You may be familiar with the phrase “Your Thoughts Shape Your Reality.” For those of us who have to make public presentations, we know that our thoughts turn into words, which create images in our minds as well as in the minds of our audience. Let me take a moment now to remember for myself and then share with you a glimpse into how imagery improves our performance, especially for public speakers.
As a way of getting started, let’s take a quick step back and begin with a little science. Then we can zoom forward and land precisely on how imagery enhances performance for us presenters.
The Human Brain
First, this is an MRI image of the human brain.
This is not.
And this is really not.
This is a photo of three cute little kids with light bulbs above their heads. 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. The brain is our physical machinery. Consciousness is what we can do with or create with our brain. Physical apparatus, or neurons, apparently does not distinguish between physical performance and imagined performance.
Our mind 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.
This image signifies the mind. This woman, at least for the purposes of this demonstration, is using her 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?
This man – 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 this picture, she might say that while this person was alive, that 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 a patient is spoken to if they have Alzheimer’s disease.
We don’t have to limit how we utilize the knowledge of neuro-signatures. We can use it to assist us to become better speakers. I’ve always imagined that a neuro-signature looks a little like a lightning bolt.
Our physical machinery and our conscious mind are distinctly different. Let’s say that the MRI scan on 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 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.”
The MRI scan on the 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.
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 is excellent because we can practice and become better speakers, but meetings are only one-two hours long, once per week and we have to share the hour with 20-25 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 10-20 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. 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 will respond in almost precisely the same way. Mental practice while relaxed becomes actual calm while performing. Refine your neuro-signature for public speaking and let’s see who becomes our newest outstanding speakers over the next few months.
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.