Why are audiences tricky to work with? We misunderstand what is happening when we are in the audience. Audiences have blank faces when they listen. They listen passivelyRead More
A fast car driving late at night through downtown LA – goes against the traffic lights and nearly crashes into a truck. A wounded man gets out of the car and struggles up to his way into the office.
An unconscious man is floating in the sea. Gets picked up by an Italian fishing boat, operated on to remove bullets and a strange electronic device. He wakes up, is confused fights and then collapse again. Wakes up, doesn’t know his own name. Stays on board boat for a week, still doesn’t know who he is but is speaking different languages, doing skilled things somehow without knowing how he is doing them. He is deeply puzzled. He catches a train to Switzerland, fights two policemen, enters a bank and then gets some clues from a safety deposit box. He uses the name he finds on a passport.
A young woman is being chased for her life in the woods.
A different woman wakes up with a start from a nightmare, she wanders around the house – you just get her name at 4.08 minutes “Lund” when she answers the phone
Lund arrives at the murder scene and is left alone to discover it. She’s in a very spooky basement where the lights have gone out. Finally, she realizes it’s a practical joke at 6:37.
Expert linguist, Louise Banks, is finding out how to speak to the aliens who have just arrived on one of the 12 “objects” around the world. She needs to find out what they want from us. Quickly.
It looks like a conventional start. But the format is reversed. You only really find out what is happening a lot later.
That’s a long introduction to a blog. I haven’t explained what I’m doing yet.
But neither did these films.
Double indemnity (1944)
Bourne identity (2002)
The Killing (2011)
You have to wait possibly five, seven, or 15 minutes in, or almost the whole film, before you get some explanation of what is happening.
At the weekends, we watch films that often use a mystery/suspense opening.
We seem to love them. All these films/box sets had massive box office receipts.
But hours later, we go to work and put a different head on.
A work head.
So, when we do a presentation we forget all these techniques of grabbing people’s attention.
We think we have to do some combination of the following:
Give a three/five slide introduction to your company before you get onto the meat of your presentation
Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them."
Tell them everything you know in chronological order about the subject – and it ends up being two hours (I kid you not – that is a recent conversation I’ve had with a presenter)
And we wonder why we don’t grab the audience!
A while back, I was working with an executive in a big organisation and I tentatively suggested: “Your opening could be a little more dynamic. Have you thought about starting with a story?”
He replied: “I can’t possibly do that, no one starts with a story, it’s not the right thing. You have to start with the company history slides. I don’t want to do anything new”.
So, this blog is my slow reply to him.
This is not new. Hollywood has been doing it for at least 87 years. But as human beings we’ve been telling stories for well over 20,000 years. We humans are hard wired for stories. Stories grab us. We remember stories far longer than we remember statistics. (Chip and Dan Heath’s study showed that 6% people remember stats and 67% people remember stories)
Let’s just take one example. Simon Sinek’s presentation.
He starts with a story without explanation. The audience might be wondering: “Why is he telling us this story? Where is he going with this?”
The opening story drives his presentation – it’s a fundamental part of the whole presentation. In fact, he tells five stories by the end of 12-minute presentation.. My guess is that Simon is always on the look out for stories he can use in his presentations. Presentations are often far too abstract, so stories make ideas more concrete. They help the audience get what you are talking about
So if we want the audience to be engaged we can learn a lot from what we watch at the weekend. As Simon shows you don’t have to have a budget for car chases or explosions. But you need the courage to try something different. The rewards could be far better audience connection and engagement.
This blog was first published a couple of years ago but I thought it deserved another start…
Confidence is a tricky word. It has a number of meanings for people and they may not all be that useful for people who are scared of public speaking.
People often write to me and say that they want to “appear” confident. They mean they don’t want to show any weakness or fear. They think that going red will make them seem vulnerable. They also think “confidence” means not feeling any fear when they “perform”.
The dangerous definition? The Confidence Trap?
Many people think that to be confident means having a feeling of certainty, where there is no fear, no inner critic giving us a hard time and no whiff of failure. So confidence becomes defined as an inner feeling of calm and a belief in our success. In contrast to the success equated with confidence, fear is equated with weakness. And we want that feeling of assurance BEFORE we do anything. And that’s where the difficulty is…. It’s an unrealistic wish.
Dr Russ Harris calls this unrealistic desire the Confidence Gap. People get stuck in that gap “when they hold on tightly to this belief: I have to feel confident before I can achieve my goals, perform at my peak, do the things I want to do, or behave like the person I want to be.”
Well, we haven’t got a switch in the back of our neck to turn our brain off. Our brain has developed over millions of years to be really good at spotting and reacting to threat. Without this sensitivity to threat our ancestors would have been have been killed by another tribe, tigers, snakes, or even a carnivorous kangaroos (yes, they existed).
