Apparently, a lot. An interview with professional speaker and author, Neha Sonney.
Photo used with permission by Neha Sonney
Warmth and light.
Authentic and congruent.
These are words I associated with Neha Sonney, Author, professional public speaker, speaking coach of The Ultimate Storytelling Blueprint, and author of the book Wired for Self Love, before we ever met.
Having only ever exchanged a few comments over Medium regarding an article I wrote on public speaking, it was amazing how strongly these associations were before our Zoom meeting.
Once we started speaking, it was apparent that self-love, authenticity, and congruence are words that Neha naturally embodies in her interactions with others. Therefore, it was not surprising that they are also qualities she credits as essential to becoming a confident and competent public speaker.
Neha was not only warm and open in conversation when I invited her to share with me her journey to “flip the fear” of public speaking to becoming a professional speaker, including the tools she found most helpful, but she was also authentic and congruent in telling her story in a way that made me trust immediately that what she was sharing with me was genuine.
Interestingly, the tool she credits as most helpful to her in becoming a professional public speaker, now being invited to speak around the world, and challenging her fear of speaking is the same one that she credits with her congruent, authentic manner — meditation.
A journey of self-love
As Neha describes in her book as well as articles on personal development, she embarked on a journey of getting to know herself after the birth of her son.
When her son was 2 years old, she had a dramatic encounter where she found herself reacting to stress and with a raised hand, about to hit her child. As Neha describes, it was the look of terror in her son’s eyes, that triggered a “spiritual transformation” and prompted her to embark on a journey of inner exploration and eventually, healing.
Neha describes the childhood trauma she experienced growing up with a narcissistic parent which left her not knowing what unconditional love or self-love was.
Looking to learn about love, Neha turned to the practice of meditation, along with other strategies she describes in her book.
For Neha, meditation became critical in understanding her own boundaries and values and allowed her to learn to sit in silence with herself and eventually come to a place of self-awareness and self-love.
So, what does this journey have to do with public speaking?
First, know thyself
The journey to becoming a public speaker in Neha’s words is as much a journey of getting to know yourself as anything else.
What does meditation have to do with public speaking? — Everything. — Neha Sonney
As Neha describes, the critical components of getting to know yourself and developing self-awareness are what make a speaker both authentic and congruent — two essential ingredients for connecting with any audience.
All of these can be achieved through meditation.
Neha describes the benefits of meditation:
Getting to know yourself and gaining a deeper connection with your experiences
Developing awareness of your boundaries and values
Becoming your authentic self
Increased comfort with silence
Embodying congruent communication (e.g., alignment of intention, message, body language, vocal variety, and words)
This starts to make sense when we think about qualities that make a public speaker successful — including authenticity and congruence.
In other words, as a speaker, do I inspire trust?
Does my intention match what I am saying?
Does my body language match how my voice sounds and the words I am saying?
And perhaps most important, Do I believe the story I am telling and therefore am authentic in how I approach the audience?
How does this make a successful public speaker?
Looking at meditation and qualities that enable successful public speaking together, we start to see a clear picture of the direct benefits meditation brings to speaking including:
Reduction in nervousness and enhanced calm
Enhanced ability to relate experiences through storytelling to an audience
Comfort with using silence and strategic pausing when speaking
Natural congruence in presentation including alignment of intention, body language, voice, and words
The power to inspire through sharing an authentic experience
All of these factors result in a more authentic presentation of self and one’s message, resulting in increased trust, and buy-in from an audience.
More than this, because the speaker knows themselves and is deeply connected with their experience they gain the ability to inspire through sharing their story — as well as experience fewer speaking nerves.
As Neha puts it,
Through the hero’s journey in the story, the audience finds themselves coming out of the long, dark tunnel and seeing the light, finding the hero within themselves, feeling victorious, euphoric.
Then, know your material
Second to meditation, Neha credits preparation with giving her increased confidence and allowing her to “flip the fear” of public speaking including,
Know the story that you are trying to tell and internalize it so you don’t have to think about it when you are trying to tell it — she uses the practice of writing out key points first
Practice the speech delivery utilizing body language congruent with your message — be aware of the subtleties of how your body is conveying the message
Create a basic outline of bullet points to use as a roadmap that you can come back to if you need to
Together, these points enable the speaker with the mental agility to pivot slightly when needed and deliver what the audience needs to hear in the moment.
So, for new/aspiring public speakers, what is the bottom line?
When asking Neha what advice she would give to aspiring public speakers who are either struggling with nerves or not sure where to start, her unequivocal answer is — you guessed it, start meditating.
In Neha’s words, this does not mean sitting cross-legged and chanting (although if this works for you, great), but that meditation can look very different for different people.
In our conversation, I was reminded of the “grounding” feeling that I get when in a “sit spot” in the forest — a place where I sit in nature, focus on my senses, and just take in the natural world.
For others, meditating might be a quiet moment with a cup of tea before the bustle of the day begins, or stillness at the end of the day when kids are asleep, and the world slows down enough to give a pause.
Whatever it looks like, the important part is getting to know yourself.
Secondly, for any speech that you will deliver, ensure adequate preparation. This means practice, practice, and then practice more. And specifically focus on elements such as congruent body language, voice, and words, as well as a thorough understanding of content/connection to stories.
Taking this information to heart will not only make you a better public speaker and give you the opportunity to truly inspire others but is sure to bring a wealth of benefits that come from embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
You can access the full YouTube interview with Neha here.
If you liked this story and want to receive my articles directly via email, you can sign up for my newsletter here.