It’s really obvious to say that what we think about public speaking matters. The problem is that we believe our thoughts and they often turn into firmly held beliefs. Knowing what mental model you have of public speaking and your relationship to be being the centre of attention is often quite hard to know. Those beliefs are often below the surface of our thinking or hard to make conscious. It’s often just a feeling of being anxious. Those unexamined assumptions can make it hard for us to feel comfortable doing public speaking
So we might assume when we do public speaking:“people are judging me”
And when we do, we think
• our beliefs are the truth
• the truth is obvious
• our beliefs are based on real data
• the data we select is the real data
When we stand in front of an audience we see rows of blank faces. So we know for a “fact” that they are judging us.
However passive listening is normal in the audience. We don’t show approval signs not because we are judging you – it’s just how we listen. So blank faces in reality are just listening faces. Not judging faces.
We are basing our thinking on false data and that is creating a whole lot of trouble
How assumptions grow around public speaking
Another problem is with these beliefs/assumptions is that they can connect and grow. Let’s take a recent example of thinking that happened to a participant in one of my courses.
Seeing people who are really scared of public speaking and seeing them go red, feels really awkward for me in the audience
I'm really scared of public speaking so maybe I go red
I’m the only one who really feels fear anyway
As long as I don't show any symptoms they won't see I'm weak
If I go red then they will judge me as weak
I am red so I am weak
I make the assumption I'm flawed
I do go red so they are judging me as flawed
All those faces are looking at me and not showing approval signs
Everyone is thinking about me and it's all negative
Those blank faces tell me that they are judging me
I take actions based on that belief so I avoid public speaking
How quickly we make these false assumptions AND all of these thoughts felt very true to the participant. And as the assumptions grow we build a bigger hell for ourselves.
But there are so many points in this sequence where the gathering of information has been hugely skewed by anxiety. Fear distorts how we see the world and our brain is wonderful at over-seeing threat. Unpicking those distortions means we need to find ways of understanding our unspoken beliefs. So it’s really worth trying to catch those beliefs in your own head if you can.
What do you believe about public speaking that is untrue and getting in your own way? That’s a hard question for anyone to answer because it’s difficult to spot them!
17 false assumptions we make in public speaking
So I will give you some help from the assumptions that I’ve noticed that people believe in during my courses.
How many of these do you think are true for you?
• I'm the only one who feels fear like this
• I'm not interesting enough
• They will judge me
• Every one else is better than me
• I can't be myself – I have to be someone else
• Every one can see the hell inside
• I can't have a pause. Pauses are awkward.
• If I go red, and or if my voice wobbles they will judge me
• I ramble - others don't
• It's a performance, I'm in the spotlight, I have to be someone I'm not, I have to act a role
• My fear is especially bad.
• I can’t slow down because they will notice me more if I do
• I have to be funny/dynamic/entertaining when I speaking
• I can’t make a mistake – I have to be perfect otherwise they will notice/judge me
• I have to please everyone in the audience even though I don’t know what they want
• They want to see me fail
• One mistake and that’s me done forever
Those assumptions are talked about in every group I run. You are not alone. When we challenge our own false beliefs we can change how we feel about public speaking for the better. That might take some reflecting on your part but it’s really worth doing