We have a brain that is designed by the nature of the threats it has to deal with. 99% of our brain was developed BEFORE we got language. So flight and fight has always been part of our survival tools and fear is naturally part of our lives. If we wait for the fear to go away before we do anything we shall wait forever. Nelson Mandela didn’t talk about having no fear. He talked about “triumphing over fear”
Helene Lerner in her book The Confidence Myth urges us to step away from the first definition. “The myth of the highly confident individual without fear must give way to a more realistic assessment of what confidence involves.”
Towards a better definition
I think confidence is better defined as an act of trust in ourselves. As Russ Harris points out, it’s an action rather than a feeling. We can start to do things without everything being ok first. We can start moving towards things we want to do, despite the fear. We have to do the work. We have to take action. And that action is learning to trust ourselves.
Can I trust that it’s ok :
To look at an audience?
To be the centre of attention?
To stand up in front of people?
To think on my feet?
There may be some fear that goes with that action. We might do these actions with a higher heart rate than normal. Through the years I’ve taught public speaking I’ve talked about building confidence by doing small actions of trust.
We are helping the “threat brain” to calm down. We do this by repeatedly stepping to the edge of our comfort zone. As we get used to being there, we may get those feelings of assurance we want. But we need to act first. (I’d recommend that you find a course or a speaking club to help you do this where you can try things out without anything at stake.)
Russ Harris writes “The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later”.
I couldn’t agree more.
We need to learn to take action. That action might be standing in front of a group, learning to look at people with our hearts beating. What do we see? Do we see judgement on their faces or can we trust that blank faces are just listening faces? If you are trusting yourself there, those faces become normal, and you are building confidence by taking action.
One step further
Victor Frankl encourages us to go beyond thinking about the fear: “Courage is the realisation that there is something more important than fear”.
What’s more important than fear to you?
Nelson Mandela could have stayed in his fear. The man on my course who had waited for 15 years to ask his girlfriend to marry him could still be waiting to ask her. But they didn’t let fear win.
So what’s more important than fear for you tomorrow, next week?
Thank you very much for reading this. Let me know what you think.
I know that’s a strange title but bear with me.
I see part of my job as a public speaking trainer is to think about how I can break the problems of public speaking fear into small enough parts so the complex knot of problems actually becomes simple to solve. So my teaching is full of tiny steps.
What I've noticed is that lots of people who come on public speaking courses are not actually that scared of the speaking part of public speaking, they are really scared of “public being”. Public being is the most basic stage of being in front of a group. It may sound obvious but you'd be surprised how much fear it provokes.
For 16 years I had been teaching about presence. Then I came to realise that presence is a wonderful concept but it’s hard to grasp if you are really anxious - and I work with a lot of people who are very anxious around public speaking.
Amy Cuddy defines Presence as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential”. (Presence by Amy Cuddy 2015). Koos Wolcken and Jennet Burghard define presence as “the ability to be fully present in the here-and now when communicating with someone else”. (Present – the Essence of Authentic Presenting, 2015)
Presence is a great thing to aim for, but when you are overwhelmed by fear these concepts can appear too abstract. If you are anxious, things need to be simple otherwise you can’t take them in. Anxiety makes the brain smaller!
Nine months ago, I changed my teaching and started to explain the importance first and foremost of “public being”. It’s the stage you need to get comfortable with before you worry too much about the speaking bit of public speaking.
I often define “public being” as a series of questions
Can I be in front of people with ease? (For some people it will be at the level “Can I actually exist in front of people”)
Can I breathe in front of people?
Can I look and be looked at?
Can I be silent?
Can I just stand in front of the audience?
Can I take my space?
Really fundamental stuff.
And this also expands what we can tackle on a public speaking course. It’s not just speaking.....
A woman came on my course who hated walking across the office because she thought everyone was looking at her. Another client didn’t enter a church cake competition in case she won and had to go up to collect the prize. And then there was the doctor I worked with recently who hated going into a meeting by herself and would wait for a colleague before she went in. So the fear of being in public is often at the root of this fear.
If you can get more at ease with public being then
1) you start to get your brain back.
2) you start to calm the threat response down (the adrenaline surge)
3) you realise that actually the audience is not out to get you
4) you are starting to practise that you don’t need to put on a show, that you are enough
The response to this change in teaching has been a significant change in people’s own understanding of their public speaking fears. Below I’ve taken the liberty of sharing some of the feedback from course participants I’ve had since changing my teaching.
Here's how some of my course participants have taken to the idea of tackling 'public being':
I think you hit the nail on the head when speaking about ‘public being’. That is exactly what I need to be more comfortable with to achieve what I wanted from the course. The course made me realise there are steps to achieving more confidence and the way they were broken down was really achievable and encouraging.
Something profound happened to me in your course which I think was your message about 'public being' rather than public speaking, alongside your modelling of vulnerability and connectedness - simply sharing yourself with your audience. I did feel slightly nervous on both occasions, but then relaxed and stayed with myself throughout the sessions - I even enjoyed it!
It's been a revelation and has stayed with me in a simple but very experiential and immediate way.
You understand it like no-one I have met before and realizing it is the fear of “public being” and not speaking was a revelation to me. Enlightenment!
