I have been collecting data for two years from people who resister for a Fear-less public speaking course. Two of the questions I ask my clients are:
This article is the first of a two-part series. Part one is written mainly for people who have a fear of public speaking. My aim is for them to recognise the impact it is having on them professionally and how it doesn’t always have to be this way. Part two will be written for managers, Learning and Development professionals, recruiters, and those responsible for workplace wellbeing to help them understand the organisational impacts and how helping people address their fear of public speaking benefits everyone.
We have all heard speakers we would call ‘authentic’ but unpacking exactly what this means can be a bit confusing. Public speaking is a performance and so how can you perform and be authentic at the same time?
Although public speaking is a performance it is not the same as acting. As an actor, you are pretending to be someone else, but as a public speaker you are being yourself. In fact, the trick is to come across so naturally that it doesn’t look like you are performing!
But this highlights a paradox that many inexperienced speakers face. The advice to ‘be yourself’ is not overly helpful when you are trembling bundle of nerves. The advice does not actually mean for you to stand up and tell everyone how nervous you feel, then waffle on about your topic! You might look ‘real’ but in a raw, uncomfortable way that lacks professional credibility and leaves the audience squirming.
What you are really being asked to you to do is bring your best self to the stage – you ‘on form’. A high energy version of yourself. The self that you might bring to a job interview! And it takes a lot of practice to achieve that…Being ‘real’ is not quite enough. An authentic speaker also has confidence and credibility.
Let’s take a look at how you can develop the quality of authenticity. Make sure you read the last point – it takes time and you will have some awkward moments along the way. There is no need to be hard on yourself.
Previously I have rejected suggestions to run Fear-less courses online because I was not convinced that it would work effectively. Then Covid19 came along! I had to cancel a course due to start on the first day of lockdown. And I had to decide whether to shut up shop and wait it out, or to try something new! I decided to run a ‘trial’ online course via Zoom and this article is about what I found.
Seven stories of people who once had a crippling fear of public speaking and did something about it!
I am doing something new for this month’s blog article. I want to tell the stories of a seven people who decided that they were no longer going to let their fear of public speaking define them.
Why am I doing this? Most people with a fear of public speaking take years to do anything about it. They wait until the impact on their career or personal lives is so damaging that they have to act. I hope that these stories will encourage people to take action sooner. I hope that people will read these stories, recognise something of themselves, realise that it is possible to move past a crippling fear of public speaking, and find the courage to take action.
These are all true stories (although some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people behind these stories). I know all these people personally – most but not all are past clients. There is a common theme that you might recognise. Most of these people say they still get nervous and that they are still working on improving their speaking skills. But in all cases they are no longer overwhelmed by fear to the point that it is impacting their lives. They are now able to feel the fear and do it anyway!
How to become a more confident public speaker by moving outside of your comfort zone (and why public speaking courses get results!)
More than half the people who register for Fear-less public speaking courses are actively avoiding public speaking. Some have chosen their career to avoid it. Others have turned down a promotion. Many palm off every speaking ‘opportunity’ to someone else. As well as being highly stressful (it is harder to avoid public speaking than you think) this means that they don’t improve. In fact, the harder they work to avoid it, the greater the fear becomes.
Inconveniently, to get better at public speaking you have to do it! – which means moving outside of your comfort zone. This may seem obvious however there is a bit more too it. You get the best results by moving just outside of your comfort zone. While you will never improve by staying inside your comfort zone, being forced to move too far out of it can also be detrimental. For example, if you were forced to give an important presentation to a large audience with little experience and feeling terrified, the chances are it will go badly. And this will just make you dread public speaking even more.
Have you made a New Year’s resolution to ‘do something’ about your fear of public speaking? That’s fantastic! You won’t regret it. Read this article to find out how to keep this resolution!
You probably felt great (even euphoric!) when you made a decision that 2020 will be the year that you tackle your fear of public speaking. But that feeling might be short lived as you realise you now have to do something….
A New Year’s resolution is usually a promise to yourself to do something about an aspect of your life that you are not satisfied with. Statistics tell us that most of us do not follow through New Year’s resolutions. However, by staying focused and being aware of three traps, you can fulfil your promise to yourself.
Thinking about your purpose rather than your performance when public speaking is the key to managing your nerves but it doesn’t come naturally.
When you are standing in front of an audience it is very easy to think that it is all about you. And that makes you anxious because you feel as if you are being judged. However, it is more than likely that the audience is paying very little attention to you personally! Hopefully they are listening to and processing what you have to say. But they are probably thinking about dozens of other things as well, such as what they need to do next, how long the talk is going to last, and the email they forget to send…
Of course, if you are amazingly good or incredibly bad, they will form some judgements about you as well, but you are not their focus. For each individual member of the audience it is very much about them, not you.
I recently had a client who was worried about speaking at his daughter’s 21st. I reminded him that at a 21st function people are focused on his daughter, not him. All they expect from him is to hear how much he cares about his daughter and a couple of entertaining stories. To anyone else this is obvious but many of us would react the same way as my client. It is very easy to slip into ‘what will they think of me?’ rather than ‘how can I best acknowledge my daughter?’
Thinking about your purpose rather than your performance is a powerful concept for three reasons.
Everyone wants to look confident when they are presenting. We also want to feel confident – but most people can handle feeling a bit nervous as long as they can hide it from others!
This in itself is interesting and I touched on it in a previous blog article (“Public speaking and the shame of looking nervous”). But this article is about how you can employ some techniques to look confident even if you don’t initially feel it. Or to put it another way, how to ‘fake it until you feel it.’
Before we look at the five tips there is some good news. You probably already look more confident than you feel. Surveys indicate that over 70% of people have some level of fear of public speaking. But most people look reasonably confident when they speak. So how can this be? Either fewer than 30% of the people are doing all the talking (unlikely) or most people don’t show their nerves (more likely).
Watching a video of yourself presenting can help reassure you that your nervousness is not on full display. You may feel your stomach churning, your palms sweating, your heart pounding – but these symptoms are not visible to your audience.
Recognising that your nerves are not as visible as you imagine can be a huge relief in itself. But there are additional things you can do to look more confident.
I had a cooking teacher at high school who told us that “good cooks are born, not made” which left me confused about why she had decided to become a cooking teacher!
This is a perfect illustration of a ‘fixed mindset’ described by Carol Dweck in her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’. A person with a fixed mindset believes that qualities such as intelligence and talent are innate and can’t be developed. Conversely, someone with a growth mindset has a thirst for learning, loves a challenge, and believes that they can improve by commitment and hard work. Carol’s research demonstrates that having a growth mindset is a better predictor of success than natural talent.
You may have heard the expression 's/he has the gift of the gab' meaning someone is naturally good at talking. But this reflects a fixed mindset towards verbal communication and public speaking. While some people probably do have natural talents in this area, it is possible for anyone to become a strong public speaker.
Research shows that 70% of people have experienced the ‘imposter syndrome’ at some stage in their life and that 75% of people are nervous about public speaking. I would be willing to bet that there is a huge overlap between these two groups.
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.