There never has been security. No man has ever known what he would meet around the next corner;
if life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavour.
Harsh words, those, especially for those of us who like to be prepared.
“Never.” … “There never has been security.”
Still, we try to achieve it as much as we can,
prepare for all eventualities,
do our best to avoid the embarrassment of fumbling for an answer, for forgotten words, for a prepared logical flow.
And yet we know, underneath, that what Eleanor Roosevelt said is entirely true.
There will always be the unpredictable.
And we will prepare for that too.
What about the flavour it brings though?
The flavour of life … the flavour of an unpredictable speaking experience.
I like to think that being a speaker operates on at least 3 levels.
There is me, you, the speaker.
There is what I call the eagle eye – the ability we have to watch ourselves and our audiences from above and evaluate how things are going, in order to adapt.
And then there is the concept that beside the conversation we are having with our audience is another experience, the shared experience of being together in a presentation.
We can leverage that with little moments of quirking an eyebrow at the audience as if to say “See what I did there?”, or less subtly discussing what is actually going on. We can create a shared experience in this level.
If the experience is unexpected, this is where we can really capitalise on that flavour Eleanor mentioned – enjoy the moment together with the audience,
forge a bond of shared experience,
of response to the unexpected
with humour, with pathos or with jointly created action.
So while those un-predictable events can be challenging, especially if we worry too much about them beforehand, or label them failures afterwards,
they can also be the source of some of the most powerful and enjoyable experiences a speaker can have.
Overcoming a fear of public speaking has many facets.
One of those facets is taking the fear apart and looking to see where it came from – looking into the past for clues.
Previous personal experience can affect our confidence in any situation.
Teasing of any sort can destroy confidence and if it was associated with public speaking then any chance of future confidence in public speaking will be shattered.
Thoughtlessly expressed feedback presented as criticism can do the same. A teacher, peer or parent can destroy confidence with unthinking negative comments.
If you find clues like that, then you are well on the way to overcoming it.
Finding a source in the past takes away the magic of the fear. You can apply logic to it.
Was the teasing justified? What was the motive for it? If it was justified and the motive was to bring you up to a standard, then you can work on changing the behaviour in your speaking that prompted it. If it wasn’t then you can dismiss it.
No, I didn’t say that was easy, but it can be done.
Giving feedback on a performance or activity is a valuable tool – but only if it is done with balance, sensitivity and appropriate motive. If it isn’t then it can be damaging and destructive.
Again, logic comes into play. Did the criticism in your past have a base in fact. Then address that fact.
Was it one-sided? Then find a way to get feedback on what your strong points might have been to provide balance and a sense of hope.
No, I didn’t say that was easy, but it can be done.
Even harder to address is the mindset that you may have adopted as a result.
One of the greatest sources of fears is of being judged.
That was mine.
I had a fault pointed out to me at the age of 7 … at school. Every piece of public speaking I did after that was at school – either to be marked out of 10 or graded or to win or lose a debate, or both. Judgement. Always. And for a normally high achiever at school that was a fearsome challenge.
I did well, and achieved, but always with fear.
Then I joined a speaking organisation whose programs were aimed at preparing speakers for speaking competitions. Judgement. Again – success but always with fear.
It wasn’t until I started speaking and running workshops at conferences and speaking to groups outside those confines that I felt I could escape the judgement and just be myself, communicating with an audience, and presenting them with something of use.
To me, the best cure for the fear is to believe that I have something of value and to focus on how that can help – to focus on expansive generosity rather than on a creation that is put up for judgement.
If you have a past experience that makes you fearful of public speaking, I would love to read about it in the comments, and even more so if you have fund a “cure” for it.
I am writing this as the world mourns David Bowie.
Something Bowie said reminded me about the dichotomy that we all face, in public speaking, between “performing” and being “authentic.”
Many of my clients come to me because they are deterred from speaking by their fear of “performing” this thing called public speaking, fear of not adequately meeting some set of criteria, and of losing their self and their real message in that performance. .
Many of you will know how much of a struggle the dichotomy has been for me. I spent many years entering (and winning my fair share) of public speaking competitions. It is a world unto itself, competitive public speaking, bound by rules, and it involves speaking knowing that one is being judged (a nervous beginner’s worst nightmare, and daunting for the old hands as well!).
So for all those years I operated within that world and its rules, doing well, but constantly feeling the weird dislocation of communicating with an audience via a strict set of guidelines.