The course started out from the most basic stage of being comfortable with Public Being, which so many other courses completely overlook. It didn't take much to make a huge difference, but taking things back to basics isn't feasible in normal life and your course did this in a safe, positive environment which broke so many barriers for me. By the end of the two days, I was looking forward to talking in public and really can't wait to stand in front of an audience. I never thought I'd think that.
Public Speaking Avoidance doesn’t help. Actually avoidance is really the problemRead More
When perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver
On most public speaking courses I run, there is a magic time where a shift in the group happens. The speakers stop trying to try. They stop trying to get it all right or stop trying to hide and allow themselves to be seen. They start to allow that its OK to be there.
As an audience we are drawn to people who are comfortable being themselves. Revealing some of who they really are. Taking the risk to say “this is important” or “you may not agree with what I’m saying but it's important to me. Seeing it as a conversation rather than a performance. Comfortable with silence. Be at ease with the odd mistake.
Some people are surprised by this shift. They feel that public speaking is about being perfect and there is a “right” way to do it, not being messy, having wonderfully crafted prose to speak, not “umming or “erring”. In short not making a mistake. However, the audience needs to be able to trust the speaker. If you as the speaker are too slick and too polished, the audience are probably not going to trust you and let you in. When we are in the audience we are drawn to passion not perfection, authenticity not prose. That’s what engages us.
The chase for perfection is really the wrong game. But on every course I have there will be a perfectionist or three struggling with all the risks being the centre of attention entails. Perfectionism is tough master. So let authenticity drive you, self-compassion ride shotgun and the courage to be imperfect be your backseat driver. That will make for a much happier journey.
Recently I got this letter (I should really call it an email but I'm old fashioned)
“I am doing the eulogy at a close friend's funeral next week and I have been so overwhelmed with sadness that I wondered if you had any tips about how not to cry. I am going to do it but I'm struggling with crying”
Here is my reply...
The day before my dad's funeral 12 years ago in May 2007
I spent an hour with him in open coffin. I did a lot of crying with him by myself. I referred to him as daddy for the first time in 40 years. I cried buckets (I had missed my mum’s funeral, so in a way it was a double funeral for me. I was away in Greece when my mum died and the Greek police did not track me down)
So by the time I did the eulogy I was mostly all cried out but I did have a little sob. But I told the congregation “Don't worry about my tears, it's alright to cry – it’s a funeral and it’s my dad!”
I was letting the audience know that although I was crying I could cope.
I do know a lot of my public speaking clients who didn't speak at their dad's/mum's/friend's funeral and they regret it because they were afraid of crying. As Victor Frankl says “Courage is the realisation that there is something more important than fear”. Maybe we should change that to “more important than tears”
I do feel that tears are fine at a funeral. My first tip is about letting the audience know that you are ok with the tears, that you can speak with the tears and that crying is part of loving. And not to be ashamed by something so human.
I do know that when we feel vulnerable, the audience will often see our vulnerability as courage.
My focus and intent at the funeral wasn't my personal grief, it was a speech about him, it was about representing the family and telling his story. So that shift of focus helped me the bigger picture. And that's the second tip, if you can, see the bigger picture at the funeral, you are speaking on behalf of the family or for his friends. Thinking less about you. But don't worry if you cry.
However I do know that if you tell the audience that you are ok with tears, you will get a huge amount of love and often comments about how moving your speech was. The third tip is that I know it helps sometimes to have someone close standing next to you to gently support you.
My fourth tip is not to wait to the funeral to see your relative's coffin. My visit to see my father was my preparation for the funeral. A time for my private grief. By seeing him in his coffin, I knew it was time to let him go. He was no longer there.
We are humans. We are vulnerable. That’s who we are. We live short lives and the tears and sobbing are the price of living and loving.
I wish you all the best
In January 2019 I attended my father in law’s funeral. The most moving moment of the whole day was when my brother in law took two minutes to compose himself enough so that he could continue his speech about the love his father had for his mother. Those two minutes were full of love, courage and tears.
This blog was re-published with additions on May 7th 2019
Near the beginning of every public speaking course, I stop looking at the audience for a few minutes and speak to the clock on the wall at the back of the room.
I then ask the audience for their reaction:
“What words come up for you when I look away?”
“You look arrogant”, “You look like you don’t care”, “ You look bored” , “You look rude” and “You look really odd and shifty!”
I then ask: “Do I look less or more confident than I did just a minute ago before I stopped looking at you?”
The answer is always “less confident”
All I’ve done is move my eyes away from the audience
But audiences find that strategy of looking above their heads distinctly unsettling. In fact they start to distrust you.
And that’s the last thing you want.
Because if audiences don’t trust you, they won’t let you in. Your carefully prepared presentation probably won’t work if you look shifty.
Audiences need to trust the speaker. And eye contact is just part of the trust requirements for a speaker. I think there are three aspects of trust that the audience wants.
Confidence – trusting the speaker can cope
Is the speaker confident enough to be there? Can I just relax and listen?
Integrity – trusting who they are
Is the speaker a trustworthy person? Do I believe him or her? Do I believe their passion or is it false?
