As presentation coaches, Charlotte and I are always looking for ways to help our clients manage the butterflies that can easily morph into a shaky voice, dry mouth, quivering limbs and, well, the awful feeling that comes from being “verklempt.”
As I was perusing my bookshelf, searching for inspiration, I picked up Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s book, The Art of Possibility. And there it was: the simplest, fastest trick to decreasing stage fright. Before I share it, let me just say that the absolute best way of getting rid of agita lies in the physical realm: head rolls, arm pumps, heel bounces, rag doll flops, and deep breathing exercises. Nothing trumps the benefit a speaker gets from these techniques.
The problem is that most speakers are not able to use these techniques right before they speak. They are already sitting on a dais, as part of a panel of speakers, with all eyes on them, and can’t very well start jumping up and down (though I love that image).
What to do?
Back to the Zanders’ book and it’s wonderful message. They write about twelve strategies designed to increase creativity and expand the human spirit so that we all may radiate possibility into the world. Sounds good to me.
Principle #3 is called Giving an “A.” This practice helps us shift from constantly calculating how we measure up to an abundance mentality. It’s based on Benjamin Zander’s teaching experience. At the beginning of each semester, he would assign all students an A. The only catch was that within the next two weeks, each student had to write a paper outlining how they were to earn the top grade. As Zander says, “The A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live in to.”
The best part of this chapter is his explanation of how speakers can use this practice to ward off the Evil Gods of Self-Doubt (my words, not his). Zander explains, “Giving an A can be done metaphorically to audiences, large or small, in the same way as it is given to students. This allows the speaker to relax and connect with [the audience] from the perspective of possibilities rather than from judgment.
I, for one, think it’s genius. We know that our thoughts drive our emotions in this situation. We think we are not ready, that we’ll forget an important point, that we won’t impress the “VIP” in the room, and on and on. Those thoughts trigger physical reactions in our body, and we are hooked. Anxiety wins.
The next time you feel the buzz-killing minions marching in, give them the “talk to the hand” gesture, and take a moment to look at your audience and say silently, “I give you all an A. You deserve it, and I am going to treat you like the excellent listeners you are.”
At SpeakWell Partners, we are always looking for tips, tricks and techniques to help our clients become more powerful communicators. If you have any tried-and-true strategies, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to learn more, check out our Dynamic Speaker Series!