Find your voice
From an early age, we’re encouraged to speak in front of an audience – it starts with the school nativity or class assembly when you’re asked to read out a few lines. Some children seem born performers and are happy to be in the spotlight; some might normally appear confident little things when with their group of friends but when out of their comfort zone, nervously utter their given words; for others, they look like a rabbit caught in headlights as the audience sympathetically looks on.
As we go through life, we can make a choice as to whether we put ourselves forward to be the spokesperson for a group, become a debater, chair meetings or indeed whether we perform to a large audience - be it as a speaker or as an actor. We might not all have aspirations to be heard at Speakers Corner but whether it’s going for a job interview, perhaps giving presentations at work or a volunteering role or maybe a past-time or activity, there’s undeniably going to be plenty of times when speaking in front of others is going to arise.
Fear or fortitude?
What is it about speaking in public that we dread so much? Perhaps we don’t like the focus to be on us. Maybe we fear saying the wrong thing. We might forget our words. Make them laugh when that wasn’t our intention. We feel an impostor and that we’re not really an expert in this – that we’ll get found out. We’re not good enough. Our voice sounds silly. We don’t have enough gravitas. The other speakers are more interesting/experienced/cleverer/funnier. And so forth.
Although the gremlins in your head might be telling you all this, you do have the ability to shut that noise out. They are just thoughts and if you can manifest those thoughts, you can manifest different thoughts which are going to instead support you. I always find it helpful to say to myself: ‘Oh that’s interesting Kirsty, and why do you think you’re thinking like that?’ Acknowledge the thoughts, question and process them and then reframe, producing different helpful thoughts to move you forward.
With the exception of a few occasions i.e. speaking in Court, or at a debate, your audience is for the most part, interested in what you have to say. They’re not necessarily cynics sitting there waiting for you to fail – they’re waiting to hear what pearls of wisdom you are about to offer them, to learn something new, to be informed, maybe challenged. And remember, the audience don’t know what you’re planning to say, so if you do go off piste, how are they going to know? No one is going to suddenly stand up and shout: ‘Excuse me! I don’t think you planned to say that! You were going to go on to talk about xyz but you haven’t!’
I remember when I gave my TEDx Talk on How To Reinvent Yourself For Success, my husband sat in the audience with my script in his hand. He realised at one point that I had veered off in another direction and with his heart in his mouth, waited as I gradually brought myself back round. Nobody knew except he and I. And that’s because my friend, practice is key. As a bona fide two times TEDx speaker (I say that not to blow my own trumpet but to demonstrate that I really do know what I am talking about), rehearse rehearse reharse is crucial. Then, if for some reason you do stray from the script, if you know your subject matter like the back of your hand and are passionate about it, you will be able to deftly get yourself back on track.
Gotta Lotta Nerve
We can sometimes allow nerves to take over. And yet this is all within our control. Your body responds to nerves and excitement in the same way. Simon Sinek gives a great example of this when he talked about Olympic athletes preparing for their event. Athletes will feel pumped before a race – excited to get out there and perform; they’re not going to waste time thinking about feeling nervous – they know this won’t serve them well. It’s the same for public speaking. If you’re feeling nervous, what you’re doing is effectively closing off access to the knowledge you have in your brain, you’re putting up barriers to prevent you from remembering what you want to say – it’s all behind a closed door and you’ve lost the key. However, if you choose to change the way you think about it and harness the nerves – you can get your butterflies into formation and change the way you feel. If you tell yourself this is an exciting opportunity to share your story/give helpful information/make a difference, then you are re-framing the situation, enabling your brain to be more open and resourceful and thus access all that you need to remember.
An impetus that might lead you to speak in public is your why – your strong desire to communicate what needs to be said/debated/argued etc. If you want the result enough, you’ll follow through. If you enjoy peace and tranquility and like your own company, public speaking might fill you with dread. However, might you be willing to stick your head above the parapet if there are plans afoot to build a main road which will cut through your village? Your desire to protest and put your view across at the next Parish Council meeting might outweigh your fear of speaking in front of others. Or perhaps you’re Vice Chair of Governors at the local school and suddenly you’re in the spotlight at a meeting with the County Council, arguing about the severe budget cuts to education, when the Chair who was supposed to be speaking as come down with flu. This was never something you signed up for but you wanted your cause to be heard, more than you wanted to steer clear of the meeting. We will always overcome the fear if the level of desire outweighs it.
The seven habits to adopt to deliver a stellar talk
So, how do you become a confident speaker? What are the tricks of the trade and how do you sidestep those gremlins to get out there and say what needs to be heard?
- “I feel calm and confident when speaking in front of others.”
- “My point of view is valid and important and people want to hear it.”
- “I enjoy hearing others’ opinions and debating mine."
...Repeated at least twice daily to build your confidence and self-belief.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had the confidence to get your voice heard? Good news – no one is stopping you. Just you. What you say is worth listening to. Be brave, believe in yourself and by jingo! Go for it!
As the great Dale Carnegie said:
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
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