It has been incredibly liberating to give up the concept of being judged as a performer.
But still the dichotomy remains – authenticity is vital and yet performance has to be factored in. They must still be in balance.
And for me, and for many others like me, there is also the strange “lure” of performance, threatening to pull that balance awry in a different direction.
Two “events” that have crossed my path in the last couple of weeks have really highlighted this “lure” of performance.
The death of David Bowie was one but before that …
You might also be aware of my interest/obsession (!) with Outlanders, the series of books … and with the TV series, how it is being made …
and with the lead actor who is a consummate professional on and off stage.
(The fact that his good looks are highlighted at every opportunity doesn’t hurt either, but it’s not the main source of my interest.!)
The image below is from an Instagram post. He has had to work out to create the build of the character, Jamie. But he is also very involved in charities and one program he runs is a fitness/goal achievement challenge from which the funds go to one of those charities. In the course of this fundraising he has had to endure photo shoots for a cross-fit magazine, to promote this fundraiser.
When you finish enjoying what he has achieved in terms of the physique, maybe you can read the text …
and see that possibility – of creating a performance, or a mask, behind which to hide the real you.
Where would you say this lies on the spectrum between authenticity and performing?
The second event, was the demise of David Bowie – a shock to the world. He was an icon of our age. Meant so much to so many people for so many reasons. He strummed our pain. He gave us possibilities outside our squares. He provided sheer entertainment and amazing music. He stimulated our creativity. He gave us solace.
Many of us are now listening to his latest and final recording for the hints he embedded about his attitude to life … and to death.
Even at the end, he was orchestrating his life. In 1976 he told Playboy “I’ve now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been and will be.”
We are now looking back at the latest album, at the quotations, and connecting the dots back from the death of an icon. And in my efforts to do just that I found this quote which I put into a graphic.
Both of these beautiful, thoughtful, creative professionals, expressing the concept of a separate persona or mask in order to perform or “expose” oneself.
So there it is …
and while I do see performance as a lure, mindful as I am of lingering memories of old experiences, I also find in it support for my theory that
introverts make the best speakers!
And the dichotomy remains!
After lots of experience and deliberation, and now these two events, I have reached this …
that the compromise between performance and being yourself comes, I think, down to two things –
being your best self
and playing the game with your audience.
What do you think?
You might also be interested in:
About that rash …
Yes that rash … the one you were telling me about at the networking meeting.
“Oh public speaking,” you said, “I hate public speaking. I always get that rash that spreads up my neck. So embarrassing! I have to wear a scarf!”
Is it because of the rash that you hate public speaking or is it that you hate public speaking and consequently get a rash?
Or is it that you don’t mind public speaking, or you wouldn’t mind public speaking? In fact you would probably enjoy it, but somewhere someone said something that gave you the idea that you would be judged every time you spoke or that the stakes are high every time you speak – be careful!
And that created stress. Stress releases cortisol and adrenaline into your system and both are known to affect the skin. Or it could be that you are having an allergic reaction caused by stress.
Either way you need to relieve yourself of the stress. That way you bring back the enjoyment you expect from pubic speaking and the freedom to speak without worrying about that rash.
And in this case, though not for everyone, it was caused by fear of being judged and fear of failure.
And what could you use, what thought pattern could you introduce, what story could you tell yourself so that you lost those fears?
The first step is to lose the focus on you. Yes I know there might be a rash, but there won’t be if you stop focussing on you, your being judged, your risks in the high stakes outcome.
The second step is to focus on having a conversation with our audience. Look at it as a stylised conversation, perhaps, but don’t call it “public speaking”. This is different, if only so that it’s no longer associated in your mind and adrenal glands with the ”thing” (“public speaking’) that causes the anxiety, the stress, the rash.
And in this conversation, just as in any conversation, engagement and connection occur naturally. Be a natural, not someone being judged on a performance.
And while you are focussing on that audience and the conversation, think about what you are doing for them. What are you giving them that they need or want or like? Start with the mindset of service, of win-win for you and them. Research them and uncover what they need/want/like and appreciate and then give that. Make them aware, and reassure yourself, that you are there to serve.
It is not about you. It is about your audience and your service to them.
So while the high stakes may involve making a sale or persuading or impressing, that sale, that persuasion, that impression will all be made so much easier and less stressful if you aim to serve and make it obvious that that is your aim. And the outcomes will be so much more abundant as well.
Win-win for all concerned.
