My personal journey with public speaking
When I was a kid I loved the spotlight.
English was my strongest subject, I won awards for my speaking skills and topped my performance studies class. I was also a dancer, and spent a lot of time on the stage.
I don’t tell you this to gloat (in fact, I’m conscious that it sounds incredibly egotistical), but it’s integral to the rest of the story…
Continuing with the trend of loving all forms of communication, I went on to study performance studies and communications at university. I didn’t know exactly what my ideal job looked like at this point, but I had an innate understanding that if I followed my curiosity it would lead me to where I wanted to be. It was around this time that I moved out of home, away from the arms of my very safe, loving family in my safe, friendly coastal town, to the city to start studying.
This was a time of immense change. I was in my first flat share for one, I had very few friends who had made the move yet, and I was starting at university where I didn’t know anyone else doing my course. I was navigating the new in every area of my life, and I was learning SO much about myself, and becoming more self-aware. With that self-awareness came the anxiety.
When I started going inwards, I started listening more intensely to the thoughts in my head. The voices that made me doubt myself. Being so far out of my comfort zone made those voices louder and louder, and as a result I started questioning my ability to succeed.
You can probably see where this is going – it also impacted my ability to be able to speak in front of a room full of people. I started to dread any form of oral presentation. Sweaty palms, a dry mouth, an inability to think clearly, shortness of breathe. Just thinking about it makes my heart race faster.
I’d love to say I got over this quickly, but the crippling fear I felt anytime I had to speak in front of a lot of fear took up residency with me as I moved across the world to London for my first full-time career job. The first few presentations were hell. On the outside I’m sure I appeared confident, but on the inside I was completely unable to quieten my mind.
I knew this was something I needed to overcome. I chose to be brave and put myself forward for every presentation possible, assuming practice would help and that over time I would get better. That speaking was just a metaphorical muscle that needed to be exercised. Alas, no such luck.
The turning point came during the research process. One night, after a particularly big presentation, I came across author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek’s work on public speaking. One comment in particular struck a chord:
“Show up to give, not to take.”
Show up to give, not to take. Of course! Here’s the thing. I wasn’t even thinking about giving. I was walking into every presentation so fixated on how I felt, and so inwardly focused that I wasn’t even thinking about my audience and how I could best serve them. * Light bulb moment * Presenting actually had nothing to do with me. It was all about how I could serve my audience and give them what they needed.
I’m not going to tell you everything changed overnight, but my ability to start to look at presenting from a different perspective started to grow and morph, and I can now confidently say that I enjoy public speaking. I enjoy it for the same reason I enjoy coaching. I love being able to share information that helps and changes peoples’ lives and businesses.
Delivering a personal branding session to university students earlier this year
My top 3 tips for moving through public speaking fear
These are the nuggets I’ve learnt along the way…
1. Practice mindfulness
This is the most important step, and one that will help you grow and change in all areas of your life.
Be really present and conscious. This is just as applicable to the process of preparation for the presentation as it is for the presentation itself. If you suffer any kind of anxiety you might find yourself awake at night with thoughts churning around about all the things that could go wrong when you give the present.
Don’t do it to yourself.
Learning mindfulness will help you get out of your head and into the real world, so that you can prepare for the task at hand and deliver the presentation while focusing on your messaging and how you can best serve, rather than the fears and ‘what ifs.’
- Read ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle for some beautiful lessons in living in the present moment. This book is a game-changer and provides tips and tricks for how to live your life without attaching your thoughts to the past and future.
- Start practicing meditation. I think we all know by now that there is nothing ‘woo woo’ about meditation. Science has told us that after weeks of practicing meditation the brain’s fight or flight centre, called the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain is associated with fear, emotion and stress. This practice is literally a ‘no brainer’ (I know, I know – I couldn’t help myself).
- Spend some time visualising yourself delivering the presentation incredibly well. Picture yourself absolutely nailing all the points you want to make, responding to questions with ease and picking up on the audience’s tone to be fluid and flexible in your delivery. How good does that feel?
Side note: Often we don’t have the time we need to prepare. In many career jobs or businesses being thrown in the deep end with presentations is something that happens often. It’s for this reason that none of my tips include “be as prepared as you possibly can” because I know from experience that doesn’t help in the times when you aren’t able to prepare. It is more important that we address the fears associated with public speaking so that we are able to be flexible.
Delivering a social media workshop earlier this year at Curtin University
2. Step outside of yourself
Your presentation is not about you. You have a duty, and that duty is to serve your listeners and provide the information they are there to hear.
As I mentioned above, consciously thinking about your audience rather than yourself will help you get out of your head. It will shift your focus. The second benefit of this is that you wont be clouded by your own thoughts if things happen during the presentation that might throw you off course (an unexpected question, problems with technology, etc.). You will be able to address the problem rationally and logically, without allowing your fight or flight emotions to cloud your judgement.
3. Shift nervous energy into excitement
Another tip I learnt from Simon Sinek is to turn your nervousness into excitement by reinterpreting the side effects (clammy hands, butterflies in your stomach, racing heart) as a sign that you are excited.
Telling yourself you are excited rather than nervous will help change the biochemistry in your body so that you truly start to feel that way. It will bring about positive change in your delivery and your audience will feel that energy. It’s a win-win.
What experiences have you had with public speaking? I’d love to hear about them.
Drop me a note at email@example.com or comment below!