[Quick public speaking tip] Is your past undermining your speaking confidence?

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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.

The speaker struggle between “performing” and being “authentic”

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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.

sam heughan vulnerability

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.

bowie_shy

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:

Does public speaking give you a nervous rash? Here’s how to cure it

I hate public speaking - that rash

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…!

Come along on 17th March and learn how to Step up to confident, Effective speaking … learn a mindset guaranteed to overcome many of the challenges you face in public speaking (including the fear), the seven basic principles of speaking success, and set your speaking goals so that this is your year to build success. Visit http://bit.ly/1DWXwpj

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[Quick Public Speaking Tip] Oops, how embarrassing, you’re boring your audience

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It’s a moment that nervous speakers dread – to realise that most of your audience is bored.

They’re glassy eyed, maybe even falling asleep, chatting or texting.

Horrors!

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.

Ask questions.

Change your stance, body language or walking pattern.

Stop.

Stand still.

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.

Turn your anxiety into a great public speech with this free video lesson

Learn how to turn your anxiety into a great public speech with this free video lesson from a professional public speaker.

Public speaking rules and advice

[Quick public speaking tip] How to disown your inherited fear of public speaking

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Sometimes it’s necessary to dig down to the roots of our fear of public speaking. And there can be a lot of those, but if you dig them out, one by one, confidence grows.

Does fear of public speaking run in your family?

I’m not sure if there is a genetic cause for this but I do know that if you have seen your parents or a family member speaking or performing confidently in public, then you will most likely see it as something you can do too. But if you see fear and aversion to public speaking then you will probably adopt that as part of your culture as well.

So it may be time to kick it out of your culture again, disown it. You could have a “coming out” party where you announce to your family that, in fact, you are a confident pubic speaker, and even though that is so different to everything they believe in, you just have to go ahead with it. Can’t do that in real life? Then do it in your head. It’s just as effective.

Otherwise … rebel! Imagine yourself dressed in something absolutely outlandish – entirely different from your family’s normal, raising your fist in the air and speaking with confidence – the “rock star” speaker you always dreamed you could be.

You will know what works for you when it comes to being independent, just do whatever it takes to dig out that attitude that you have inherited, and grow a new one. Be the successful speaker you know you can be.

Q & A – What to say if you don’t know the answer

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Many speakers fear and avoid a Q & A.

Why … because they fear a disaster spiraling out of control.

“What if someone asks a question and I don’t know the answer?”

Experienced speakers know, however, that rather than being a disaster, a Q&A is a wonderful opportunity and they prepare to leverage that opportunity.

“But how can you prepare for every question? No-one can know the answer to everything!”

Let’s look, instead, at preparing for the opportunity buried within this seemingly impossible disaster.

First step … If you don’t know the answer, admit it. That is not a disaster, in itself, or in the making.

Admitting to not knowing the answer is a chance to build authenticity.

Audiences are reasonable. They understand that in the avalanche of information available, no one person can know it all.

There is nothing authentic or credible about someone trying to side-step a question with blustering. Much better to tell the truth.

But before you lose your credibility as an expert, have a plan for response to these questions.

1. If it’s possible, know the experts in the room. Throw the question to one of them, and you are providing a resource just as much as if you had given an answer. You have provided an answer. You have created or reinforced a connection with the other expert. And you have positioned yourself within a community of experts.

2. You can also refer the question back to the audience in general. You are building engagement here with your interaction. If it is possible to allow discussion, you can build a sense of community within the audience. If it’s appropriate you can ask for opinions, stories and examples as well as facts.

3. Finally, saying “No comment” just doesn’t work. You appear either to be completely ignorant and helpless on the subject, or worse still, trying to hide something. If there is no way to answer in the moment, commit to getting the answer to the questioner as soon as possible – to either giving them good sources/resources at the end of your presentation or to communicating an answer in coming days. If you cannot answer because it is not appropriate or you are not at liberty to answer, explain why. Again, audiences are generally reasonable and understanding.
This is also providing an opportunity to reinforce your respect for your audience and its members. Answering with integrity and an honest effort to help, you are showing respect for the person asking the question and for the question itself, no matter how awful the question or the motives of the questioner.

That respect is all part of the process of building and maintaining your credibility and your authenticity. And Q&A has given you the opportunity to contribute more to that process. Rather than being a disaster waiting to happen, Q&A becomes a valuable opportunity.

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Public Speaking quote – Churchill on courage

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Winston Churchill

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