Know that your new techniques will take away the feeling of being judged and the stress of high stakes outcomes. Know that all you need to do is know your audience, hold a stylised conversation with them and offer them service. And the anxiety drops. The stress drops. The adrenalin and the cortisol drop. The rash goes and public speaking becomes something to anticipate with pleasure.
You CAN do this!
Now … about that adrenalin addiction – that adrenalin habit, the one you told me about at the dinner last night – ah that’s a whole other article…!
You KNOW that speaking is a great way to share your brilliance with a wider audience, gaining you leads and clients for business, supporters for your ideas, more souls who need your inspiration (and just connecting with people).
But is something stopping you?
Public speaking nerves are normal and healthy, but not if they are stopping you sharing that brilliance.
There are all sorts of sources of those nerves and their paralysing effect and all sorts of ways to release them.
But sometimes it is as simple as taking a moment or two to define just what it is you are afraid of – what is allowing the paralysis.
It may be as simple as fear of disaster – of something going horribly wrong.
And step two may be just as simple. Set disaster management plans in place. Don’t court disaster, but just set stuff up so that you can visualise success, knowing that you have contingency plans in place.
So take that moment or two today and it may, indeed, be just that simple.
[Image source: http://vulkanschule.de/images/vulkanausbruch.jpg]
They’re glassy eyed, maybe even falling asleep, chatting or texting.
Worse still and more embarrassing is the presenter who becomes frantic, attempting to regain attention.
It has happened to me twice.
The first was early in my speaking career when I became aware of a lady in the front row, slumped, with her head back and her mouth open, quietly snoring. The second was later, during a presentation, and I watched with increasing concern as one after another, the people in the audience got that glazed look. They were too polite to nod off or chat, but the evidence was there. I had been asked to present on the subject and had failed to research that audience and their needs, which, it turned out, were on a different level altogether.
I well remember the panicky feeling. Fortunately I managed to turn the situations around. As the snores gently increased, we moved quickly into small group discussion so that the people around the sleepy-head moved and woke her up to participate. And in the presentation, as it became increasingly obvious that the material I had prepared was just not appropriate, I was able to drop the script, and work with the audience to find out their needs and present something they needed and got quite excited about. But I will never forget that initial feeling of losing attention.
Avoid the whole situation if you can by researching your audience and make sure you address the What’s In It For Me factor.
Avoid the whole situation if you can by embedding signposts so that your audience can follow the road of your presentation with you.
Avoid the whole situation if you can by ensuring you have variety wired into your presentation, and have something up your sleeve that you can move into if necessary.
Introduce a new visual.
Involve the audience.
Change your stance, body language or walking pattern.
Change from a complex approach to the subject and create pure simplicity. Change direction entirely.
Ask for directions to take.
Whatever you use, it will become a smooth, professional piece of your presentation instead of a situation that embarrasses you and your audience.
Last night, at a presentation I gave on speaking your story, someone muttered “Yeah … public speaking – the greatest fear of all!” We all laughed and empathised, and then shared our stories – speaking in public but not “public speaking.”
This morning on the way to the supermarket, I heard “Highway to the Danger Zone” remembering the thrill of the music, and the movie and the Tom Cruise persona …
… and then thought of that comment last night – facing public speaking for some people is like walking into a danger zone – a combat zone – a place where they feel they may have to fight to survive, and maybe it would be better to turn and run – right now!!
So let’s get our Tom Cruise on.
Before this goes any further, let me say I don’t know anything about Tom Cruise as a person beyond what the gossip columns tell me. I have never (well almost never) seen him in a movie except as a sexy, strong, cocky individual, with an appealing soft side. And I am well aware that there are all sorts of movie techniques that enhance that – not least pumping music like Kenny Loggins’. And here’s an audio to remind you just what that feels like.
What was it about Tom Cruise? Ah yes “sexy, strong, cocky, with an appealing soft side”!!
He was good and he knew it. Yes he loved speed, but he was also a good pilot. Want to get your Tom Cruise on? Be good, get good. Read this blog. Read other blogs. Get coaching. Watch other speakers and TED talks. Practise. Capture the moments when you know you are good, when you are in flow speaking, when you feel like a rock star. Rinse and repeat and find out ways to increase those moments. But most importantly, remember what they felt like and take that feeling with you, whenever you speak. That is getting your Tom Cruise on.
