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.
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]
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
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.
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Did We Mention Fun?
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I enjoyed his conversational style, his humour and his turn of phrase. Especially I enjoyed his humility. These all add up to an encouraging, easy read. He uses examples from other experts. He also uses copious examples from his own experience, so I felt that this was guidance from an expert. More importantly, though, these examples give Rob’s readers a multitude of practical ways to implement the strategies he has listed. This is what takes the book beyond being just another basic read about presentation skills.
Implement the guidance here and yes you will stand out – confident, comfortable and more engaging.
This is indeed the path to redemption!
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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!!
This is a valedictory speech by a student who feared public speaking.
“I’d literally have sweaty palms and a pit in my stomach at the thought of being called on to answer a question in class. The worst part was that I thought I’d always feel that way but thank goodness I finally figured out how to get rid of it and I’ve never felt better about speaking publicly.”
Watch him as he waits through his introduction. It is still evident. Watch, though, as he makes his speech and know that this is one inspirational human being.
He still has a way to go with his speaking, but with an attitude like that, he should go far.
I would love your comments on this speaker and his presentation in the comments below. Especially I would like to hear what advice you would give him on his speaking. I think he would appreciate it.