By show of hands, how many of us do not get nervous when we speak in public? (Anticipate that no one will raise their hand). So now that we've established that nervousness is common, we can ask “How do we get from cramps to composure?”
Really, it boils down to mindset. Think about it: Does confidence and poise come from the food we eat? No, nervous people eat the same food as those displaying confidence. Well, how about from the clothes we wear? Well, the activist college student in jeans is just as confident as the Board of Directors are in their 3-piece suits. So it can’t be that. Really then, that brings us back to mindset.
So what can we do to affect our mindset? We will discuss three things, our viewpoint of our audience, our viewpoint of ourselves and our viewpoint of making mistakes and accepting critiques.
Speaking With Your Friends
So what I’d like you to do is this: First, forget this concept of speaking to an audience. We’re going to take one step back from that. Instead, imagine the most comfortable setting you can in a group of people. What would that be for you? Is it a party, a small gathering for a meal, friends on a camping trip around a campfire? Lets say we’re at a campfire right now. Imagine we are under the starry sky. Can you hear the crickets? They’re all around. What I enjoy about campfires is roasting marshmallows. Look here’s the crackling fire in the middle of the room. Here’s my trusty twig. (Marshmallow catches fire, blow it out and eat it.) Boy that sure brings back memories.
Now, imagine yourself relating, sharing with your friends and fellow campers something you take great pleasure and joy in: fishing, mountain climbing, dirt biking, skiing, whatever you really like talking about and doing.
You can not make a mistake telling of those things because they come from your heart. In fact, you know what happens in that setting if you do make a mistake? You’ll immediately say, “Oh, no wait, that’s not what happened. Here’s how it went.” And you’ll all laugh and carry on like it was no big deal. When in front of the club (or formal speech setting) imagine yourself speaking to them in that most friendly setting instead. Then the fears will be reduced because you are speaking from the heart to friends that want to hear you, instead of from the head to a club in a formal setting. Yes, enjoy the SHARING process, and the speaking/teaching process will come naturally. Really, a good teacher is one who knows how to share and makes learning fun. But what of us who are quiet even among friends? Well, you may have to start out by acting. Herein is the viewpoint of self.
“TO BE; or, not to be.”
Have you ever thought you’d like to be an actor? Well, every time we get up here, we have a chance to act. Though we may be scared out of our wits, we can act confident. Though we may feel sheepish, we can act like a lion.
Really, we are all actors. We all act (conduct ourselves) the way that has come to feel natural to us. So as speakers, we are challenged just like actors to carry ourselves in a way that for the present seems unnatural.
In movies, I think a villain is the best example of this. If we leave the theater hating the guts of the actor that played the bad guy, that actor deserves an award. The same with us, when we get up here, no one needs to know that we have butterflies. Before we leave this “stage,” we will have them convinced that we have been doing this for years.
Passionate actors do two important things. First, they study their role. If modeled after a real-life person, they study their model. We likewise can study those we admire as model speakers. Second, they practice. Some actors have been known to practice their roles to an extreme, trying to become that person during every waking hour, even off camera. We likewise can practice confidence and poise in our daily life, business dealings and in meeting new friends who never need to know how we were before we took on this act of confidence. In fact, that would be a great exercise for shy ones--with each new person you meet, ACT like the friendly, sincerely outgoing, person you want to be. Since they have never met you before, they'll never know you were any different. In time, the act will become part of your real personality.
Mistakes & Critiques
“But what if I make a mistake.”
Don't you find that the more you worry about making mistakes the more you actually tend to make them, and the less joy have in speaking? To handle the nervousness caused by fear of making a mistake, we need to reverse the 'more worry, less joy' syndrome. This means being filled with joy and desisting from all self-defeating fears. Don't concentrate on the possibility of erring. Concentrate on the material you researched and diligently prepared. Concentrate on enjoying the sharing process. When you do make a mistake, and we all do, move on past it. Don’t try to dwell there while continuing you speech. That’s like trying to keep one foot firmly planted in one place while expecting the other foot to take you down a path. Its physically impossible. The same goes for our mind. It can’t stay fussing over a mistake and keep focused on the progress of your train of thought. Just move on--just like you do when sharing a story around a campfire.
Your choice of words and the manner in which you present them, whether in private conversations or in public speeches will always be critiqued and that is actually good. Proverbs 27:17 indicates: "By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another." Sometimes that sharpening can cut, but if we take this in a good-natured fashion, it can heal into a scar of a uniquely strong character. Don't be afraid of the critiques. Instead, look forward to it like shoes look forward to a good polishing -- it can only help you look better the next time. Again, we are all here because we chose to be. Since we want to be here, lets enjoy every facet of the experience including the brief, silly little embarrassments called mistakes.
Let’s wrap this all up now and review the three major points: Talk WITH your audience as if you are sharing with a group of friends. Since you are already acting to begin with, choose to ACT CONFIDENT, composed and experienced. And finally, CONCENTRATE ON THE ENJOYMENT of your presentation instead of the possibility of making mistakes or wondering what your audience thinks of you.
After-ThoughtsI've heard some suggest that you imagine your audience naked. I've heard others say to imagine yourself as being a giant in a room of tiny people. Both those conceptualizations demean your audience. They are neither better nor worse than you. They are your peers that have come to hear you. That is why I recommend the campfire scenario because it encourages viewing the audience as supportive and compassionate friends.