Its a question often asked. "How to conquer public speaking" The other day someone asked this on a linkedin page for professional speakers
Here is my reply - its a bit breathless and full of ideas but its a quick overview
We tend to over-think public speaking massively and in the process use the wrong skills.
We need to make it simpler.
I see public speaking as really just speaking to people rather than putting on a performance. So part of the simplicity is to see public speaking as a series of conversations with one person at a time. But before that can happen it helps to understand the chaos we create ourselves when we speak.
The storm we create - washing machines and tumbleweed
Before and during public speaking we can create our own internal storm of pressures and our negative self-talk increases. The 500 million year old flight and fight system kicks in – our evolutionary bias to the negative comes to the fore. ( language is only 50,000 years old and 97.5% of our brain was already developed before we got language - its very very new)
So given our evolution its not surprising that we are really, really great at looking for threat (and seeing threat/judgmentwhen its not there) and remembering the worst experiences. We also think that our nerves and weaknesses are all on show – the illusion of transparency. So we are over-thinking hugely (like a washing machine spin at 1400 rpm) but our creative, thinking brain goes blank and we forget things. (think tumbleweed). The fear of public speaking tends to put a spotlight on our anxieties and worries about ourselves.
Couple this with a blank faced audience and all hell breaks loose.
We see blank faces as judging us, being bored etc. But we are just projecting our worries on to them. The problem is that we are still using our normal conversational skills – so we are looking for approval but the audience are listening in a different more passive way. So they don’t nod or smile like during a standard conversation. But blank faces are NORMAL in an audience – they are just listening faces. So LOVE those blank faces!
For me its clear that we need to stand still in our own storm. A storm we have created of self –doubt, self-loathing and projection. To do that we need to learn presence.
Standing still in our storm - becoming ourselves
Presence is about being comfortable with ourselves when we are being looked at and looking at people, comfortable with our pauses and silence, comfortable finding the words, comfortable about “not knowing”, and comfortable being kind to ourselves
So when we quieten our own storm of over-thinking we can move into our powerful authentic selves. As Desmond Tutu says “become who you are”. We have moved away from having to be perfect and are able to have compassion for ourselves to a place where we can see public speaking as our contribution to the debate
So my advice is to learn presence first. Realize that the fear is a common aspect of having a wonky evolutionary brain and challenge your assumptions of a hostile audience.
The problem is with this advice is that its not an instant answer like “imagine the audience naked” (which is very poor advice). But you can learn the fundamentals of presence within a day and those skills can last a lifetime. So its not really about conquering public speaking, there is no fighting needed - its about allowing ourselves presence