If I were to define “cocky” I would think it would involve the word “confidence”, and something to do with the body language of confidence. Looking like you are confident, moving like you are confident, talking like you are confident, works in two ways. Firstly it makes you feel confident. Those who work with laughter know that it is therapeutic. Laughing when you feel least like laughing lifts a mood and stimulates all sorts of therapeutic physiological changes. Acting “cocky” when you are feeling least confident changes your attitude and stimulates all sorts of therapeutic changes in your behaviour and especially in your presentation style. The second way that acting as if we are confident works is that people see confidence. In The Tom Cruise movie persona, this is sexy, attractive. We want to feel that way too. In our speaking situations, it inspires trust in the audience. They see a person who is confident in their knowledge, confident that they can communicate with this audience, and confident enough to be authentic throughout the experience. Do I suggest you be cocky? Not if it’s not your style. But do “Get your Tom Cruise on” if it means behaving with confidence.
Another part of the “cocky” definition would have to be the aspect of fun. Here is a person enjoying what they are doing. The Top Gun fliers enjoyed the need for speed. When the feeling of fear, of danger, appears as it does for all speakers, get your Tom Cruise on. The adrenalin is running because you are taking on a challenge. It’s good. It’s fun. You will achieve. You will also learn. Challenge is where we find flow. Challenge is also where the greatest learning happens. Turn the fear of fear into excitement at doing something that is going to feel so good (and if it doesn’t there will be fabulous lessons to learn. Unlike the pilots you are not facing complete obliteration!)
Before I wrote this article, I went to Youtube and watched a version of “Highway to the Danger Zone” that features clips of the movie. I didn’t watch it all the way through. You can watch it here if you want.
What I did notice, though, was the number of times Tom Cruise is featured with other people. Though it feels like we speak alone when we are on a stage or in front of an audience, we rarely are. “Cocky” needs an audience to enjoy it, to share the fun of it. There will be moments when you can share the “rock star” in-flow speaking moments with your audience. Watch a comedian as he delivers a punch line. Watch Brene Brown as she makes a humourous point. There is a connection with the audience that asks “See what I did there?” – not always, but enough to enable you to take your audience into the experience with you. You are not alone. Nor are you alone as a speaker who is learning to be a Tom Cruise. There are competitors, if you are the competitive type. There are close friends and allies. All are having their successes and failures. You can learn from them. You can support them. They can support you. Some of the failures will be absolutely devastating. But those failures, as I wrote before, are often the greatest learning opportunities, and also the greatest opportunities to bond tightly with colleagues and friends.
And that is one of the places where the “appealing soft side” of the Tom Cruise persona comes in.
Do I want you, or me, for that matter to be “sexy, strong, cocky, with an appealing soft side”? Not if that’s not you already. It’s not me. We are each unique, with our own unique story to tell and to share. But if Getting Your Tom Cruise On can change your attitude as you go into the Danger Zone of public speaking, makes you a superstar speaker, or even just the very best you that you can be right there and then, I will be applauding wildly as the lights dim and you leave the stage.
Image source: http://bit.ly/1npG58c
Being able to speak “off the cuff” / impromptu / when called upon is a valuable skill.
Some people have it, usually having built it, and some don’t, well … to the extent that the whole idea is paralysingly abhorrent to them.
But for those who can, confidently, fluently and effectively speak whenever they are asked, the rewards are many.
All of the effects that speaking gives are amplified – communicating your credibility, your personality and your message among so many others.
So if you are finding the very idea of speaking impromptu paralysingly abhorrent, or just a bit too challenging, but you understand that valuable chance to communicate your credibility, personality and message, then let’s begin at the beginning when you stand to speak.
Though your mind may be racing and your heart doing the same, you can benefit from making yourself be calm and deliberate.
Stand very deliberately and take time to begin.
Smile if it is appropriate.
Take a moment or two to think if you need to, and to ground yourself physically.
Stand up straight to build confidence.
There is always power in pause. It gains attention and can create a bit of intrigue.
Meanwhile it is gaining you the moments you need to gather your thoughts, and remind yourself of your confidence.
Do not apologise.
You will have something to say even if it is about what you don’t know about the subject and why.
Apologising ruins your confidence, deflates the audience’s confidence in you and is generally demoralising.
It is also a waste of the opportunity to create a great attention-getting opening that leads into your ideas.
Open deliberately and positively then, and you set yourself and your audience up for a confident, engaging delivery. It’s a great start to communicating that credibility, personality and message.