when you’re still in bed imagining, but your brain and its neurons will fire. It will respond in almost precisely the same way.
Practice makes permanent, not perfect, so be cautious. Mental practice while you’re stressed is not what you want. Rehearse mentally while you’re relaxed and allow actual calm to permeate your performance. Refine your neuro-signature for public speaking, and let’s see who becomes our newest outstanding speakers over the next few months. We’re watching. We’re listening.
Don’t just imagine that you’re giving a work presentation. See yourself giving the best performance of your life! I guarantee that you’ll not flop if you imagine giving your best presentation ever.