Has the speaker thought enough about my needs, my position or are they just speaking about their own world? Does the speaker care enough about my world?
For a presentation to work well, you have to have a combination of all three aspects. So what are the behaviours/qualities that generate these levels of trust in a speaker?
1. Eye connection as we have already seen, is one of the fundamentals of building trust with the audience. And it works on all three aspects of trust. Eye contact shows confidence, integrity (liars look shifty – we think) and audience centred (do I feel included as an audience member)
2. Ability to uses pauses and silences with comfort. Pauses help the audience to reflect on what you are saying and give you a chance to think.
3. Being comfortable with yourself. Is it ok for you to be the centre of attention or are you apologising for being there?
4. Ability to be present in the moment. Can you handle what is going on in the room? Can you think on your feet?
5. Ability to handle mistakes well. Lots of people are scared about making a mistake in a presentation. Why not just get better at recovering from making mistakes? I make hundreds of mistakes a year in my training but I’ve got good at apologising if it’s really bad or just not being phased if I’ve messed up. Once you are relaxed about making mistakes you tend to make fewer mistakes. And audiences see that you are ok and relaxed if things slip up.
6. Authenticity – do you display a consistency between words and deeds? Is there are an underlying consistent you? Are you clear about your values and do you stand up for them?
7. Telling the truth really helps build trust. It should be self-evident but somehow its not!
So it's better to answer "I don't know" to a question than flounder or make stuff up.
8. Reveal yourself – get personal. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Audiences want to know something about you. What makes you tick? What are your passions? We need to let the audience see who we are. That means taking a risk, for example, telling a story about your biggest mistake in professional life and what you learnt from it.
9. Humility. Humility shows perspective, wisdom and sensitivity. Humility is appealing. But this needs to be balanced with the confidence to be fully present and hold the space. So it’s not the humility that is self-negating .
10. Audience focussed thinking. Have you constructed the presentation/speech with the audience in mind? Have you thought about the problems they might encounter? Be genuinely interested in helping your listeners. Does it feel like a conversation? And of course you can be friendly!
People have abused our trust in the past. We know too well that politicians lie. Even, or perhaps especially, in these days of Trump, I still fundamentally believe that public speaking remains all about integrity and trust and it has to be earned. Most of us, thank goodness, are not politicians. We can see that public speaking is an act of serving the audience’s needs whilst remaining true to your values.
There are thousands of tips about how to move away from public speaking anxiety.
“Prepare, prepare, prepare”, “Imagine the audience naked”, “Know 100 Words for Every Word That You Speak. You must know 100 words for every word that you speak.”
Yikes –that’s a lot of work and huge amount of pressure. But the trouble is that they mostly don’t get anywhere near the issues.
So after 19 years of teaching I want to reveal my ultimate tip for changing our anxiety around public speaking. Cue drum roll.
It’s the simple one; you need to change how you think about public speaking and being the centre of attention.
“Is that all I’m getting?” you might say to me.
It may not sound much but it’s a fundamental step. Or a series of steps. And it can be long lasting. The thing about re-thinking is that once you have got it – you don’t need to relearn it.
Tim who came on my one day course in 2011, wrote to me last month about a broken link in my new website. He’s a kind man. He also put on his email “I’m still hugely grateful for your help. Years later I still marvel at the change.” So whatever happened on one day, five years ago, has lasted. What happened was Tim changed how he thought about public speaking. And it’s stuck with him.
Let’s take one step back and take a quick look at Dr Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets. Her research shows that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.
She talks about two different ways of thinking about ourselves:
The fixed mindset
We only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality and a certain moral character. Will I succeed or fail? Will I be accepted or rejected? Talent alone creates success—without effort. I have to limit risk
The growth mindset
Based on the belief that that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts. Everyone can change and grow through application and experience. A person’s true potential is unknown . brains and talent are just the starting point. This view helps to create a love of learning and a resilience to “failure” (it’s where we see setbacks as learning, and not failure)
So a C+ in a student essay could be seen as a failure, or an opportunity to learn more and to understand essays differently, depending on our mindsets.
Dweck’s research shows that just that difference in thinking about what we believe about ourselves can make a huge difference to our love of challenges, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks and greater success.
People coming on my course have a belief that is possible to change. It might be a very small belief at the beginning of the day. But it’s possible. And that’s where the re-thinking and the new learning starts.
So what other shifts of thinking do we need to do with public speaking? There are lots that we can make so here are just a few.
from struggle to learning
Imagine going from the fixed mindset idea "I will always struggle with confidence"
a growth mindset one of"I'm learning to be confident, it might take awhile and there might be some tricky times on the way but there is a whole bunch I can learn".
It’s only me to it’s normal
“I'm the only one who feels this fear of public speaking. I’m in some way abnormal and broken” to
“I'm a human being and fear is normal. It affects everyone else too. I need to learn how to be with fear, and how to think differently about it”.
Olympic athletes change their relationship to fear by describing it differently for example “I’m in the zone”.
