PowerCues_72dpiAs I discussed last time, the reality is that your conscious mind is beset by essentially random directives from your unconscious mind, some of which help you succeed in your larger purposes in life and most of which don’t.  For public speakers, to avoid this trap, you first need to learn to visualize success.  And then you need to learn to control your unconscious mind – that all-important part two of the double whammy that allows you to become an intentionally successful speaker.

Here’s how it works.

Would an Athlete Train This Way?

When you don’t bring your unconscious mind under control, you let the little cat-sized brain in your gut run the show. You let patterns and experiences from your past dictate your action in the present. It’s as if an athlete training for a big race found herself occasionally running sideways or flailing her arms in random ways, just because she did that once as a kid to avoid something scary.

If you’re just running in a friendly competition, your occasionally bizarre performance won’t matter much. But if you suddenly find yourself in the Olympics, the subtleties matter enormously. In that rare circle where hundredths of a second make the difference between the winning platform and a footnote, everything matters, especially your unconscious mind.

The same is true in public speaking. You can get away with a good deal when the stakes are low. But as you raise the ante, the higher up you go, the more certain self-destructive behaviors matter, and the more they’ll be held against you.

What are the options open to you if you find that certain memories, actions, or anxieties from long ago are causing you to behave in a less-than-optimal way on stage? You can try to change your behavior, you can get therapy and hope that will change your behavior, or you can deny that there’s any problem and keep doing the same things with the same people and hope for different results.

Just changing behavior is difficult, and you’re liable to relapse. Therapy is time consuming, expensive, and the results are mixed. And denial doesn’t work unless you’re lucky for the rest of your life.

There’s an Alternative to Therapy

There is another way. The good news is that you can take charge of all your mental systems and learn to manage your unconscious mind as well as the mind in your gut and your conscious mind. It takes some time, but it will allow you to shed a good deal of the misinformation sloshing around in your head and body currently and become a better-focused human dynamo capable of sustained achievement.

Athletes have been harnessing a little bit of the power of their unconscious minds by practicing mental imaging of their races and games for many years. The results are extraordinary, beginning with the gold medal counts the Soviets achieved back in the era of the Cold War and spreading around the world in subsequent years.

Now it’s time for the rest of us to get with the program, clean up our mental attics, and start living up to our true potential. I recommend a three-step process.  The process takes about three to four weeks to show results at first, if you really push yourself, and up to three months, if you’re slower. After that, all it takes is maintenance.

How does it work?  The process begins with identifying the irrational fears, beliefs, and habits that are getting in the way of your performance in a particular area. Then, you develop the new dialogues that you need to replace the old fixations. Finally, you implement the new thinking.

I discuss this process in much more detail in Chapter Six of my new book, Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact It’s officially published by Harvard on May 13, but Amazon is shipping it now and you can order it here in either print or eBook versions.  


  1. Nice article Nick! I agree with you about controlling your mind. I am fascinated by Olympians and their focus. To train as a professional speaker and gain more confidence, I googled “gymnastics mental training” because I was so mesmerized by Gabby Douglas and her ability to stay focused with all the flashing lights, cheers and crowds of people as she went for gold.

    I found a great document that helps gymnast train for mental toughness. Every time I saw the word gymnast or gymnastics, I replaced it with speaker and speaking! Changed my world! “When you train like a champion, think like a champion, you become a champion!”

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