I speak at conferences for a living. And if you'd told me that 15 years ago I would tell you that you were a few snags short of the barbie. Something I would never entertain. Because I was the reluctant conference speaker. I really loved (and still do) the intimacy of the training room. The ability to connect with each person, to share and to nurture. I didn't think I could get that from the big stage. Oh, and also, I was shit scared.
I went along to learn from the experts. I watched all the other speakers who had so much confidence, so much belief in their ability. I saw the facilitators gravitate towards these people because they were winners. Why would they want to hang out with losers like me?
I saw fellow newbie speakers leap to the stage and rock it, sharing that they winged it. They were and they are now the rock star speakers – they love the stage and are confident in their abilities. It is their natural playground. I could never be as good as them. I studied for hours and turned up to stumble over my words and look like a fool.
Look at the italicised words. That’s not really me talking. That’s my inner critic Neil. (Why is he called Neil and why is he a he? I don’t know, but a psychologist would have a field day). Whenever I get excited about stuff or too big for my boots, Neil has always been there to tell me I’m dreamin’.
Your Neil may be a parent, a teacher, a childhood friend or simply a part of you, an inner voice that surfaces because when we fear, we seem to forget all our adult skills and revert to teenage doubt and inability to solve.
But you can learn to quieten Neil, and get over your bowel churning fear of public speaking?
There is no cure all. It is not easy. But I am a passionate believer that learning to speak well in public is critical, whether to a team, a board or on the larger stage. How can you lead your team if you can’t persuade and influence? Pitch an idea? Explain a vision?
Here’s what I did. I kept at it.
Learn your content.
I don’t mean word for word, but not knowing your stuff is Number One Confidence Killer. And your audience will doubt you, disengage and bang – you are scarred for life by a poor performance.
Lose your ego. We tend to make our presentations all about us. Will I look stupid? Will I be able to answer questions? Will they like me? It’s not about you, it’s about the audience. There’s one of you and many of them. Do the math. You are a messenger, sharing information and it is how your audience digest and make it relevant to their world that counts. So focus on how to do that well.
Your audience is actually on your side. They’re just glad they’re not the one up there on stage. Be real, make mistakes, just don’t be boring.
Control that Inner Voice
For me this was the biggie. The hardest to overcome.
I have a friend and I think secretly that she is a robot. She oozes self belief, is scornful of those who lack it and when I once asked her when she doubted herself she look puzzled and answered, Never.
Ok, so she is a machine. I think self evaluation is healthy but needs to be objective. And managing this means having a word with your inner critic. First up, acknowledge that it’s there. Neil is there to keep me safe. He actually doesn’t want me looking foolish, he wants to know I’m ok, and I’m accepted. So he’s coming from a good place. But not everyone who comes from a good place is right.
I don’t silence him but I have learned to use him as a guide to greater self awareness. Listen. What are you saying? What are you feeling? Then talk to yourself as if you would talk to friend. Would it go like this?
Friend: I am just not good at this. I am going to look like an idiot.
You: You sure are! What are you thinking?? (hearty snigger)
I'm guessing this is not how you'd talk to your friend and neither should you do it to yourself. We are kind and caring and supportive of our friends but much meaner to ourselves. Stop it. You deserve the same respect your friends get.
Work on these three things and in time, you too, will conquer your fear of public speaking. And by the way, get all this right and it is possible to connect, share and nurture from the stage. It’s just a bigger conversation.
I really want to start ocean swimming. But you’re scared of sharks.
Shut up Neil.
Lynne Schinella is a speaker, coach & facilitator who helps develop influential communicators.
For her women's speaker retreats see www.execspeakercoaching.com - next event 7 - 9 May in Sydney.
To find out more about what Lynne does and why, click here.