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?
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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
I don’t particularly like X_Factor videos and the emotional hype that goes with them, but watch this one, and you have to be inspired, especially if you suffer from performance nerves. If this man can do what he did, so successfully, so can you!!
by Andy Lopata , Peter Roper
From the reviews:
It has often been said that the two key skills for any business in the 21st Century are an ability to communicate a message – and a hungry market to communicate that message to. Now, for those outside of the corporate world, the best way to achieve these two objectives is through networking and speaking to groups.
Andy Lopata and Peter Roper have written a really handy book on how to achieve this. But the book is more than just a guide to the shy and anxious. In a very simple way Andy and Peter have explained how anyone can improve the way they are perceived in the market place through networking and public speaking.
Language expert Wilfred Funk was one of the first to study highly successful men and women to determine what they have in common. What he discovered was that they all have the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Since then, many studies have shown the same thing. In fact, members of the “speaking” professions – lawyers, politicians, professional speakers, salespeople, and entertainers – are among the highest paid. There appears to be a high correlation between word power and earning power. The ability to speak, to persuade, and to keep an audience’s attention is well rewarded.
What about you? Have you been sabotaging your own success because you feel that speaking in front of a group is something you would rather die than do? If so, it is time to do yourself a favour and learn the skills that can change your life.