Movement, Mindset and Mindfulness
Ideas and tips
Or how I went from shy kid to running workshops for a living
Your stomach is churning, your knees are trembling, your palms are sweaty. Familiar feelings before speaking in front of people? So many of us are or have been scared of public speaking, even just thinking about it can fill us with fear. How many of us have felt these feelings and thought ‘I wish I was more confident’, ‘I’m so nervous, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘why am I so rubbish’? In this article, I’m going to share 15 things I have discovered to help with these feelings and thoughts and, if you don’t already, to help you even enjoy public speaking. Yes, really.
Recently, I won a pitching competition at Entrepreneurial Spark. Well, when I say won, I was put through to the finals with 7 other businesses. But it felt like winning, especially when I look back at how far I’ve come with speaking in public. Through most of school, I was the shy quiet kid who avoided speaking in class at all costs. I believed I couldn’t do it and if asked to read a book out aloud, I descended into a red, hot shaky mess of embarrassment and fear. This continued into adulthood, where being made to do presentations at work was plain awful. I blushed, shook, put my head down and got through it as quietly and quickly as possible. Public speaking was just bad and I couldn’t do it.
So how did it change? How is it that I strangely enjoy speaking in front of people now? In short, I’ve learnt from others, experimented and tried different strategies. I haven’t got it entirely nailed. Indeed, I’ve got much more to learn, and yet I am a long way from where I used to be. Here are 15 things that have helped me and people I have worked with:
1. What are your worst fears?
What is it about public speaking that really scares you? Find a way to talk about this that feels safe, e.g. speaking to someone in a supportive environment. What are you frightened of? How likely is this to happen? How would you cope if it does happen? For some, acknowledging our fears, giving them a reality check and building up our coping skills can help us let them go.
2. Make friends with your fear
Changing your relationship with fear can have a huge effect. How many of us have felt our fear, then decided that means we can’t do something? A game-changer for me was hearing about how many huge celebrities feel incredibly scared before performing, but go on stage and do amazing performances anyway. In fact, the fear we feel before we speak in public situations can feel very similar to then feeling of excitement and can actually help us perform better.
Using the helpful words of Susan Jefferies brilliant book title, can you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’?
3. Prepare Prepare Prepare
My first reaction to doing a pitch was ‘I’ll wing it, it’ll be fine’. And it might have been, but luckily I was encouraged to prepare. This has been a revelation for me. Even though I instinctively don’t want to practice, the more I practice, the more confident I am. And the more confident I am, the more I can focus on the elements below, which make my speaking stronger and better. Although, I’ve heard people say if we prepare too much, we can become too wooden (I don’t think I’ve reached the point of over-preparation). Experiment – work out what level of preparation works best for you to give you the optimum level of confidence. And whilst you’re practicing, use the mindset of imagining yourself being the best you possibly can be.
4. Wear your best underwear
Wear an outfit that makes you feel really good. Whether this is your lucky watch, your favourite shirt or your best underwear, something you associate with feeling great. Wearing something you associate with good feelings on the outside can help you feel good on the inside.
Lift your energy before you start – can you listen to something that makes you feel really good? Whether through earphones or just in your head? Eye of the Tiger? Starship, Nothing’s Going Stop Us Now? Choose something that fits your music taste and makes you feel amazing.
You’ll hear this a lot with Office Om, but breathing is amazing. Not only does it keep you alive, we can use it to change how we feel, for example, before and during speaking to others. Try taking a few deep breaths into your belly before you speak to calm your biological stress-response system. Take intermittent slow deep breaths throughout your performance to keep the oxygen flowing and for dramatic effect. Focussing on your breath can help refocus your mind.
7. Ground yourself in your senses
Before it’s your turn to speak, ground yourself physically – e.g. spending a moment to feel your connection to the floor or chair. Notice what you can see, feel or hear to ground your mind in the here and now. If you find your mind scattering to unhelpful places, bring it back to something that is happening right now. I find looking at the sky before I speak really helpful – taking my mind to an open space helps me let go of any worries I have. What can you connect to in the present moment that helps you feel grounded?
8. Speak from the heart
************WARNING - SKIP THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE FLUFFY STUFF************
As you speak, imagine radiating energy outwards from your heart or your ‘heart chakra’ if you so desire. This can help open your chest physically (see the next point), but can also make you sound more passionate, if that is a desirable outcome. Sounds strange? Give it a go and see if it works for you.
Have you noticed how confident people stand? Shoulders are back and down opening up the chest. Not only do confident people stand like that, but if you stand like that, you feel and look more confident. If you haven’t watched it yet, watch the brilliant TED talk by Amy Cuddy which explains some research to back this up. For any yogis out there, think Tadasana – feet are grounded, legs are strong yet soft, chest is open and the crown of the head is ascending to the sky. Improve the way you stand and you will improve the way you speak.
10. Being self-conscious
I remember when ‘self-conscious’ seemed like a criticism, until I deconstructed the words. Self-Conscious; being conscious of the self. Often if I have lost the plot when speaking, it is when I have been over-conscious of myself e.g. worrying about my cheeks going red and criticising what I’m saying. Whilst we do need to think about what we’re saying when we’re speaking, being overly self-conscious can be shifted to being conscious of what is going on around you. Try shifting your consciousness outwards and see if it helps.
11. Going gently on yourself
Noticing what you are saying can slip into unhelpful self-criticism. When I have noticed myself blushing slightly and thought about it so much that I’ve gone really red. The inner bully can then come out ‘look at you going red, you’re rubbish’. Those thoughts aren’t helpful are they? Try going easier on yourself. I find that it helps to tell myself ‘whatever happens it will be ok’. Developing that inner-compassion towards ourselves, which is a key part of disciplines such as yoga, types of counselling and mindfulness, can be really helpful whilst speaking publically. What thoughts are helpful for you?
12. Notice things you enjoy as you’re speaking
Notice moments, however big or small, where you’re feeling good. Moments, however short or long, where you’re really in the zone. Moments, where you feel connected with your audience. Is someone nodding as you speak? Can you see some smiles out there? Focus on these good feelings.
13. Come back to the here and now
If you find yourself criticising yourself or noticing ‘bad’ things as you're speaking? Can you see people sitting looking grumpy with their arms folded? Maybe they’ve had a bad day. Maybe they’re actually really interested and that’s their interested face? If you notice any unhelpful thoughts whilst you’re speaking, try to mentally put them on one side and bring your mind to the present moment,
14. If it bombs
Great, you gave it a go. Well done to you for trying. And it bombed? So what did you learn from this? What can you do differently next time? Is thinking about it helpful? Can you get feedback from anyone who could help things go better next time? Doing presentations, pitching, public speaking can be like going on a date:- you’ll either have a good experience, or a good story and an opportunity to learn for next time.
15. So you’ve done it, yay!
Notice the good feelings of having done it. How about giving yourself a reward. Whether you thought it was amazing or terrible, what would you like to happen now? Whether it’s a cup of tea, night off presentations or a Ferrari, choose according to your budget, needs and what would make you feel good.
What will work for you? We are all individuals and different things work for different people. You can experiment with these points and see which ones help the most. Have you got anything to add? Please add to the comments below. And join Office Om’s mailing list to hear more tips including movement, mindfulness and mindset inspiration. Wishing you luck for whatever you’re saying.
Founder of Office Om, BACP registered counsellor, Yoga Alliance 200hr trained yoga teacher, Mental Health First Aid instructor and promoter of making daily life just that little bit better.