A Fear of Public Speaking? 

Is it really a ‘Fear’?

A lot of people can relate, over 50% of the UK and US to be more precise. Speaking in front of people can be a daunting and uneasy affair.

Now you know that you are not alone. Even I still get cagey leading up to a talk. So it is easy to see why people sometimes lose control of their natural aversion. A natural aversion can become a fear without warning. That’s all that it is, an aversion. We just take it to an unhealthy level. So how do we grasp, identify, break and then reprogramme our minds?
Here is what we will cover in this post.

  • Understanding Fear

  • Framing Our Aversion

  • Breaking Down Our Aversion

  • Building A New System

Understanding Fear

A lot of people ‘fear public speaking’ apparently. A lot of mentors and coaches have products and systems that sell you the ‘silver bullet’ with offers like -“Overcome your fear of public speaking with our one week course”. Overcoming a fear is not a simple fix that takes a week or can be solved by a one day workshop. Genuine fears are things that are deep rooted and often stem from traumatic events in the past.

These boulders in a persons mind can’t be ‘blasted out’. They need to be chipped away with a pick-axe, with consistency and patience over time. We don’t sell silver bullets or quick fixes here. If you want to up your game, you have to work at it.

While 1% of us may have a genuine old fashioned Phobia of public speaking. 99% of us just have a plain and simple healthy aversion to it. As the Oxford Dictionary states, FEAR is –  An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm.

Fear is a response, and automatic sensor suite if you will. A suite designed to protect you from the aforementioned threats stated above. Ironically, as good as our evolved brains and bodies are at getting us out of the path of danger and jeopardy. They also get us off the path of success and recognition.

How many times have you kicked yourself for not answering a question? Held yourself back from saying what everyone was thinking only to see someone else get the praise? In trying to keep us safe and secure in our safe zone, our nervous system actually holds us back from the success and credit we deserve.

We internalise emotions. Our stress levels and heart-rate increase. Whether in a conference room, under pressure to deliver. Or on a backstreet being held at knife point for your personal possessions. To your brain, you have found yourself in a situation you do not want to be in and so a “fight or flight” instinct triggers. It begins to take control of your body, kind of like a master override switch. Once switched, the system then has one purpose. SURVIVE.

In a conference room, you are not at knife point and no one is threatening you. But your brain does not distinguish between scenarios. It has emotions to feed it’s sensors. Your brain has it’s wires crossed and needs to be reigned in!

We have to turn the SURVIVE switch off. Then in it’s place, we build a new switch. One that YOU control and turn on when YOU need it. One that makes you THRIVE.

Framing Our Aversion

Now we know what fear actually is, we can go about framing our own aversion of public speaking. Fear is not a factor. Aversions are what keep you out of discomforts. An aversion is a dislike or a disinclination to do something. For example, a lot of people don’t like Sushi. I.e. They have an aversion to it.

Public speaking is the same, we are averse to it. But if we try both, continue to sample and test small bits. We learn to appreciate and understand the thing in question. For example, I like Sushi and hate wasabi. I like to speak on scientific topics and I am terrible at Improv/Comedy. We learn about each new thing and its nuances, at the same time learning about ourselves.

Once you can identify ‘aversions’ in your life. You will quickly be able to identify between a simple dislike and avoidance. Maybe you don’t like pork but still eat beef. Cats but not dogs. You get my drift…

Logically you can now frame public speaking and your aversion to it. Go deeper still and get into the weeds of it. I wasn’t averse to standing in front of people but I was painfully worried about getting facts wrong, or stammering/stuttering (I had a stutter as a kid). Understand what it is about being in the spotlight that makes your heart skip a beat.

Breaking Down Our Aversion

Breaking down the aversion is simple in essence. we get exposure to it. We take small steps in confidence building. Play to your strengths, use them to accelerate progress. If you are a good listener or love to read. Use those skills to research and absorb new information and techniques, (like you are doing now…).

A Break-through occurs when you consistently make small progress towards goal(s). Turn up and be consistent. This is how empires were built, how rail-roads conquered mountains and why professional success in any field occurs. Progress is progress, no matter how slow or small.

Aim to simply be slightly better than you were yesterday and ensure that you monitor your progress. People generally give up doing or trying something because they fail to notice small progress and see their goal as one huge target in the distance.

Building A New System

Stumbling into greatness does not work. ‘Greatness’ is also a relative term. I.e. what level I consider to be great might be different to what you see. If you are a terrified public speaking, don’t see Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King as the benchmark. It is about building a system in which YOU are the best speaker that you can be. Its not about imitation or replication, anyone can do an unconvincing portrayal of someone else and their style.

Instead, we want to build our own individual and unique style. A system whereby your personality, style and individuality are on show. Be great in your own way. Not by someone else’s barometer of greatness.

A new system does not happen overnight. After all, it takes times and commitment to break down an aversion and change your behaviour to something you are not comfortable doing. So make it about smaller more manageable goals and then work on them. Tiny and consistent progress on the micro level makes huge break-throughs on the macro level.

Focus on grasping and perfecting the fundamentals. Do exercises that build up confidence and muscle memory. The same principles generally apply in breaking down an aversion and then building in its place. You want to make slow and steady progress towards an end state. In this style, you can monitor the smaller details, the nuts and bolts of your grand vision. The Eiffel Tower is amazing. But if someone didn’t work on the nuts and bolts, it would have never of been built.

 

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. – Frederick Douglass – social-reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman

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Avoid Becoming A Yes-Man

How Do You Avoid Becoming The Captain’s Parrot?

