Don’t Be A Speaking Scaredy Cat!

Is this you?

Does the idea of speaking turn you into a scaredy cat?

No need to turn tail and run – here are some tips to help you!

The fear of public speaking is listed as the #1 fear in the world – and I’m on a mission to take that fear away from as many people as possible. I have researched this topic extensively and used to suffer from this fear myself – although now I absolutely LOVE the thrill I get from speaking, whether that’s on stage or online. You too, can unlearn the fear and learn to not only get by but thrive through speaking and presenting.

Those Useless tips that don’t work!

It really frustrates me when I hear really stupid advice on how to overcome nerves, especially when that advice is given by ‘so-called experts’. For that reason, I’ve decided to expose those stupid tips and give you some really useful ideas instead.

So – here are the tips that don’t work:

Imagine your audience with no clothes on!

This has to be the second stupidest piece of advice I’ve ever heard! I don’t know about you, but if I were to imagine my entire audience completely naked, I would run a mile! It certainly wouldn’t help me to feel confident – at the very least, it would put me off big time. And if I actually knew my audience members, this would be worse – I would probably collapse into a hysterical fit of giggles, or blush like crazy, and people would wonder what on earth I had been taking as I was obviously hallucinating!

Instead, imagine your audience as the most friendly people you have ever come across. People suggest the silly tip above because they are assuming that the audience is going to be intimidating and the technique is supposed to make them appear less so. However, if you remember that, unless you’re a politician speaking to the opposition, 99% of any people in the audience are going to be on your side and looking forward to what you have to say – otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

Imagine your audience sitting on the toilet!

This is even worse than the advice given above and I therefore proclaim that it is THE MOST STUPID advice I’ve ever heard! No – I’m not even going to go there – enough said!

Don’t look at your audience – pick a spot on the wall and look at that.

Fine – if you want to come across as insincere, and maybe a bit of a mad dog! The problem with this is that you are simply avoiding eye contact at all costs and that’s not good.

Again, this tip is given because it’s assumed that the audience is unfriendly and intimidating – but if you actually take the time to look at your audience, you will see how friendly they can be. Especially if you smile at them and make eye-contact with them.

Eye contact with your audience is so important – it’s how you engage with them and show that you are sincere and have every confidence in your message.

Sweep your attention from side to side so you engage all of your audience

Nope! All this will do is make you appear as though you have switched your head to ‘oscillate’ and it’s almost as bad as looking at one spot. This tip is meant to give your audience the feeling that you’re including all of them – but it doesn’t work that way. If you ‘sweep’ you actually end up making eye contact with no-one.

Instead, pick a person from one section of the audience and hold eye-contact with them for a few seconds, then move to another person in the same section and do the same, then move on to a person in a different section of the audience. Repeat this until you cover all areas of the audience. Now, if you have a very large audience, you can’t make eye-contact with every individual there, but the larger the audience, it’s harder to tell who you’re looking at – and when you make eye-contact with one person, several people end up thinking you’re making eye-contact with them.

Say it all really quickly so that you get it over with as soon as possible.

OK – so at least this one is not usually given by so called ‘experts’ but it’s often given by well-meaning individuals. Speaking quickly highlights your nerves and takes away any authority that you might have had by speaking more slowly. It also has the effect of raising your voice, so you’re in danger of beginning to sound like the chipmunks.

Actually – you should do the exact opposite. Slow down, give yourself time to breathe and think and also give the audience time to think about the information you’re giving them. This will ensure your voice is lower and more authoritative, that gives you more credibility with your audience.
Have a good, stiff drink beforehand

As tempting as this might seem, it’s very bad advice! Having a drink will actually make things worse as drinking enough to get rid of your inhibitions will bring about some unwelcome side effects. For a start, you’re more likely to be a bit wobbly on your feet and more likely to trip. You’re memory won’t be as sharp and you’re more likely to forget things, creating panic despite the intended effect of the alcohol. You will most likely slur your words and you will most definitely come across as unprofessional.

Instead, drink frequent sips of water and practice some relaxation exercises. There are lots of tools to help you get over your performance nerves just before the event. Keep reading to see some of these tools.

3 Simple Confidence Strategies you can implement right away

Strategy 1: Change your Focus

What you focus on is the difference between being terrified and being superbly confident.

Most people who suffer from anxiety around speaking do so because they focus on all the things that can go wrong:

• My audience won’t like me
• I’m going to forget everything I want to say
• I’m going to stumble over the power leads
• I’m going to stumble over my words
• My projector/laptop won’t work
• My slideshow won’t work
• I’m going to go red
• I’m going to shake
• My voice will come out as a squeak
• I’m going to end up looking like an idiot
• People will laugh at me
• I’m going to feel horrible

If you’re thinking only a fraction of that, it’s hardly surprising you feel anxious!!

The trouble is, thinking about these things becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your anxiety is more likely to make the above happen so you have to force that little voice in your head to change what it’s saying to you.