Of course I’m not saying that is ALL you need to do around fear. There are a number of re-thinks around fear that are really important. This is what I write about in my other blog entries.
Silence is terrifying to pauses are good
Speakers often think “pauses are horrible, full of panic and the audience must think I’ve forgotten the words”
Good speakers are really comfortable with silence AND they know that audiences need time to absorb what a speaker is saying. Pauses really help people think! So pauses are good and not a sign of weakness. Honestly!
Audiences aren’t doing what you think they are doing
You can of course see audiences as hostile. They have blank faces, they look bored, they are judging me. everyone is thinking about me and it's always critical
For example I was working with a man on a course last week who saw his audiences as giving him “a broadside”. For those who don’t know your naval history, a broadside is a ship firing ALL their canons on one side at you at once. Audiences for him were pretty devastating.
Regular readers will know that I bang on about audiences a lot. The shift I want people to get is that blank faces are normal in an audience. It’s just how we listen in an audience. This shift in thinking that audiences are passive listeners rather than full of hatred/judgement is one of most useful shifts people make on the course And that they are thinking about other things other than you (e.g. mortgage, a row they have had at home, athlete’s foot cream or should I go shopping on the way home).
From hating being the centre of attention to being ok about being looked at
This a biggie. We can make the centre of attention mean far too much. But we let everyone else be the centre of attention with ease. So a lot of my work is to help people soften around the harshness of being the centre of attention. We need to change our beliefs about what it means.
From disaster to recovering
From “I can’t make a mistake, I have to be perfect otherwise people won’t like me or it’s unprofessional”. That is a huge amount of pressure on anyone
“Mistakes are normal, most of the time audiences don’t notice them AND what I need to do is be less worried about making mistakes and get better at recovering from them”.
I’m sorry I’m here to taking your space
We might have the attitude that when we stand up in front of people “I don’t deserve to be here, I’m sorry I’m here, I’m sorry I’m wasting your time, I’m just sorry”
an understanding of just how easily you let everyone else take the space when you are in the audience. When it’s other people’s turn we just let them take the space with ease. Everyone else is doing the same for you when it’s your time.
You are special but not that important – re-balancing self-consciousness
From “everyone is noticing everything I do”
“It’s not really about me at all, it’s really about serving the audience and focussing on the subject.”
The fear of public speaking is irrational to you have got a wonky brain – love it!
from “There is something wrong with me, I shouldn’t feel like this “
Actually human beings have only just arrived in civilisation – 98% of our brains were developed before we got language. We have been living as hunter gatherers for millions of years and within a quick burst of 10,000 years we are in cities. A lot of our brain is still stone age and we are animals that used to be hunted! So let’s be curious about our human brain, the “software” is a bit wonky and you need to realise how it interacts with the modern world’.
Acting the part to having a chat
Change from seeing “public speaking as a performance, I have to be something I’m not”
See public speaking simply as a conversation, see it as chat,” At the end of a day's course, one participant saidwith surprise in her voice"Oh, its just normal speaking to normal people!". She'd made the shift.
Public speaking tips around anxiety are to be taken with a pinch of salt if they don’t include elements of re-thinking public speaking. Tackling public speaking anxiety is really not about just about speech preparation or taking sips of tepid water.
Let’s finish with Jane's experience on the most important day of her life...
“I attended your one-day course in Bristol in February/March last year (and it was so helpful in changing my mindset. I have benefitted a lot from it at work and I know it helped me be the centre of attention on my Wedding Day in July without panicking! I had one moment of negativity when I walked into the back of the church and saw how many people were there, but amazingly, instantly was able to tell myself that they were all there to support me, and the nerves vanished”
Jane had done the re-thinking needed to be the centre of attention, she understood audiences far better. She had said on the course "When I go to other people's weddings, I'm really happy for them". At the church there was a twinge of negativity but the re-thinking shifted the fear.
This blog was first published in 2016 and I’ve updated in May 2019
You probably get all sorts of answers and lots of advice when you ask your colleagues how many slides should you use. . So I thought why not see what the top seven ted speakers tell us about that question. Of course they are doing keynotes rather than a standard company presentation but these people have spent a lot of time thinking about their presentation.
I watched the top 7 Ted talks this morning and did some simple counting. You might be surprised at the answer. So here is the basic research followed by some conclusions
Ken Robinson who is top with 57 million views, he has no slides. Yes, no slides. You don’t have to have slides to have a compelling presentation. Ken’s talk is like a chat. A very funny, focussed chat.