Everyone is familiar with the image of a Ship’s Captain with a Parrot on his shoulder. The Parrot echoes the Captain, squawking nonsense from the top deck of the ship. That is what I see when working with someone who is unable to think for themselves and just agrees with the companies ideas, policies, etc… They do not rock the boat. Which is fine in most situations, however it shows a lack of drive, imagination, knowledge and initiative.

We have all worked with or know of someone who always seems to take others opinions. Taking their information from the mainstream media without questioning its validity or bias.

Those who generally do not form their own opinions or question the nature of life’s different offerings tend to be easily misinformed, refuted and led. These are the people that you are working alongside and may even find them as your superiors from time to time. A scary thought right?

Something ‘Yes-Man’ don’t have, Read – Credibility – What is it? 

So how do you avoid becoming the Captain’s Parrot? At work for instance, just echoing company rhetoric and always taking the bosses word for it are two prime examples of parroting. A business practice might be unethical, maybe even bordering illegal, the captains parrot will not speak out against his master.

But someone who is informed and knowledgeable will speak out because they don’t just take what they are told as Gospel truth. The quickest and most sure-fire way of avoiding the title of ‘Yes-Man’ is to strive to be informed. From multiple sources. Never rely on a single source when it comes to forming opinions and ideas. Everyone can be guilty of this from time to time. ‘Gossip’ is by far the most dangerous medium for information. Inaccurate, twisted, subjective and nearly always intended to undermine who it pertains to.

I take great pride when someone informs me of gossip pertaining to myself. See it as a barometer of success. The more you achieve, the more people will want to bring you down or dash your efforts.

If your success has afforded you the luxury of having people work for you. Then congratulations. But before you go ahead and pat yourself on the back, look at your talent and take stock of who you have employed. Employing a ‘Yes-Man’ is just as dangerous as being one.

Don’t be the stick in the mud or the party pooper, but always seek to question things. That is how you demonstrate your value and communicate to others you are happy to follow the majority when required but if the moment requires it, you can stand up and inform your peers clearly and concisely on an alternative idea.

“I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job”. – Samuel Goldwyn – American Film Producer

 

A Winning Formula?

Finding your own personal formula to good practice.

As the quizzical title suggests, can there be a single formula to good practice. You know something unifying, regardless of the time and day.

Energy + Focus x Structure / Time = Good Practice?

I like to think there is such a thing. It is as close to perfect as we can get in this imperfect World! The going rate is 10,000 hours. That is the average time it takes to become ‘top of the field’ so to speak. From Quarterbacks, Golfers, Archers, Musicians, Potters and Painters; If someone is to be considered a professional in their field they need to put the practice in and learn their craft. “So I have to talk to myself for 10,000 hours to be a professional speaker?” – you can do that, if you want. But you might be put in an asylum and classed insane.

You speak everyday and unless you have recently taken a vow of silence for religious reasons, I am betting you can hold a conversation. So you are already a professional speaker. You honed that skill as an infant and child. What you haven’t honed anywhere near as much is the confidence and ability to stand in front of various groups of people and illustrate your ideas, translate brain waves and impact people on an emotional level. That is what we want to practice. How? by taking something we have already and replicating it.

Read  – Perfect Speakers Don’t Exist

The idea is straight forward, think of what you are good at and that you enjoy. For me it is between Skiing and Drums. However, one of these is much more applicable (the drums). Now think of the mindset you are in when you are practicing or just dabbling in the chosen activity. Are you consumed by it, forgetting whats going on around you? Perhaps deaf to the people around you as your attention and focus remain channelled? If so, PERFECT! If not, revise your choice and/or work on attaining a level of deep practice through Public Speaking itself.

I practice the drums for only an hour a day. Mostly to keep my neighbours from lynching me. 6pm-7pm, Monday to Friday. It doesn’t shift unless I am away or there is a zombie apocalypse. That is my first key and it is the big one; Consistency. It helps my mind to focus and gives me structure so I can instantly go into a deep practice almost every time. I can be exhausted from work some days but I still strangely have the energy and enthusiasm to practice for 60 minutes. I you want it enough, your mind will move mountains in order to achieve it.

So for my speaking practice I need to re-create that same mindset and attitude about being consistent. Through doing so, it will yield me the energy and focus to stick at it.

I am terrible with keeping to things, so my life is pleasantly structured (OCD?). Even my practice is on a fixed program. I do five minutes of stretches and warm up myself (not a single touch on the instrument). Then 15 minutes of drills and technique on a practice pad. Now I move to the actual kit and begin with more drills, rudiments and stick work for 10 minutes. which leaves me with the final 30 minutes, in this time slot I can be more flexible and spend time trying new ideas, listening to the kit and making changes and then mostly I put my headphones on and just play along to my music. Notice that I don’t take the fun out of my practice. I reward myself with it after.

This is an example of structured practice and it leaves nothing to chance. I am always guaranteeing myself some level of progress. Aimlessly hitting things for an hour a day will not yield results as fast as a structured plan and consistent execution of it. I am not suggesting you practice speaking for an hour a day. But when you do decide to practice, it should be pre-planned and on a schedule that you know you can keep yourself to.

As you plan your new speaking practice around your pre-existing activity of choice, remember that you are aiming for your version of ‘deep practice’, I for one define my practices as ‘good’ by how focused I was and whether or not I have refined a certain thing or maybe had a rare ‘eureka’ moment. That for me is as near to perfect as I will ever get. And remember – Consistency and Structure are what will force multiply your progress.

A round of applause is the perfect proof you have been practicing properly…