Is your fear of presenting or public speaking holding you back? Holding your career back from progressing perhaps? Do you avoid it like the bubonic plague, terrified of standing up on stage or in the boardroom...your hands shaking, pulse racing, feeling sick to the pit of your stomach? Those symptoms are very common in people who hate speaking in public. They would rather find a new job than entertain the possibility of failure in front of an audience.
This was exactly what a client we shall name Ms K came to me about. She was in the medical profession and had been for many years. Her career had progressed well and she was confident and reliable within her team.
However there was a tiny stone in her shoe, it would always be there . Often unnoticeable until a point where there was more emphasis on delivering talks as part of her job. She was distraught and that tiny stone now felt like a sharp rock in her shoe, one that she just could not get rid of. It was a constant reminder of what she felt she could not possibly do!
I agreed to work with her for two reasons;
1. I was passionate about teaching and I regularly stand in front of large audiences so have a reasonable amount of experience.
2. Ms K was my first client who was so phobic about talking and I knew it would be a great challenge!
For many people there is an initial event maybe in their distant past which has given rise to the all consuming fear. For example standing up in primary school in front of a packed hall to recite a poem and going completely blank. Looking onto a sea of faces which you feel are judging you for your failure to keep it together...or at your first job where you have to present to more senior colleagues who you are terrified of. The list goes on. In fact in an article by Theo Tsaousides in Psychology today (November 2017) he quotes that 1 in 4 people are anxious before presenting to an audience.
So why do we need to even push ourselves? I guess if you are keen to further your career, form robust collaborations with others and simply get your ideas heard, mastery of public speaking is essential.
So, here are my top tips to get your started:
1) Absolutely know your subject. Inside out. The more passionate and knowledgeable you are about what you are presenting, the more confident you will come across.
2) Practise in front of the mirror to get your posture and body language correct. I often run through it out loud when I am doing the dishes or even when I am in the car. Anyone looking on would just assume I'm talking on hands free (or completely mad.!) Steady your hands if they are shaking. Rest them on the podium if you have one. Its a trick politicians do frequently. Stand tall, it will give you that air of confidence and help your breathing.
3) Practise your breathing. The 7 -11 is good. remember that long out breaths are the relaxing part of the breathing cycle and send that message to your brain that all is well. You can step down from fight and flight, there are no lions chasing you...just a roomful of interested people who are keen to hear what you have to say. They do not come with the intention of judging you. Its merely for gathering information. Remember that!
4) Wear something comfortable that won't restrict you or have you feel self-conscious. (Wardrobe malfunctions are horribly off putting.) I have one dress that I have worn to the last 4 talks which give me that feeling of 'comfort confidence'. If you are planning on wearing very high heels perhaps settle for wedges or smaller heels to give you support. The last thing you need are shoes you cannot walk or stand still in.
5) Pay attention to the quality of your slides. DO NOT have too much text involved. You will notice people nod off or glaze over when your power point is busy busy. Even if you have to get across the most boring dry topic, challenge yourself into making a power point that you feel people will enjoy listening to. Perhaps add colour or photos. A bit of humour if you can pull it off even...
Tell them at the beginning what you are going to present. Re cap very succinctly at the mid way point then always end with a summary of your key points.
6) If there are questions don't be phased, lets assume you know your subject matter well and perhaps try to guess what questions will come up? Have an answer ready for them as part of your pre planning tactics. If you cannot answer, be honest. Maybe say something like 'that's such an interesting question, thank you for asking. At this point I am not completely sure of the answer but I will get back to you'.
There is no shame in admitting you do not know as long as you do it with confidence and reassurance that you will find out the answer and let them know.
Getting back to Ms K. we managed to do a one to one session and I made her 2 personalised audios. One for night time and one for just before the event to boost her confidence and resilience. I am pleased to say it worked! She gave the talk and was received well. The nerves were still obvious to her before hand but she went on to deliver her first confident and well prepared speech. I was delighted have been part of the process and feel reassured that hypnosis /self hypnosis techniques do work for this type of issue.