Simon Sinek, is third most watched speaker with 43 million views again with no slides, simply writes on two flip chart pages. Simon builds his ideas of “Start with the why” by using a big pen and a large bit of paper. It’s compelling
Amy Cuddy’s talk, with the second most viewed with 52 million views and she does use 42 slides. Twenty of those slides have NO words – just pictures. In fact, she only has 91 words in total. The most words on a slide was 14 words. She is near tears at 18 minutes and ends with a standing ovatio
So far, I’ve watched an hour’s worth of presentations with no bullet points. Hurray. And only 42 slides in total
Coming in at 4th, Brené Brown,with 39 million views. She uses only 25 slides with ten of them with NO words. 53 words spread over the 15 slides with eight words been the most wordy slide. It’s a presentation full of stories and fabulous insights for anyone interested in how we handle shame and vulnerability. It comes up a lot for me when I work with people and public speaking
The fifth talk, has climbed to this position because it’s about sex. Nothing wrong with that of course. Sex helped me get here on earth! Mary Roach’s “10 things you didn’t know about orgasm” with 26.9 million views. Who knew that you could have an orgasm from your knee? It’s a more basic talk than some of the others,using a simple 1-10 structure. Only 13 slides, two slides with no words, 55 words in total. Most wordy slide has just nine words!
Julian Treasure’s “How to speak so that people want to listen”.
33 million views, 15 slides in total, nine slides without words and 53 words in total. Julian has the most wordy slide out of all seven talks. A massive 16 words on one slide!
The final talk of the morning, Jill Bolte Taylor and finishes 123 minutes of presentations of watching. 23.5 million views. Just 8 slides, three slides without words. But she brings out a real brain. She’s only person to use a real thing as part of her visuals. And the audience groans. Total 25 words on all of those slides and the slide with the most words has five words on it.
So just some quick thoughts
They are keeping the slides really simple.
Slides do not equal the presentation, the slides support the presenter
The best slides are just one idea per slide
Lots of slides are without words
Pictures are better than words
Stories are really important
The presenters are concentrating on connection with the audience and building their ideas in the audience minds.
You don’t have to use slides at all, two of the best speakers don’t use them at all.
Personal pictures connect you with the speaker more. Jill Bolte Taylor's picture of her brother with a mental illness brings it home.
Real things have drama. So think about using something real instead The actual brain that Jill brought onto the stage had massive impact.
Even when slides have words, there are often just one or two words on them. The presenters don't overfill the slide. (this point has more words than the most wordy slide)
It takes discipline to plan a presentation well!
No bullet points or big lists. Unlike this article. Sorry about that...
I'd love to know what are your thoughts are?
Well it wasn't built in the 21st century. Dr Russ Harris's video shows where our brain was built and the profound consequences that has for our modern life.
For me, the connection between our stone age mind and public speaking is really clear. Working with over 7000 people I've seen that our brain is really good at massive overthinking, great at imagining the worst and fantastic at giving ourselves a hard time.
If you spoke to your friends, like you speak to yourself, would you have any friends? Why are so tough on ourselves?
It's about how we evolved in groups. And that voice is there to keep you small and safe in a primate group.
So you have a very normal brain if you do that.
You are not broken. There is nothing wrong with you
The human brain is bit wonky AND it's doing the job it evolved to do. It's not our fault but its our problem to sort out.
So we need to learn how to manage it differently if we want to live a full life.
No, I’m not getting married so you don’t need to save the date. I’m already very happily married, thank you!.
But since I started teaching I've had five women in my groups who didn't have wedding photographs on their wedding day. Another participant commented “I had to take beta blockers at my own wedding 31 years ago because I found the idea of being the centre of attention too daunting and too horrifying”
On the course I hear about couples going abroad for their wedding because they don’t want a big wedding.
I had a woman on one of my courses dreading her wedding day coming up with only three weeks to go. (Don't worry she loves her man). For her it was more about the fear of being the centre of attention for the whole day. On the course she said things like:
”I don’t want to be looked at, I don’t want to arrive in a big car, walk down the aisle, sit at the top table”.
She needed to re-think what being an audience member really means. Audiences are usually not thinking about you that much, are not out to get you and are often thinking about themselves rather than you. But she realised on the course: "When I go to other people's weddings, I'm really happy for them, so maybe they will be happy for me". Part of the work on the course is to understand audiences more deeply. The audience had moved from being hostile in her head to being supportive and they are there because they love her.
After the course she sent me this note
"When I tried on my wedding dress again (after the course) last weekend I also felt so different. I felt comfortable in my skin and even excited that I’ll be able to stand up in front on all those people on my wedding day because I can be myself. Thank you so much John for transforming my thought patterns and breaking down those barriers to being seen by others"
But I didn’t know how her wedding actually went until a year later I got this email:
“I attended your course in Bristol last year (and it was so helpful in changing my mindset. I have benefitted a lot from it at work and I know it helped me be the centre of attention on my Wedding Day in July without panicking! I had one moment of negativity when I walked into the back of the church and saw how many people were there, but amazingly, instantly was able to tell myself that they were all there to support me, and the nerves vanished”
She is not the only person to have been scared by being the centre of attention at a wedding. A few years ago I had a man in my group who dropped a number of friendships with really good mates when they got engaged - just in case they asked him to be the best man. He wasn't even sure he was going to be asked but just in case he decided to forego his friendships by not replying to their phone calls/texts and blanking them. Painful stuff for him but he’d rather do that than be the centre of attention.
Another course participant told me that he was pushing his seven year old daughter on the swing in the local park the week before he came on the course. All he was thinking about was a future father of the bride speech “The wedding is probably 20 years away, and I’m already petrified of all those faces”.
