Public Speaking: Conquer the fear

Public Speaking: Conquer the fear

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Part I of a series on the art and science of public speaking with suggestions for improving your presentation and performance.

Adventurer Jason Lewis speaking to an audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London, UK. (Via Wikipedia entry on Public Speaking, photo CC 3.0)

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2016 – According to experts and studies, the No. 1 fear for most people is the fear of public speaking. That may seem surprising. But studies have shown that the fear of public speaking is actually more widespread than the fear of dying! Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Working with many clients over the years on the art and science of public speaking as well as giving numerous presentations on the topic, I find that concerns about speaking generally fall into two categories.

First, there is the actual fear of speaking in public in and of itself. That’s what today’s article is all about.

Second, people frequently confront an underlying fear and anxiety regarding what goes into a great presentation itself: things like making an outline, knowing your target audience, the mechanics and timing of the presentation, personal appearance and more. In short, people worry about whether they’re capable of executing everything that goes into a successful public presentation. This information will appear in the next article of this series.

When I am working with people who have a fear of public speaking, I immediately tie that fear right into our exploration of self-talk and confidence. As I always say, everything goes back to what we are saying to ourselves.

When confronting the prospect of public speaking, people encounter different kinds of self-talk and chatter that ultimately cause them a great deal of anxiety. Your anxiety can quickly get out of control, at which point you begin judging yourself more harshly than anyone else ever would.

Soon, your negative self-talk shifts into turbo speed. You start saying things to yourself like “I am not an expert! I’ll sound stupid! I can’t do this!” You get the picture, and you may already have experienced this kind of rapidly accelerating anxiety.

Your rising negative chatter can quickly take over. Do not let it! Always remember: You control your thoughts. They do not control you. Do not let your negative self-talk undermine the positives you’ve earned from your past and current achievements or from your potential future success.

There are several tools that can help you accomplish this kind of shift. I have successfully used three of these tools to help my clients gain or regain confidence in themselves and their abilities. They went on to become accomplished speakers.

Here are these three key tools:

Focus on a memory of a peak experience

Whether it took place back in childhood or occurred only yesterday, a “peak experience” is a time in your life when you felt as if you were in full possession of your own power, either as a result of a specific accomplishment or due to something significant you did at a time when you felt empowered.

Reach back and take in the feeling of that experience. Think about how it felt. (Closing your eyes while doing this will make it easier to avoid distractions.) Then anchor it in your memory. When you find you are in a situation where you might feel anxious or lack self-assurance, reach back and remember that empowered feeling. Experience it again. Feel it in your body. Then go out and perform that activity that initially made you feel anxious.

A personal example: I close my eyes and remember back when I was a little kid learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels. I remember my father taking off the training wheels and holding onto the back of the bike. As I pedaled along, I remember turning back to look at him and realized I was riding without him holding me. I can still remember feeling exhilarated and scared at the same time. As I kept going the scary feeling dissipated and the exhilaration took over. I felt powerful and confident, and my self-talk was “I’m doing it! I can do anything.”

Today, if I encounter a situation where I might not feel quite as confident, I close my eyes and, think back to that moment on the sidewalk in New York with my father. It brings a smile to my face. I feel empowered and confident. I can feel in my body what I felt then. Then, I open my eyes and set out to do whatever it is I was going to do.

Try it. It really works. The more details you can remember about your peak experience(s) the better. That moment in time is brought to the present, and re-experiencing it can give you the positive push to help you do whatever you set out to do.

Adjust your posture

Remember that your mind talks to your body and your body talks to your mind. Sound funny? When our minds communicate confidence to our bodies, that confidence inspires us to stand or sit up straight, shoulders back with an open, expansive posture.

When we are less confident, that lack of confidence results in a constrictive posture, slouching with shoulders down, something like the fig leaf position. But you can solve this problem. Simply adjust your posture confidently, project that confidence, and your mind will follow.

Take a look at Amy Cuddy’s “Ted Talks” YouTube video to see what I mean:

Visualize Yourself Speaking

Visualization is also a very powerful and effective tool. Athletes use this one all the time. For example, Tiger Woods always talked about how he would visualize the ball going into the hole before he swung his club.

Whether at home or in the auditorium, before you step up to the podium to make your presentation, visualize yourself talking in front of a group. Picture that group with friendly smiles on their faces. See yourself talking to them and enjoying it as it happens. You can create in real life that presentation you’ve already visualized for yourself.

In my next article on public speaking, I’ll discuss how to put together a clear, powerful presentation.

For more information, contact:

Susan Commander Samakow, PCC, CPCC

Certified Business, Life & Leadership Coach
Focusing on Confidence & Resilience Strategies, Life & Career Transition, & Business & Leadership. Certified Mediator

Twitter: @SelfTalkCoach

301-706-7226 & 703-574-0039!/susan.samakow

Ask Susan about her coaching packages and the Stress Reducing techniques she teaches: EFT (Tapping) and Breathing Exercises.

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