Public Speaking: a fate worse than death?!
Low confidence is a bugger.
It stands in the way of what you want, it eats at you from the inside and prevents you from taking opportunities.
But even the most confident of individuals can fall apart at the prospect of public speaking. So much so, that research indicates more people would rather die than get up and speak in public. That’s nuts!
On a personal level, public speaking has represented both the highs and lows of my life. I’ve done a huge amount of it all over the world, as a presenter, panellist, host and increasingly now via video. I love it and the opportunities it’s brought me. But this wasn’t always the case. Far from it, in fact.
A notable low in my speaking career came in my early 20s.
I was in the midst of a challenging presentation. I was stumbling over my words, my heart was racing, I wasn’t making sense and I was sweating profusely. My audience were clearly agitated.
I needed to get out of there pronto and recollect myself, so I feigned needing the loo. Not the end of the world, you might think..
It was a low point, however, because once I’d legged it out of there, I was too terrified to go back in. I made my excuses to the receptionist and left.
So, what did my audience assume? They assumed, quite naturally, that I’d sh*t myself.
(You know the saying that ‘all publicity is good publicity?’. I respectfully disagree.)
I was so overwhelmed in that meeting that my fight/flight/freeze response took over. I hot-footed it out of there before I’d even had chance to think.
This is what the prospect of public speaking does. It puts our brains on high alert. It makes us feel that ‘all eyes on us’, vulnerability. It engages our nervous system which floods our bodies with stress hormones.
Three things happen:
1) Our inner voice goes crazy. ‘Help!’ we think. ‘I hate this!’ ‘Everyone can see I’m nervous!’
2) Our emotions run away with us – we literally feel the fear.
3) Our bodies start behaving oddly – heart racing. Nervous pacing. Wobbly voice. Shaky hands etc.
And off we go in a downwards confidence spiral as each element negatively fuels the others.
And, if you’re really unfortunate, that response means you’ll forever be known for ‘Shit-Gate’ by your bemused colleagues. I digress..
The fact is anyone – and I mean anyone – can learn to control this response with the right coaching. I did it the hard way, but the fact I did it at all proves it’s possible.
But my gripe with most speaking training is two-fold.
Firstly, most of us never receive any (and let’s face it, these are skills we should be learning as kids), and secondly, most training takes the latter part of the triad – our physical response – as the focal point of change.
The reason for this is that, more often than not, speaking training is delivered by actors or stand-ups. These guys are great but there’s a fundamental difference between the likes of me, you (I assume if you’re reading this) and them.
By default, actors and comedians want to put themselves out there.
Of course, they are just as likely to experience nerves as the rest of us, but standing in front of people and talking is ultimately their end-game. It’s therefore only logical that the mindset part of the process takes a back-seat to technique when their craft is focussed on the latter.
And yes, how we look does impact our confidence and there’s definite merit in honing our speaking technique, but there’s far more benefit in tackling mindset first.
Because mindset is the root cause of our problem and many of those physical gripes we have with speaking, such as the ‘erms’, or pacing, or rapid talking, iron themselves out when we feel better on the inside.
It’s like taking your car for a service only to receive a valet. Your car may look the part, but there’s no saying it’s going to get you to where you need to go.
Thankfully, although painful, ‘Shit Gate’ propelled me to this realisation and straight into action.
It drove me to look under the bonnet and work out what was going on. It inspired me to use my background in human behaviour and communication to start helping people with the same issue. And it encouraged me to qualify as an NLP practitioner and coach so I can really empower the women I work with, wherever they are on their confidence journey.
The truth is that the standing-up-and-talking part if just a tiny fraction of the benefits you receive when you finally banish those speaking demons. Inevitably you will learn to:
Hold your own in conversation
Get comfortable with being the centre of attention
Learn to read people accurately
Demonstrate your skills, knowledge & authority
Put yourself across with passion and conviction.
And who wouldn’t want more of that?
P.S. If you’re interested in working with me either 1-2-1 or in a small group to finally battle those speaking demons, click here to book in a chat.
P.P.S. This is the kind of topic we regularly cover in my fabulous community. Click here to join.