Flow is the quality of being able to move “seamlessly” from one idea to the next in a way that makes sense to your listeners, and doesn’t involve hesitation, hemming, hawing, uhmmmm, or losing your train of thought.
People who want more flow in their public speaking are usually convinced that they need to add something: Eloquence, brilliance, or smoothness. Maybe a better personality or more self-confidence.
For me, though, flow results from taking things away. Here are some of the thought patterns that you can lose, because they inhibit your ability to flow:
- Desire to take care of your listeners (which makes you cautious about what you say)
- Desire to impress your listeners (which makes you even more cautious about what you say)
Why do I think this? Because…
Flow Comes Naturally When You’re Relaxed
When you’re in a casual conversation—when you’re not trying to live up to anyone’s expectations—your mind moves naturally from one idea to the next. You say something, then the next thought comes into your mind, so you say that thing, and then another thought pops up, etc.
You’re flowing, right?
Most of us have a natural rhythm that comes from our bodies, our personalities, our histories—and in our private lives, we just talk to other people, trusting that ideas will come out of our mouths just fine.
So why does that skill disappear when you (or, say, your boss), put pressure on how you’re speaking?
Well, why wouldn’t your flow—which is a thing that you fall into naturally—fly out the window during moments when you don’t feel OK about sounding like your natural self??
It’s the central paradox of public speaking: The more we pressure ourselves to “be great,” the less great we feel, and the more likely we are to stumble.
Flow Is Inversely Proportional to Pressure
When I’m working with a client and they suddenly hesitate, stumble, or give up on what they’re trying to say, I stop them immediately, while the experience is still fresh, and ask,
“What was that? What just happened?”
Usually, the thing that caused my client to hesitate—or stop talking altogether—was a self-critical thought, such as,
- “I should have used a better word.“
- “Why am I making that point again?“
- “I’ll bet everybody hates this!“
When thoughts like these arise, it’s really nice to have a speaker coach on hand to remind you that ideas like “better word” don’t mean anything; you’re making that point again to reinforce it; and you (not your audience members) are the harshest critic in the room, so they probably don’t hate it!
But even without a coach at your fingertips, you can always trust this reality: Any thought or feeling that threatens your flow is, by definition, inaccurate, unhelpful, and a waste of your time.
So don’t let yourself pay attention to whatever thoughts or fears are threatening your flow.
Instead, put your focus on the audience, pretend you’re hanging out with them, and let your natural rhythm start flowing again.