Google the search term ‘public speaking anxiety’ and you’ll be greeted by a torrent of articles. I came up with over 32 million results. Everything from: relax, prepare, practice and breathe, to imagining your audience naked. All very sound advice, apart from the naked part!
The cause and cure of public speaking anxiety is of course one and the same; it’s our mind.
Even the most inexperienced and meek presenters have the same potential as the most admired speakers gracing our platforms today. Experience aside, one major difference between the two is in is the way they use their minds.
We are each blessed with a wide range of intellectual gifts in our own incredible minds. When it comes to banishing public speaking anxiety for good there are at least 4 of them we need to call upon and develop.
Perception – “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer
Every speaker has ‘butterflies in their stomach’. Those who see their presentation as a battle for perfection, themselves as prey and their audience as predators, can expect those butterflies to dance the rumba rather than waltz.
If you see your listeners as advocates and allies everything changes; it really is your choice.
The ‘waltzers’ see their presentation as an opportunity to help their audience and to really make a difference to their world. Seeing the merit and value of what you have to say, your mind will focus you on guiding your listeners to do the same. Too many presenters make it all about themselves. Make it all about helping your audience and watch those nerves dissipate and your confidence rise.
How do you get the ‘butterflies’ to waltz rather than rumba?
It’s our thoughts that create how we see things and for most of us those perceptions create our own reality; or at least it seems and feels very to us. Therefore, it makes sense that the way to change the way we experience things is to change our perceptions, which of course, starts with changing our thoughts.
Easier said than done I know; isn’t everything?
Firstly, accept that you really are the same as everyone else; we all feel some level of anxiety when speaking in public. Just because you believe you feel more nervous than others when presenting does not mean that there is something wrong with you.
Whether you are the CEO or the customer service agent we all have a vast number of thoughts each day of which far to many are repetitive and negative. The challenge for each of us is to become mindful of those thoughts and begin to understand which of them are helping us and which are hindering us.
‘What if they don’t like my idea, why does my boss look so serious?
‘What if the video doesn’t play, I bet they know more than I do on this topic, what will I do if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to?’
If they do, then you are half way there. At least you are aware of these troublesome thoughts. The challenge now is to tell yourself that nothing good will come from playing those debilitating thoughts over and over again in your mind. They will create your perception of your audience and your entire experience.
Where are those thoughts coming from?
Are they coming from your boss, the person frowning in the fourth row or simply through the ether?
They are your thoughts, they are coming directly from you. That means you get to change them if you don’t like them.
The best public speaking coach in the world can’t change them for you; that’s your responsibility. A good coach can guide, influence and inspire you to change them but you still have to flick the switch in your own mind.
It’s a great deal easier than you’ve been conditioned to believe too.
Imagine your car has just broken down because you have a flat tyre. You wouldn’t just sit in the car for the rest of the day sulking about how much of a bad driver you must be. You wouldn’t simply sit there sulking, as you wonder how these things always happen to you, would you?
Once you’ve become aware that the tyre is flat you would change it and get straight back behind the wheel.
Public speaking anxiety is largely the same. You make yourself aware of what exactly it is that is causing you to break down. Its likely to be some very specific thoughts. The mindful presenter will make a decision to identify and change those unhelpful thoughts.
Some may say that’s a terrible analogy if they don’t know how to change a tyre. My response is that if it kept happening to you then you would make it your business to learn and to practice until you know how to fit a new tyre.
Imagination – “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein
The last time you were overly anxious about a presentation ask yourself what you were imagining at the time. Sometimes we imagine forgetting our words, being paralyzed, the audience yawning, our technology failing.
The solution is to use our imaginations positively and wisely. Imagine your audience smiling, nodding in agreement and applauding. Imagine what success will feel like when you achieve your goal. Imagine them benefiting greatly from the message you have to share with them.
Don’t imagine your audience naked or try to picture them in their underwear, that’s futile. Picture them as friends and imagine yourself having a conversation with them. Abandon the image of trying to lecture or impress them. See them as fellow human beings who are your equals. A group of people who simply want to know whether you can help make their lives better, easier or happier.
Ask yourself how you can help your audience use their imaginations to bring your message to life. You won’t stimulate their imagination by simply dumping a load of data into their minds. Paint pictures in their minds, be creative, tell them stories and help them to see what you are saying too.
Will –“So many of our DREAMS at first seem Impossible, then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they soon become Inevitable.” – Christopher Reeve
Even the world’s most inspirational speakers are not exempt from public speaking anxiety. The difference is they know exactly why they are speaking. They have a clear intention and why it’s important for their audience to hear their message. Will, (the ability to focus and concentrate on your message at the exclusion of all other distractions) is the key to success. If you’re shallow, uncertain or hesitant on why you’re speaking and what you have to offer, you’ll be very easily distracted.
Focus on the difference you can make for your audience. Ask yourself what you think they would dearly love you to focus and concentrate on when presenting to them?
Cast your mind back to that time when you managed to ride your bicycle without stabilizers, pass your driving test or plucked up the courage for your first kiss. As you do so, give yourself credit for the countless things you have achieved so far. Recognise how much of it was achieved through the power of your own personal will and focus.
Memory – “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us” – Oscar Wilde
Often, when we have a goal, a dream, or an aspiration, one of the menaces that can hold us back is our memory. We remember the last time we failed or when things didn’t go so well or how badly we felt. We remember all of the problems and all of the obstacles we faced. Such memories can all too easily become a curse when we are called on to present.
The secret is to use our memories to our advantage and to change our emotional state to a positively charged and empowering one. We’ve all had many great memories. Choose to recall the times you felt at at your best, confident, excited, happy, and unstoppable.
As you do so, consciously, those memories become a powerful force in helping you to dispel the nerves. Our positive memories can enable us to speak with confidence and authenticity.
What is it that you choose to remember whilst you prepare for and then make your presentation. Do those memories help you or hinder you?
Ask yourself what you really want your audience to remember from your presentation. Do whatever it takes to make sure they do.
“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napoleon Hill
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