Countless studies conclude most would choose death over speaking in public. Fear is the culprit. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” Your business and your career cannot afford this type of defeat. In fact, many studies attribute success to the ability to command an audience.
If fear of speaking in public has led you to stagnation and frustration, resolve to tackle the fear. Begin by understanding the two root causes of public speaking inhibition: an internal negative chatterbox and a sense of hyper responsibility.
We all have an internal negative chatterbox, but some chatterboxes are more active than others. While many are agile at dealing with internal negativity, some let it run their lives. Think about it. When faced with a challenge, even something as simple as visiting a loved one, all things being equal, do you set out with eager anticipation or do you stress over concerns about the commute, your appearance, or how you’ll be received? When driving, do you anticipate you’ll make the next traffic light or tell yourself it will likely turn red? Do you face challenges optimistically or do you conjure every possible worst case scenario until you are consumed with negativity?
Ridding yourself of what Zig Ziglar coined “stinkin’ thinkin’” requires a lot of work, but it can be done. It’s a matter of forming good habits and ousting your internal Negative Nelly. Make a list of all the concerns and worst case scenarios you conjure prior to giving a presentation or all the reasons you give for avoiding presentations. Draw a line to the right of that list and craft a positive substitution for each negative statement. Statements in the positive column must contain no negative words. For instance, if your fear is that you will forget information. Your positive statement should be “I know this information well and will deliver my key points expertly.” The idea is to train your subconscious, to harness the law of attraction. If your alternative statement is “I will not forget my material,” your subconscious will only register “forget my material.” So, keep it positive.
Once you have an alternate list of positive comments, read them over and over. Repeat them constantly before a speaking engagement, and especially when your mind wants to drift into negative territory. Don’t let it. This requires work and practice. Hey, nothing good in life is easy, right?
The second common cause of public speaking anxiety is a sense of hyper-responsibility. While being on stage and addressing audiences large and small puts you in a position of power, it does not mean you are responsible for things outside your immediate control during the presentation. Consider what you can and cannot control.
You can control the words you use, your tone and demeanor, your body language, and your appearance. Your communication skills can affect the audiences’ mood but you cannot control whether they had a bad night’s sleep, had a rough morning, or are worried about personal problems. Completely out of your control is the construction going on outside the venue, which is providing unwanted background noise, the venue’s squeaky floor, or the weather. It’s important to understand the subtle difference between what you can and cannot control, so that you can have a positive effect.
If the uncontrollable—weather, outside interference, etc.—is obvious, go ahead and acknowledge it. Joke about it if you must, but NEVER apologize for it. Doing so subconsciously tells the audience that you are responsible for it. Why give them reason to question your credibility?
If members of your audience look grumpy or sleepy, don’t let it trip you up. It does not necessarily mean you are boring. It could just mean they had a rough night. Assume the latter. Don’t take it personally. That said, if the entire audience is nodding off, you might need to adjust your approach. There are numerous methods for engaging an audience.
Face your public speaking fears and you will overcome them. Follow me on Twitter to get my #PublicSpeaking tip of the day.