Getting it out of the way…is this a phrase that you utter frequently? Maybe in relation to a job you’re avoiding, an impending dental visit, or unloading the dishwasher?! Well it’s certainly one that I often hear in relation to public speaking. True, public speaking is something that many of us find daunting or overwhelming, to be avoided at all costs, unless we really have to, at which point we just ‘get through it’ in some way. These are very normal reactions to something which can be really stressful. The thing is, these thoughts just aren’t helpful. Why not? Well, that’s what I want to explore here, as well as offering some practical alternatives.
- We’re sending ourselves a negative message: When we say, “I want to get this talk out of the way,” we’re sending a negative message outwards. We’re reinforcing the fact that we don’t want to do this, that it’s going to be unpleasant, and that there’s a good chance that it will all go badly.
- We’re not accepting the present moment: If we are speaking, but are focused on getting through it, we are out of sync with ourselves, with our mind, body, and voice. More importantly, we’re also disconnected from our listeners. So not being fully present does not serve us our listeners well.
- We’re not connected to our feelings: We typically identify ‘fear’ as an unpleasant feeling, and the natural inclination is to push it away. The thing is, this is energy flowing in the body, and if we don’t acknowledge it in some way, it will seep out. This could be legs that are shaking, a voice that is high pitched, or going blank, to name but a few.
- We’re not giving ourselves space: To speak with confidence and clarity, we need space in all its dimensions, space within our body, the space and time to convey our message, and space to send our message out. When we’re pushing through something, we tend to close up the body. This can directly translate into our body and our voice. What does this mean in practical terms? It means we can feel tight in ourselves, awkward and self-conscious in our body, lose our train of thought, and speak in a way that is indistinct, shaky, or rushed. Somewhat similar to my last point!
So, those are four reasons why I would like you to ditch the phrase (or variation of), getting through your next speaking situation. To replace it, below are four tools which can help. Feel free to dip into each or all of them, and see how they work for you.
- Visualise the speaking situation going well. If you do nothing else, start to think more positively about the situation, because being negative about it, which includes ignoring it, is just not helpful! Do this by daydreaming about the event going well. Go into as much detail as possible, and keep coming back to it. I find it can be really helpful to visualise right to the very end, and picture yourself feeling pleased at how well it went.
- Connect in with the body- when we’re nervous or anxious, we tend to move very much into our heads, and yet to speak confidently we need to inhabit our body. So, doing practical things to become more centred or grounded can really help. One thing that I use is a body scan, which is about taking a small bit of time to stop and tune into the body, starting at the top of the head and working my way down to my feet. You can
- Allow yourself to feel fear. What! Perhaps you’d rather chance walking on hot coals! The thought of staying with the fear can seem so overwhelming, but if you can take one step towards noticing what fear feels like in your body then you are on the right track. This involves tuning in to the sensations in the body, allowing them to be there, and not judging them. This may not seem very appealing, but it is very powerful.
- Say something positive! What would happen if you changed, I’m getting through it to, “I’m looking forward to it!” Would it make a difference? Well, moving your focus from dread to excitement can make real changes in how confidently you speak. I’ve written about this in a previous post, on ‘Why (just) calm down is bad advice for nervous speakers’.
What works for you?
When you find yourself dreading something, what is your default reaction? Is it helpful or unhelpful? I’d be interested to hear your comments!