Surveys show that fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears people face. At one time in my life, I was one of the many who feared the podium — to the point where I thought I would hyperventilate at the moment I began speaking.
My relationship with public speaking has gone from hot to cold to hot — on account of my state of mind. From the beginning, I was fearless when it came to public speaking because I was totally comfortable with writing and delivering meaningful content and because I believed in myself completely. I thought I could accomplish anything if only given a platform to speak about it.
Imagine my shock and following onset of self doubt when, in middle school, my passionate speech for class president resulted in a run-off election and eventual loss. Uggh! Explain that to a young, developing mind! Believe it or not, that adolescent set-back followed me into my adult professional life, taking me years to overcome.
Three steps to overcoming fear
How did I get my groove back? Visualization, looking for the good, and forcing myself back to the podium! That’s what it took for me to edge past self doubt and experience the feeling of delivering power-packed messages to satisfied audiences.
1) Visualization is one of the most powerful mind tools you have in your tool chest. When you visualize the outcome you desire — nailing the speech, wowing the audience — your brain experiences that moment just like it were real. Visualize it repeatedly and you’ve recorded repeated positive experiences in your mind. As incredible as it may seem, that “visual experience” is a demonstration to your mental, emotional and physical states that you are a successful and effective speaker. Visualization is used by olympic trainers and psychotherapists alike because it is powerfully effective.
Before you begin the visualization, I recommend you first become very comfortable with your content. Unless you are a professional actor, if the words don’t resonate with you then your audience will hear it in your voice. That means editing and tweaking the speech/presentation until every word feels right. Once you’ve nailed the content, practice it repeatedly. Listen to how you deliver the content, pausing in the right places for effect.
Now, for the visualization piece… use earplugs or put on a headset to block outside noise and enable you to hear your voice from within. Take several deep breaths and visualize yourself prior to your engagement. See and feel yourself smiling and feeling confident. Allow your mind to scan the audience and feel their energy and excitement. Now imagine you are being called to the podium and you feel absolutely splendid. You approach the stage wearing a smile that shines from the inside out. You look out at the audience and see them smiling back at you. As you begin to speak, hear your own voice and find comfort in knowing that your message adds value — whether informational, inspirational or comedic. As your speech continues, you see the audience engaging with you with nods, smiles, laughs, and/or note-taking. And, as you conclude, the applause confirms what you already know — you nailed it! Repeat this exercise as often as you can before your speaking event and then live it in reality, just as you imagined it!
2) Looking for the good. We are our own worst critics which means we often don’t see or hear positive reinforcement from those on the receiving end of our words. When I was most filled with fear of public speaking, I felt so much anger and disappointment with myself that I dared not allow myself to accept anything good. How crazy is that?! It’s as if I was punishing myself for not being perfect!
Before I began the visualization exercises that eventually led to my ability to speak confidently again, I had to allow myself to accept positive feedback. I can’t emphasize how important it is that you use positive self-talk and open your heart to hearing the good that others share with you. Thinking or saying things like, “I hate the way I sound when I’m speaking” or “I can’t believe I mispronounced that word, I’m such an idiot!” are not phrases that should ever be allowed. You must speak kindly to yourself, especially when you feel less than perfect!
Not only that, accept and appreciate the kindness that others share with you. When someone tells you how much they appreciate your speech, look at them in the eye and allow yourself to soak up that praise. Then, offer your thanks and gratitude to the person gifting you those empowering words. Listeners don’t have to speak up, they are there to listen. So, when someone makes the effort to reach out to you, whether in person or via phone or email, acknowledge, accept and appreciate them!
3) Forcing yourself back to the podium will likely be your biggest hurdle, especially if your last speaking engagement was less than stellar. But, if you are to successfully overcome your fear, this is a step you must take. Take it with confidence knowing that you are the master of your content and that you’ve repeatedly visualized the outcome you desire. You may even ask friends and family to give you a smaller audience to practice your delivery but this isn’t necessary. If you have created powerful visualizations of the audience and your delivery, that is enough to give you the courage and confidence you need to step on that stage and successfully deliver.
The best part of forcing yourself back to the podium is experiencing in reality what you’ve experienced repeatedly in your mind. Merging the conscious experience with the subconscious experience — thus cementing your achievement and your path to renewed self-confidence!
It’s a process: how long depends on you
My process for overcoming the fear of public speaking took more than twenty years. The reason it took me so long is because I continued to punish myself for my imperfection and I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that a good outcome was possible. Once I decided to move past this fear using the techniques I described above, I was able to overcome my fear in less than a year’s time. Since that time, I’ve had lots of public speaking opportunities and I still practice visualizing and looking for the good before and after each session. It’s a reminder of my public speaking journey and the power of my own mind.
Being a public speaker isn’t for everyone, but for those of us meant to be behind the podium, there’s usually a driving force. The podium gives us something that we deeply desire and need. What I desire is a platform for sharing inspirational messages. So for me, what I love most about being behind the podium is inspiring others — and I find that no matter what the topic, I can make it an inspirational one. Bottom line: the podium provides me with a venue to share my genuine desire to inspire.
I’m excited for my upcoming speaking engagements in April with the Triangle Healthcare Business Women’s Association and in May with Carrboro High School seniors. Very different audiences with different points of focus. The one thing they have in common? They both offer me a playground for writing empowering content and delivering — you guessed it — inspiration!
Looking for an inspirational speaker? I deliver empowering content in person and via technical venues. If you haven’t had the chance to hear any of my messages, I invite you to listen to a few on my website. Let me empower and inspire you!