The alchemy of a great presentation has lots of moving parts – content, personal presence, audience focus, and the body as vehicle for communication. Coaching speakers is so dynamic because individual preparation needs are so different. But, one issue emerges so consistently, so powerfully and so dominantly that Barbara and I consider it “generic.” Though calling the fear that engulfs the mind and body of most non-professional speakers “generic” doesn’t reflect the amount of respect and recognition that we have for this most primal of experiences. And this is not just the fear speakers experience in real time, it’s also the kick-in-the gut anxiety we feel even thinking about an upcoming presentation. One of my favorite speakers, Brene Brown, wrote on her blog the other day, “It was so exciting to attend TED this year (keyword – attend). Last year I spent the week in ‘speaker panic mode’ which looks like lots of little anxiety attacks and a few tearful moments locked in the hotel room watching Law & Order reruns.”
Who can’t relate? Anticipating fear is, well…Winston Churchill already covered that one.
Most of our workshop attendees ask us for the magic trick to wrestle this “fear” demon to the ground expressing sentiments like…”If I could just kick these nerves then I could show my [fill in the blank] how much I have to offer.” Another client said to me, “I am tired of nerves undermining my professional career, I just want to feel ease.” I thought to myself, “You and 99% of the world.” So what does SpeakWell Partners have to say?
Validate and Inform
It is important to understand that there are evolutionary and neurological reasons for this fear factor response. Our existing operating system was designed to ensure survival, target danger and mobilize our physical systems to defend and protect. The triggers for these subconscious responses are a) physical exposure – alone, all eyes on you, b) crowds – more than 3 people together triggers “group” anxiety and c) stranger danger warnings. So, how do you keep cool and calm when the hard-wired system is shouting “abandon ship” or my own recurring fantasy that someone will please, dear God, set off a fire alarm?
Stop Fighting It
Whether your experience of nerves is a sense of stepping into quicksand, hitting a wall, or climbing a mountain, whether you go into fight, flight or freeze, the first step to move into “wise choice” is to stop fighting and awfulizing these feelings. You simply cannot stop them. Spending a lot of energy and feelings around wishing the mountain would disappear, being angry it exists, being mad that you have to deal with climbing the damn thing, is, well, let me just say you are not going to win the battle this way. And just because you cannot stop the feelings or the symptoms does not mean you cannot develop a perfectly good strategy to manage them. Your nerves are not so special, so unique. So, accept what your body is feeling. Then, you can move into awareness and action. And that’s where we come in.
NEXT POST: The Trifecta of Fear – Part Two