For many people the idea of the wedding day is not a happy one and that makes me sad. It could be a wonderful time. We can re-learn how to be the centre of attention. It doesn't take long and can make a huge difference to your wedding day and your life. And some day, your children will be able to giggle at your wedding photographs when dad still had hair.
I re-wrote this answer for Quora today and I thought I would share it. It’s an overview article and a good place to start thinking about how to change.
If you are afraid of public speaking you probably recognise some of the following points (if not all of them).
1. We over-think public speaking in a massive way. We catastrophise, ruminate about past failures and are anxious about future events. Our brain is evolutionary biased to the negative, so ancestors survived the threats of the stone age
2. We mistakenly think that people are nearly always thinking negative things about us when we stand in front of a crowd. We think people will be judging that we are boring, or fraudulent. We truly misunderstand what is happening in an audience and that is absolutely crucial to re-thinking public speaking
3. We often think that everyone else is better than me when it comes to public speaking
4. We put massive performance pressure on ourselves to be one or all of the following; I have to be funny, profound, impactful, dynamic, professional. Or we put negative pressures on ourselves “ I can’t make a mistake”, or show that I am scared, I don’t want people to see me fail etc. Putting these sort of pressures on ourselves is not very helpful. It adds to the thinking over-load. Not surprisingly, we then see public speaking as a performance.** We tell ourselves we have to be better than we normally are
5. Adding to all of this we are self-critical. I’m not good enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not clever enough. So feelings of shame are not that far away from the surface.
6. We also may think that people can see all our anxiety.
7. It’s no wonder then that we hate being the centre of attention. We feel vulnerable, we feel exposed, we feel all eyes are on us.
When you look at that list, we are doing it to ourselves. The answer is about changing how we think. It’s not about tips about how to stand.
It’s really about understanding that it’s an inside job. We need to change how we frame public speaking. The blank mind, the fear, the shakes are an adrenaline reaction.
We feel under threat. The trouble is that our brain sees those inner pressures as threats and kicks off the dry mouth, the brain freeze.
We need to make public speaking simpler because the less pressure we put on ourselves, the less adrenaline we get. But that is the opposite of what most people do.
How do we change how see public speaking?
a) Strangely first seek understand audiences
To understand public speaking more, you have to understand audiences, NOT from the speaker’s point of view. But from when YOU are in the audience.
So next time you are in an audience of over 10 people, I want you to notice what you do and what other people around you do when you listen to a speaker.
I’m going to bet that;
You listen passively, you nod far less than when you are in a normal conversation. Your face tends to show few approval signs so your face looks blank.
•You just allow people to take the space when they speak– without too much thought at all. Other speakers can just have their turn without you going “They don’t deserve that space” or “They are not worth it”.
• You listen to the speaker for a while but you also think about other things. “Do I need to shop on the way home?” “Do I need to apologise to my wife when I get home?”. (yes is the answer btw) and other thoughts. We occupy a private world in our heads.
• We are not thinking poisonous thoughts about the speaker. Not usually. We might get bored or frustrated with them but we are not wanting them to die, to fail. We are not criticising their body parts. (By the way I’m not talking about listening to the likes of Donald Trump here but a normal business/organisational presentation).).
Being in an audience is a relatively benign place. We just listen or we don’t
**But when it’s YOUR turn to speak, suddenly everything changes.
The audience has become hostile, judgemental, bored, is staring at you, is thinking bad thoughts, they have massive expectations of you. Audiences have angry, blank, judgmental faces.
But the audience hasn’t changed – YOU have.
We assume we can read any audience without any actual proof. If we are afraid we assume they are ALL thinking negative thoughts about us.
And yet moments before we were just in a gentle audience.
We misread the audience massively. We interpret lots of signs as threats. We forget that we have brains that are hard-wired for spotting threat over millions of years. When we speak we are suffering from evolution! We are operating on false information about the audience because we are anxious. So a yawn is because I’m boring, not because they had a bad night.
So when we speak we need to understand that speaking to audiences is different from a normal conversation.
Audiences have blank faces – and that is normal. We may need to practise seeing audiences in this different way before a big event.
You can start of course by looking at what you do when you are in the audience.
The idea then is to understand more deeply what is really happening in an audience.
b) so once you understand audiences you can then change how you see public speaking
• Don’t avoid it but take small steps first. Avoiding public speaking tends to make the whole problem bigger. We develop a huge anxiety radar and we build up the threat. Often I get people who have been avoiding it for ages then have to sort public speaking fear out by next week because they can’t get out of it.
• See it as a conversation, a chat, like you would chat around the kitchen table. And chat to one person at a time for 3–5 seconds. Even if they have a blank face.
