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For many people, when it comes to public speaking or interview scenarios, they experience fear either before or during the event. Sometimes they’re feeling fine during the presentation, then something unexpected happens like an equipment failure or a disruption from either the audience or the interviewer, and their fear comes roaring in and takes over their thoughts.
Suddenly the situation is out of their control! But how do you control the unexpected?
Well, obviously, you can’t. The unexpected will occur, and you as the speaker will need to handle it.
But how do you do that without fear, if public speaking fear has been an issue for you? We all know it’s various manifestations: stiffness, mind going blank, sweating, stomach upset, shaky voice, and so on. Many of us have seen it in ourselves at some point, as well as in others during their presentations. It’s an involuntary reaction that you may feel you have no power over.
What if you could just skip all that fear stuff altogether and move right on into creative problem-solving?
Let me tell you a story about a scary experience I once had where I completely surprised myself by reacting without fear. I study a self-defensive martial art called aikido. In aikido, we study ukemi, or the art of falling (safely). There’s a lot of throwing involved in aikido, so we train ukemi a lot.
I was at the aquarium with my family, holding my then 2-year-old, when I took a fall off of some steps that led to another exhibit section. The floor was black at a narrow entryway, I was playing with the baby, and I had no idea the steps were there until I was already past the point of no return.
I had about a full second before I hit the floor with my full weight on top of the baby.
Oddly enough, when I realized we were falling, I didn’t feel any fear at all. No panic or terror over hurting the little one. I hadn’t trained aikido in about a year, but my ukemi skills kicked right in.
I felt that I had all the time in the world I needed to use ukemi to reposition myself underneath him before hitting the floor, and I did. We landed, and the baby just thought we’d done some fun trick. He picked up no tension at all from me. My husband had been busily reorganizing the stroller basket and didn’t even notice anything was awry until he looked up and saw us on the floor surrounded by aquarium staff and other visitors, picking us up and checking to make sure we were ok.
So, what does all that have to do with fearless public speaking?
With skills and training, you can be ready for the unexpected
The more training and experience you have, the better you’ll be prepared to respond to the unexpected with a constructive solution that solves the problem in seconds and minimizes the disruption to your public speaking experience. You’ll have a wider repertoire of strategies and tactics to apply to a problem, and with more experience, several options will come to you in seconds, and you’ll be able to decide which to use quickly.
When something you hadn't planned on occurs, don't try to control the situation. Instead, flow with it.Tweet This
Flexibility is key here. You can’t anticipate how things are going to turn out. What you can do is stay loose, adjust quickly to the circumstances at hand, and come up with creative constructive solutions to get things back on track. If you let yourself get locked down by public speaking fear, you lose the ability to solve problems and lead your group.
How do you keep those fears from creeping back in and taking over?
Speak in public regularly
Once you’ve taken on public speaking, whether it’s to advance your reputation, your career, position your expertise in the marketplace, or for your own personal growth, it’s important that you get regular practice. This doesn’t require preparing and giving an hour-long speech every week. Simply go to a networking event every month and deliver your elevator pitch to a dozen or more people. Prepare a video clip to post to your social media or to your website. Give a tele-seminar for your customers. Challenge yourself to maintain your hard-earned skills and experience. Don’t let the cobwebs come in, because with that creeps in the fear that challenges and can undermine your self-confidence.
Remember your why
Why did you apply for the job? Why are you speaking at this event? Review your goals. Clarify them if necessary by asking yourself repeatedly why those goals are important to you. If your goals aren’t specific enough, make them specific. What is it that you want to achieve? Without a clear idea of why you initially undertook what for many is a terrifying experience feared more than death, there’s no reason to start in the first place. Public speaking is a means to an end. Make sure you define yours clearly.
Keep the negative self-talk at bay
Starting to hear those voices in your head telling you “not to” or “you can’t?” Here’s an exercise for you to try. Write down everything they’re saying to you. Get it all out of your head, onto the paper. Then take a breath, sit back and take an objective look at what you’ve written. Ask yourself, “Is this all that I am?” The answer should be no. Come on, you know you’re more than the sum of your fears. Then ask yourself, “Who am I?” Now write that down, and keep it.
Negative self-talk is a form of resistance and can be incredibly powerful. It hits everyone who moves out of their comfort zone in some way to “reach for the moon” so to speak like a hammer and can be completely paralyzing. Whenever I’m feeling like this, in addition to using the strategies above, I flip through Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art to take some comfort in reading about the incredible resistance he faced and overcame in his career. Below is one of his observations on resistance that is especially insightful:
“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North — meaning that call or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
It’s nice to know when you’re on the right track, isn’t it?