Learning To Love Public Speaking

In my last blog I summarised techniques that make a huge difference to your public speaking effectiveness. Superhero confidence is at least as important.

Technique and confidence affect each other in real time.  If one is good it boosts the other, and as many readers will have experienced, when one falters it can undermine the other.  The aim is to have your confidence and your technique reinforcing each other in an accelerating virtuous circle.

We can go even further and make our confidence so resilient that we push through setbacks without flinching.  The circle stays virtuous, and we take mishaps like failing hardware or memory lapses in our stride.

Fortunately confidence and resilience are behaviours that can be learned and habituated through appropriate conditioning.  Whatever your starting point as a speaker/presenter, by diligently following the habits and exercises in this article you will be able to make substantial to transformational improvements in both.

I want to get a misconception out of the way first, then I’ll explain four specific exercises and disciplines.

There are some approaches to public speaking that rely on a ‘jump in the deep end approach’.  These include very well known clubs and companies that give people the opportunity to speak in front of a (usually) supportive audience on regular basis. Often this involves varying amounts of time to prepare, perhaps from zero to a week.

Many readers will have experienced this approach, and some will have found benefit, perhaps great benefit.  However not everyone feels the initial discomfort reducing as both technique and confidence grow. Some find the process not just uncomfortable but traumatic, and very sensibly they abandon the process early.

If you are one of the latter you probably feel that you will never master the negative emotions the very idea of public speaking arouses in you, and that it is something you just have to learn to get along without.  The good news is that is NOT the case.  The fault was in the approach not suiting you, not in you.  You can still master the skill if you take a different approach.

The more up to date approach – psychologically speaking – is more comfortable, more effective, faster, and works for everybody.  I put it forward here as an alternative for you to consider and so you can make an informed choice about which way to go.  BTW if you decide to follow the ‘deep end’ route, the pointers below used in conjunction will ease, improve and accelerate your growth as a speaker/presenter.

Self-Talk

It is critically important to be disciplined about the way we talk and think about public speaking.  Human beings’ brains contain a powerful self-programming function that is constantly recording everything we say and think about ourselves.  It uses that information to build our automatic thoughts, feelings and behaviour.  The defaults so formed always manifest – no amount of will power will override them for long. Particularly when the very small bandwidth of our conscious mind is busy with something else – like remembering what comes next in our presentation.

Obviously this also means that just trying to use our strength of will to always say or think the right thing won’t work either.  Our normal automatic thoughts & words about public speaking will soon reassert themselves.

There’s a lot in how our brains function that we have to address, but it’s quite simply done. The natural tendency is for us to openly mention the challenges we are having eg with courage, memory, fluency, confidence, technique, our voice…  And every time we mention these challenges out loud or in our thoughts, we provide data that teaches our self programming function the opposite of what we want.  By naming the very defect we want to fix we actually strengthen it. Indeed research shows that even if we know this effect is in play and try to resist its impact we are helpless to do so.

To be clear.  When we say “I’m bad at X” or “I fear X” or “I can’t do X” or “I lack X” we usually want to be more at ease with and better at X.  But by saying we are bad at it etc we make ourselves even worse.

So how do we overcome these harmful patterns of speech and thought to ensure that what we say and think moves us closer to our goal of being the best speaker we can be?  Three things:

  1. Do our best to master our self talk and find a positive way of saying a negative thing eg ‘not easy’ in place of ‘difficult’ (the self programmer in the brain ignores the negation)
  2. Whenever we slip up and say or think the harmful truth, correct ourselves out loud
  3. Create and use a self-talk script about confidence: this is a string of positive statements that tells it the way we wish it was – as if it is already coming true – and without telling outright lies.  Examples are here and more information is here. NB you can also create self talk scripts to embed the technique points in my previous blog.

Rehearsal Visualisation

Practise daily seeing yourself speaking confidently and with good technique.  This is information the self programmer will gradually add to your default feelings and actions as a speaker.  The more you do, the faster the improvement.

In addition take a few minutes before every time you are a speaker to visualise your best performance yet and a warm reception from people who want you to do well.  This will give you a powerful confidence boost and set helpful expectations.

Reverse Visualisation

This is an enormous help for people who fear speaking in public.  It works best if you can recall the first time you experienced the challenge, but just pick any emotive occasion if you can’t.  Your memory will include anxiety building in you as your speech approaches and then receding very quickly to be replaced by relief when your speech ends.

The brain associates the emotions we feel before an event with that event.  In this case anxiety with making a speech or presentation.  So we turn the memory around by running it backwards in our imagination, at which point the brain starts to associate relief with your speech.

Daily visualise your chosen occasion, starting by running it in the usual direction, then running it backwards from the end to the beginning.  Pay attention to the different emotions. Run it backwards and forwards a few times.  After a few days, or in some cases immediately, you will start to feel improvement.

Positivity, Hope and Optimism

Repeated studies have demonstrated that resilience is being built within us whenever we are experiencing positive emotions.  The more positive emotion we experience over time, the greater our psychological resilience.  This research has led in the last ten years to the US Army training all NCOs in positive psychological coaching.

Increasing our positive emotion is a question of actively managing the conditioning we allow into our brains so as to get the right balance, which is about 75-80% positive.  Please see my earlier blog for more information.

Conclusion

We can all find the best speaker we are capable of being by adopting this evidence based approach to managing our own development.  Should you wish further information on how we can help your organisation to make this a reality please get in touch.

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