I've prepared four strategies to help you overcome your fear of public speaking. It's actually one of the most common fears. On lists of fears that we have looked at or researched, public speaking comes in ahead of death in terms of what people fear.
Jerry Seinfeld picked this up and he said, “You know what that means is the guy giving the eulogy would rather be in the box.”
But you know what? It's not the fear of public Speaking so much as the fear of not speaking well in public. Think about what I'm saying you are not really afraid of speaking. You are afraid of speaking poorly. That will give us some clues as to what you can do to overcome that fear.
Dale Dixon is a friend of mine in the National Speakers Association. He wrote a book called, “Sweating Bullets.” It's all about what we are talking about today. If you want a little extra boost, go check out Dale's book.
Dale tells a story, kind of a parable, that helps you to wrap your head around some of the things that you can do to get on top of this fear of public speaking.
The number one strategy is: prepare. This might sound simple, but it is oh, so crucial to overcoming your fear of public speaking that we've got to put it right up front.
Preparation is what will allow you to avoid the main cause of the fear, and that's the fear of speaking poorly. The more you prepare the less likely it is that you are going to do a bad job up there at the mic. So, put in the work beforehand. Think it through. Compose and structure presentations in a way that you feel some confidence going into it.
Obviously part of your preparation has to do with practice. This is strategy number one. Here is how we are going to power that up: While you're practicing, record yourself. Just get a little stand or something for your iPhone or a camera or whatever you have. It doesn't even really matter, but capture your practice. Get yourself in a recorded format.
This is not for anyone else besides you, unless you are working with a coach. Basically, it's for you to go back and review. Warning, it's going to be awkward, it's going to be uncomfortable. People don't like seeing recordings of themselves.
Which is interesting to me. Psychologically, when we see a recording of ourselves, we don't look normal to ourselves. That's because whenever you see yourself, you're used to seeing yourself in a mirror. Well, the image in a mirror is just backwards from the way most people are used to seeing you. When you record yourself, you are going to see yourself the way other people see you, and that's not going to look normal to you.
Don't worry about that. Just notice that, “Oh, this doesn't look normal to me because it's not what I'm used to seeing.”
As you watch the recording, you are also going to notice little habits or ticks or idiosyncrasies that you do while presenting. You want to see this on the recording because that allows you to make adjustments before you actually do your presentation.
You are also going to be listening for what we call throwaway words or stutter words. Things like, “Uh.” You will catch those little vocalizations more when you are watching the recording. That is probably going to annoy you. It's probably going to be difficult to watch the recording. That's fine. That's why I'm giving you the heads up to it. It's one of the most powerful things that you can do to prepare.
Record yourself practicing and then watch the recording. Listen carefully to the words you are using. Fear is such an interesting thing because the psychological and physiological things that you are experiencing when you described it as fear, are actually the same things that you feel when your body is preparing you to do something that's a little challenging.
A friend of mine, Dr. John Skidmore, is a high-level performance coach. John taught me this idea. He said that you reframe the fear and call it instead activation… Ooh, do you like the sound of that? Activation. When you feel the butterflies, the little flutters coming in and you, usually interpret that as being nervous or fearful and you label it anxiety. Let's call it activation. Your body is activating all of the systems that are necessary for you to have a successful experience at the mic.
Activation is necessary for you to do a good job. In fact, we've got studies that show that there's an optimal level of activation. If it's too low, you won't step up and do a very good job. If it's too high, you'll start to get paralyzed by the anxiety. We want to be activated. Reframing that in your mind allows you to put this into a context that no longer causes the paralysis or the fear. You can see it as your body preparing you for what's next.
Consistent with what we've already talked about here, find some low risk places and circumstances where you can practice and get some feedback. You have already had your practice and recorded so you can watch it. Now, get in front of a few people and by low-risk, I mean pick some people who are already supportive of you. People who really want you to succeed, who are willing to listen and give you some feedback about how your presentation is coming along. These might be family members or friends. It could be a roommate it could be someone that you work with that you are close enough friends to that you could ask them, “Hey, would you mind listening to this presentation that I've prepared? I just want to run it by a few people before I actually have to give it in public.”
This is a great way for you to not only practice but to start getting some input from other people. Now, people who love you and they support you. They're probably going to say, “Oh, that was awesome. That was great. You did a great job.” You can thank them for that. “Thank you. What would you suggest I do to improve it a little bit?” Now, you're asking for the kind of feedback that will help you to actually get to a higher level of performance.
Remember, most people are not afraid of public speaking. They are afraid of speaking poorly in public. So, the more you refine those skills, the less reason you are giving your own brain to experience any fear or apprehension related to the speaking. You can see how much this has to do with personal psychology.
If you haven't yet got a copy of my book, Pathological Positivity, I want you to jump on that right now to power-up your positivity. I'm going to pay for the book. You just pay for the shipping. I'll get it right out to you as soon as I can. Go to drpauljenkins.com.