Google the search term ‘fear of public speaking’ and you’ll be greeted by a torrent of articles on the subject with over 35 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 minds and when it comes to banishing those uncomfortable public speaking thoughts for good there are only 4 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’, however, 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, but then 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? It must be my slides. I knew I should have used less bullet points. ‘
‘What if the video doesn’t play? I bet they know more than I do on this. 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 as now you are aware of them you need 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 which will result in a reality leaving you feeling very uncomfortable; as you well know.
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 and 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. They 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 and how these things always happen to you, would you?
Once you’ve become aware that they 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, which in this case is some very specific thoughts and then you make a decision to change those thoughts.
Some may say that’s a terrible analogy if they don’t know how to change a tyre and 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. It’s often the case that when we have a significant speaking opportunity we imagine forgetting our words, being paralyzed, the audience yawning our technology failing or making a fool of ourselves. It’s no wonder we can’t sleep, eat, or breathe let alone speak.
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 rather than trying to lecture or impress them. See them as fellow human beings who are your equals who simply want to know whether you can help them because you have knowledge, information or expertise they don’t have.
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 performance anxiety. The difference is they know exactly why they are speaking, what they hope to achieve and why it’s important for them and their audience. Will gives them the ability to focus and concentrate on their message at the exclusion of all other distractions. If you’re shallow, uncertain or hesitant on why you’re speaking and what you have to offer then you’ll be very easily distracted.
Focus on the difference you can make for your audience and 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 and recognise how much of it was achieved through the power of your 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 and we put our best foot forward 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 or all of the problems, 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 and I’m certain that many of them don’t relate to public speaking. We can however choose to recall the times we felt at our best, confident, excited, happy, and unstoppable.
As we do so, consciously, those memories become a powerful force in helping us to dispel the nerves to 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 and do those memories help you or hinder you?
Ask yourself what you really want your audience to remember from your presentation and 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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