As long as you adequately prepare there is no reason to forget everything (that’s what notes are for), your technology and slideshow should be absolutely fine and you can feel confident in your message. If you’re confident with this element, it’s much less likely that you will go red, shake or squeak! You will not, in fact, look like an idiot and your audience have absolutely no reason not to like you.

Even if you’re asked to speak last minute with little or no preparation time, remember that you’ve been asked for a reason – you have knowledge that other people want to hear and audiences are extra kind to people who have just been put on the spot (after all, they themselves would hate to be put on the spot – so you will get extra credibility).

So instead, think of everything that’s going to go right. Think of the impact on your audience of your message and think about the great opportunity you have to spread your word and become seen as a credible authority in your field. And even if you do forget to say something – your audience will never know you left it out!

Strategy 2: Change your Language

The language you use to describe how you feel will either amplify or dampen how you feel.

If you use words like ‘absolutely terrified’ ‘petrified’ or ‘I’m going to DIE’, you’re bound to feel awful. This is because our brains are chemically wired to react to certain words that we use. Try closing your eyes and saying those kinds of words to yourself and you will notice a shift in how you feel. Imagine you’re in a life-threatening situation and you will find that your pulse starts racing and you experience uncomfortable sensations linked to fear. (This is how all those thriller films work – you’re scared out of your wits even though you’re in the safe environment of a comfortable cinema or in your favourite armchair at home!)

Now let’s get real about this. If I throw you into a pen with a hungry lion that hasn’t been fed for a week, I give you permission to feel ‘terrified’. Your life is at stake and this emotion is actually very appropriate – you are going to need to do something to preserve your life and the adrenaline that gives you the ‘flight or fight’ response is very useful here. But in front of an audience, there is no need to feel ‘terrified’ or ‘petrified’ because your life is not being threatened, so those emotions are not appropriate for the situation.

Instead, try telling yourself ‘I’m a bit nervous, but I’m OK’ and you will feel calmer. By changing your language, you really can change how you feel.

I want to make a point here. Some trainers will tell you to change your language completely and tell yourself ‘I’m totally confident, unstoppable and supremely brilliant in front of an audience’. For those who can switch just like that, fine – it’s a great technique. However, from having worked with hundreds of people on this, I find that this doesn’t work for many because they simply don’t believe it deep down. When they use the ultra positive words, their inner voice counteracts with ‘rubbish! You’re telling yourself porkies!’ (Fibs for those who don’t understand UK English slang)

This is why I suggest changing initially to ‘I’m a little nervous, but I’m OK’. Being a little nervous is appropriate for inexperienced speakers and even seasoned professionals get a few nerves. But there is a massive difference in the body’s reaction to ‘totally terrified’ as opposed to ‘a bit nervous’ – especially when you back it up with ‘I’m OK’. Once you’ve done this a few times, you can change ‘nervous’ to excited and gradually progress to ‘I’m totally pumped-up and looking forward to this’.

Strategy 3: Change your Physiology

When someone is extremely nervous when they take to the ‘stage’, they typically adopt a ‘closed’ physiology – it’s the sub-conscious desire to protect or hug yourself. It’s also common to adopt a ‘stand to attention’ stance. This physiology is guaranteed to make you feel awful!

The closed and stand to attention physiology means that you are likely to be standing with your feet too close together, your shoulders will be rolled forwards and down, your hands in front of you and possibly head downwards as well.

If your feet are too close together, you will feel unbalanced and wobbly – not great for instilling confidence and it’s also more likely that you will shake which will be visible and which will affect your voice. If your shoulders are forwards and down – which is very likely to happen, particularly if your hands are in front of you to hold notes – your diaphragm will be restricted, which will affect your breathing. This will cause a number of side effects! First, you will find that insufficient oxygen in your bloodstream will cause you to feel slightly sick; it will cause a lack of alertness resulting in your brain going blank; your muscles will feel weak so you will go wobbly at the knees; you won’t be able to take a good breath to project your voice, so it will come out squeaky and quivery. When you become aware of all this, your nerves will increase and so a downward spiral of panic sets in! Finally, if your head is in a downwards position, this seems to have a chemical reaction in our brains which causes us to feel more negative – hence the expression ‘I’m feeling down’.

So the wrong physiology can completely thwart your efforts at feeling confident!!

So – Stand with your feet further apart, under your hips in a relaxed but grounded stance. This will make you feel more balanced and in control. Push your shoulders back and down and have your arms relaxed – if you need to hold notes, then practice having your hands in front of you while keeping your shoulders back and down. This will open up your diaphragm, so you can breathe properly, getting your oxygen circulating to your organs, your muscles and your brain. You will now feel a massive difference and this trick is just one tiny thing you can do to make yourself feel so much better.

Get My Book!

If you want to learn more about overcoming the fear of public speaking, check out my book on Amazon – Kindle version is also available.

Befriending The Bear of Public Speaking:  Overcome Your Fears and Speak With Confidence

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www.tinasibley.com

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