Manage episode 352940964 series 2553835
Speaking in front of others makes many people tongue tied and nervous. They struggle to get through a simple presentation, internally, in front of their colleagues. A public audience is something they would flee from, screaming and waving their hands in the air. Why is that? We all learn how to talk. The presentation is just a talk, so what is the big deal? Yet, it is a barrier to many people who have to navigate this impediment to move up through their careers. If you are in front of the big bosses and you can’t make a competent presentation, kiss your career aspirations goodbye baby. There is very little chance they are going to put you in charge of others. So, if you like what you are doing today, that will be just fine, because you will stay where you are right now for a long, long time.
If it is just talking, why do we have such tremor at the prospect. Most of us can talk to our friends, family and colleagues without any problem. In a presentation though the stakes are raised. We are on show, we are singled out for attention, scrutiny and investigation. We become very internally focused. We are oblivious to our audience because all of our attention is on ourselves. All of the pressure is on us too and it is coming from within ourselves. Our self-talk is bad. Our self-regard goes negative. We become plagued with self-doubt, memories of failures, shortcomings, inadequacies and derision.
Our playbook is drawing on our failures from the past, not from our potential or even small successes we have had. We go to scale immediately on the negative and obliterate the good bits from our memory. We recall that school play when we forgot our lines and everyone laughed at us. The time at University when our class presentation of our research paper was scoffed at and belittled by some of our classmates. That time in the results meeting, when the big boss berated us for our presentation skill deficit.
We are operating from a sense of scarcity of ability, rather than an abundance of opportunity. We have to switch these ideas around. “Fine buddy boy, but if I could do that, I would have done it already”. That is too true and the reason you haven’t done anything better to date is because you don’t have any worthwhile information on what you can an should be doing. When we don’t know how to do something we tend to shy away from it. We do this to protect our public image and our ego.
So we have placed ourselves in an internal contradiction where our fear drives our behaviour to never end the fear. We need to recognise that cycle and to determine to break it. The brilliant thing today is that we are awash with so much information on how to give presentations. Shelves groan under the weight of worthy tomes on the subject. YouTube is bursting to seams with instructional videoes. Podcasts aplenty provide hints and tips. TED talks are readily available to see what others are doing and at a high level. Once upon a time, you had to be in the room or specially connected to see the best in action, but today you are a few clicks away from free access.
Start by studying. Learn the basics by attending entry level presentation courses. Switch your thinking about how to prepare for talks, by focusing on your rehearsal and not just your materials preparation. Leave you ego at the door and volunteer at every opportunity to present. Repetition is needed and after doing just five presentations, you will feel a lot more comfortable than you did for the first. After twenty, you will be relaxed. After fifty, you will be enjoying it.
When you know how to properly structure your talk, you can relax and just help us navigate through it. You will have the slides to support you, which are visual markers as to what comes next. Don’t try to memorise the content or you will blow yourself up.
I saw this with a speaker visiting from the USA. She had a grand resume and was going quite well, but she made the fatal error of trying to remember what she wanted to say for each slide, rather than just talking us through what was the point of the slide. She lost control of her breathing because of her mounting, self imposed pressure and actually had to stop the presentation. She eventually completed the task, but she was a mess at the end.
Fear of public speaking is often a product of ignorance of what to do, fuelled by wishful thinking that you don’t need to do anything special, like studying the subject. When you get good information and apply it, then the fear fades and with practice comes skill. I avoided speaking for decades because of fear. I finished my first public speech in 1983 in 8 minutes. Unfortunately it was supposed to go for 25 minutes! Today, I have delivered over 500 public speeches and now teach people how to give presentations. The difference came about because I decided to study about how to do it, volunteered to give talks at every chance, got proper training from experts and put myself out there and had a go.
The nerves piece disappeared once I slipped my attention from myself, to my audience.