“At a funeral, the average person would rather be in a casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
Speech anxiety…it’s the most common type of anxiety, and most of us know exactly how it feels. I see this quite a bit in my clinical practice, even in otherwise very high performing individuals. It can also be a huge obstacle in communicating our personal brands with confidence. So much so that we previously dedicated a blog series to exploring what public speaking anxiety is, what maintains it, and what you can do about it.
As it’s been a while, our fabulous guest blogger of the month, presentations coach Caroline Hopkins of www.lovepresenting.com, helps us revisit how to handle this very common fear by sharing her expertise and an example of one of her many helpful techniques.
Caroline begins with a story: “An old friend was asked to give a presentation to a new client to talk about her ideas for their business. She knew that her company was in the running to get this job, she knew that this account would be amazing to work on and it would earn her huge prestige in her department. She also knew that she hated presenting. Sadly, she was a quivering wreck on the day and the business went to another agency.”
This story is a common one! Caroline asks, “How often do we duck opportunities to promote ourselves, our message or our ideas and miss out on new business or career openings because we hate the idea of speaking or presenting ourselves?
You have probably heard the statistics about fear of public speaking being greater than fear of dying – and knowing that you are in the majority can be comforting. But why risk missing out on what could be an amazing result for you and your work because of a fear or that can be overcome when you learn how to present with confidence and engage people?”
So then, what is it we are really afraid of?
“In my work as a presentations coach, I come across many reasons that people don’t like or fear speaking in public, but I would say most of them fall into one of these 6 categories:
Identity (“I’m just not the kind of person who can do this”)
Fear of separation (“I hate standing at the front with all eyes on me”)
Previous experience (“Last time I did it was a nightmare!”)
Other people (“What will they think of me?”)
Not ‘knowing your stuff’ (“I won’t remember my words”/”I don’t know what I’m talking about”)
Limiting beliefs (I just can’t do this!)
Or all of the above! The good news though, is that for each of these fears and negative thoughts there are strategies to help.
One strategy that many clients find useful in addressing all of these concerns is based on how we talk to ourselves. While it is often described as ‘the first sign of madness’, we talk to ourselves constantly and that is how we mentally set up our experiences.”
Caroline asks us an important question: “What do you say when you talk to yourself?”
“This question is at the core of so many public speaking fears. We scare ourselves with a constant commentary about why we CAN’T do this. Whichever of the 6 issues above affects you most, try this 3-step exercise to help you manage your thinking:
1. Grab a piece of paper, put a line down the middle and in the left hand column, write down everything you are telling yourself about giving a presentation (this is the voice of your fearful self). When you have a list, read through it and notice what energy and mood this creates.
2. For each negative thought you have written down, find a counter-thought that is equally true and far more resourceful to focus on and write this next to it in the right hand column. What would your biggest fan or greatest supporter say to you about this thought? (this is the voice of your powerful self). When you read down this list, notice how your energy and mood changes.
3. Now destroy the left hand list by running a pen through it all. When you think about giving a presentation, remind yourself of everything you have written on the right hand column. Whenever you catch yourself having a negative thought, keep reminding yourself of the thoughts on the right, that are equally possible if that is what you focus on.
“OK, I’ll come clean”, says Caroline…”that “old friend” I mentioned at the start was me. I was the quivering wreck and I had to learn to overcome my fear. The client presentation we lost was the moment I decided I had to do something about my fears. But I did – by learning a few simple techniques to prepare mentally (like the one above) and by discovering a powerful process to create engaging talks – and that is why I now devote my coaching to helping others to overcome their fears and learn to present really well.”
Caroline’s inspirational story and insight reminds us that this is our chance to shine, to promote our ideas, our brand and our message – and to release the amazing speaker inside us all.
Caroline Hopkins is an NLP Master Practitioner who specialises in presentation skills coaching and training and runs ‘Presentation Mastery’ workshops in the North West of England and London. Contact Caroline@lovepresenting.com 01925 393155