The fear of public speaking is well-known.
In some studies it ranks above the fear of death, prompting Jerry Seinfeld to joke once that it’s better to be in the casket at funerals than delivering the eulogy.
Since presentations are a huge part of my job, sometimes people assume I don’t get nervous or that it’s somehow easy to stand up in front of 300 people and deliver a message.
Some folks have a gift for speaking in the way that Justin Timberlake or Jay Z, for example, have gifts for music, i.e. an inherent talent that presents itself at a young age.
Those who knew me back in the day knew a girl who ate ChapStick and whose first “real” boyfriend became her husband.
So how is it that a self-professed introvert is now able to do this for a living and, more importantly, why should you care?
1. As more and more communication is taking place online, professionals who have the ability to persuade and inspire in person will become more and more valuable.
2. Leadership means being seen – and that usually comes with a microphone.
As I’ve learned first-hand, the only requirements for presenting on stage are a lot of expertise and a little confidence although, admittedly, there are quite of few speakers out there who get that backwards.
So…the expertise is yours to build but, in the meantime, I can help you with the confidence.
Truth is, I wanted to write this post because I’ve just returned from a major gig that really threw me for a loop.
In short, I wasn’t just nervous – I was slightly terrified.
And yet, I was able to move through a very specific process for getting on the other side of fear that allowed me to stay present and calm. I want to share this with you because it’s not only relevant to delivering a keynote, but it can also help you make better sales pitches, client presentations, or even just piping up in meetings.
So, without further ado, here’s what worked. This can be applied as a step-by-step formula or feel free to just isolate anything that resonates.
Step One: Listen to the fear. Anxiety usually has something valuable to tell us, assuming we don’t run from it or numb it with comfort food. In my case, I do dozens of presentations each year so I got really curious about why this one had me so on edge. Was it the size of the audience, which was larger than normal? Was it the fact that I was speaking mostly to men, which is also unusual? Was it that I was finally earning my desired speaking rate, which brought up feelings of unworthiness? Turning toward the fear allows you to name it – “oh hello, worry” – thus creating distance. Distance allows for perspective and perspective allows for wisdom.
Step Two: Go ahead and fail. Over a year ago, I wrote about my most disasterous speaking engagement. It’s the only time ever in my career that I actually cried after walking off stage. (I mean, I made it to my hotel room, but still…) Looking back now, I have three ginormously positive takeaways from that experience.
I learned I can nose-dive big time and the world will still go on.
I learned I don’t like talking about hard skills and so I’m not a fit for those jobs.
I learned I prefer to speak to women.
In short, that “total bomb” was a massive turning point and EXACTLY what was needed to push me in a direction that was a much better fit anyway. What a gift! So now, when the thought of public failure creeps in, I remember that pain always comes wrapped in a lesson.
Step Three: Shift into service. The anxiety that comes with public speaking is almost always about how we will be judged. What if I forget my points? What if my voice shakes? What if they hate the message? What if I get red-faced and blotchy? What if I start sweating? What if…. What if…. What if….
If you believe in the law of attraction as I do, you’ll recognize that anxious thoughts create anxious behaviors which most likely will cause you to forget your points and thereby create the very scenario you’re dreading.
So…when I was prepping for my presentation last week and those thoughts came, I made an effort to quickly replace them with the following:
“My only job is to be loving.”
I recognize that sounds corny so let me explain.
It’s common practice for athletes to sit still and visualize their performance moment-by-moment, frame-by-frame. I do that too, mentally going slide-by-slide through my presentation and picturing the audience in front of me.
I think about what brought them into the room that day beyond just being compliant.
I think about their challenges and their accomplishments.
And I bless them knowing that, if they are sitting in judgment of me, that’s their wound to heal.
In other words, it’s not my job to manage how the audience receives the message – it is only my job to give it to the best of my ability.
This is very important because, once again, you’re shifting the focus away from something you can’t control (i.e. how you’ll be perceived) and turning towards something you can (i.e. how you deliver).
This is the secret to settling the snow globe mind. Period.
I could go on with other tips, for example, the photo above is me sneaking into the ballroom last week hours before my prezzy because knowing what to expect increases my comfort level, etc. etc. – but those are the biggies.
Suffice it to say that speaking DOES get easier over time – trust me, I read my first presentations from paper word for word – and, YES, sometimes your voice will shake.
This is your only spin around the planet, people.
Let ‘em know you were here.