• Change how you see fear. It’s not a signal to run away. It’s a signal that this event matters. Experienced speakers see it as excitement. You may not be able to go anywhere near this yet but fear is normal. There is nothing wrong with you if you are feeling fear. The shift is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Accepting those feelings as being unpleasant but there is NOTHING wrong with you. You are not broken
• Learn to love blank faces in the audience (see above)
• Allow yourself to be present. Practise just being there, slowing down, not rushing. Allow yourself to pause. If you can slow down, you can get your brain back. You can think normally
• What the audience wants is you being you. Rather than you performing. They want authenticity, otherwise they won’t trust you. So be yourself, not perfect, and slightly nervous
• Learn to be far gentler on yourself. We undermine our own confidence by always judging ourselves harshly and forever noticing the negative. Confidence grows if you can be friendlier to yourself, like you are with your friends. I’ve worked with 7000 people since 2000. 99.9% of them have critical inner voices. It’s normal and I think it’s about self-shaming to keep ourselves small (for evolutionary reasons)
• It’s handy to understand our brain more. It’s really good at threat, we are thinking way too much about ourselves (in a negative way), we think we know what people are thinking. But it’s us distorting our world because we anxious. So if understand the brain more, you won’t be so harsh on yourself and you would realise that we need to manage it in a different way
• Get better at recovering from mistakes. “I can't make a mistake” when we speak is way too much pressure. It’s far less work if you are relaxed when a mistake happens. So you fell over, so what! It’s how you recover from a mistake which is important. If you handle a mistake well the audience will have more confidence in you. So its the opposite of what we normally think
• learn to love pausing. Pausing helps the audience to take what you are saying in. Audiences need that space. And if you get comfortable with pausing then you can think in those times too.
• find a place to practise these skills out of work. You know by now that I run courses but I’m not the only trainer in the world. It’s best to find a group where it feels safe to explore being the centre of attention and blank faces. There are speaking clubs around the world but you may want to think about a course first where the trainer is experienced in helping people with public speaking anxiety.
this answer was first written for Quora
The very end of Michelle Obama's new book "Becoming" reminds me of my purpose in life, to help people find their authentic voice and allow themselves to be seen and heard. I was moved.
Thanks Michelle for a great book.
"I'm an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I've been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens. Just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that's being open to me, I've tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: let's invite one another in.
Maybe then we could begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It's not about being perfect. It's not about where you get yourself in the end. There is power in allowing yourself to be known, and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there is grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become"
Michelle Obama 2018
I have a wonderfully weird gig coming up in May. I’m talking to a group of women who are focussed on empowering women about public speaking and self-confidence. So it’s an interesting challenge for me to tackle - mansplaining or what? So a part of me is a little scared, not of the public speaking, but of taking that space. I once appeared in front of a women’s committee at my Student Union in the late Seventies. They were fairly radical feminists and it didn’t go well. I should have been better prepared. I was only 19.
So this Bank holiday weekend I’ve got myself a pile of books on women and confidence and started to make notes.
Tara Mohr’s “Playing Big, A Practical Guide for Brilliant Women Like You” is a great book. What I find compelling isn’t just about women and confidence, because most of what she says also applies to men but she’s really opened my eyes to a “new old” way of thinking about fear.
She writes about how the Hebrew Bible uses two different words for fear. The first is Pachad: this describes the fear of what might happen, the over-reactive irrational fear, which we know as anxiety. Our lizard brain is reacting. Most of us know this fear well. We want to avoid taking emotional risks. It’s one of the main reasons why people come on my courses.
The second word is “Yirah”and we don’t name this very often, if it all. And this is where it becomes really interesting.
“Yirahis defined in three ways:
1. The feeling that overcomes us when we inhabit a larger space than we are used to.
2. The feeling we experience when we suddenly come into possession of more energy than we had before.
3. What we feel in the presence of the divine.”
So it’s the fear of standing tall, of moving into a new space or way of being. The feeling of “OMG, am I really here to do this?” The fear of moving towards something you really want. The fear we experience when we step into our own power.
Tara writes “Yirah is the fear that shows up in those moments when we uncover a dream, access our real feelings about an important situation, or contemplate taking a big leap toward a more authentic life. We feel sacred awe, which has a kind of trembling in it.”
Of course we often experience Pachad and Yirah together but it’s worth unpacking them.
So how do you do that?
“1. Ask yourself: what part of this fear is pachad? Write down the imagined outcomes you fear, the lizard brain fears. Remember they are just imagined, and that pachad-type fears are irrational.
2. Savour yirah. Ask yourself: what part of this fear is yirah? You’ll know yirahbecause it feels different. It has a tinge of exhilaration and awe –while pachad has a sense of threat and panic. You can savour it, knowing it’s just a signal that tells you are touching sacred ground within. You can keep leaning into – even looking for – the callings and leaps that bring yirah.”
There is a spiritual language here that I wouldn’t normally use, but I think it is a really helpful way to re-think fear. I see this fear quite often on the second day of my courses.
A participant might say:
“Damn you, if I’m no longer scared of public speaking then I have no excuse, and there is nothing stopping me from doing what I want to do. That’s differently scary!”
Now I can put a name to that fear.
It’s Yirah and it’s a fear we need to move towards. And I will be standing in Yirah for my speaking gig in May.
Wish me luck.