Saturday, August 20, 2011

Harnessing the Energy of Fear

If the fear of public speaking is as huge a problem as it's made out to be, and it no doubt is, wouldn't it be great if that energy (and that's all it really is, is energy) could be harnessed and put to some productive use?  Well it can be!   Since group presentation is usually the most anxiety-producing form of presentation, let’s talk in terms of that.  You’ve probably, at least once, attended a presentation where the speaker did things like continually clicked a ball point pen or jingled loose change in his pocket or twirled her hair or tugged at her clothing while speaking.  (You may have even been engaged in a conversation or a sales situation where such behaviors were exhibited or, gasp, you may have even done them yourself).  At best, these behaviors are distracting - at worst they're down right annoying.  The interesting thing about these behaviors though, is that speakers are not even aware that they're engaging in them.  What’s happening is that the brain, in its quest for the comfort zone, is trying to rid itself of nervous (fear) energy that’s causing discomfort.  (This so-called “nervous energy” is caused by the fight or flight response, but that’s a subject for another post).  And the way that the brain rids itself, and you, is through the body.  You see, once the part of the brain responsible for the presentation gets involved in what we’re saying, the part looking for the comfort zone causes the body to engage in all manner of behavior in trying to find the comfort zone.  As a consequence, we pace aimlessly, scratch our heads, straighten our ties, twist our rings, adjust our eyeglasses and in one of the most extreme cases that I've witnessed, snap pencils in two.  Well, when it comes to controlling these behaviors, there is bad news and there is good news;

The bad news is that we will NEVER completely rid ourselves of this fear energy;
The good news, though, is that we will never COMPLETELY rid ourselves of this fear energy. 
You see, we need the edge that the energy provides. It keeps us sharp and focused.  It keeps us animated and it keeps us interesting.  Without it we run the risk of becoming too laid back, too low key, too boring … and if we become boring we lose our audience to their own thoughts and our presentation fails.

So what can we do?

Remember in an earlier blog we said that, "It is impossible to separate what you say from how you say it"?  The foregoing concerns itself with that statement and, in a stab at shameless self-promotion, you could (and probably SHOULD) attend one of our workshops where all of the following is covered in great detail.  In the alternative, you can, and probably should:

1.       Memorize the first 3 minutes of your talk (It's the most anxiety-producing time).

2.       Have a conversational familiarity with your material (practice, practice, practice).

3.       Know what your audience is there for.  (What do they want/expect of you).

4.       Have 1, 2, or 3 key points (No more than 3).  (If you remember nothing else ... ).

5.       Practice deep breathing exercises (In deeply through the nose, out slowly through the

6.       Have tepid water available (not iced). Taking a sip keeps your throat moist and gives you a
          moment to think).

7.       Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

8.        Arrive early, bond with the space and test your technology (computer, projector, DVD, VCR or
           whatever you might be using.

9.       Greet and chat briefly with attendees as they arrive (You've now got "friends" to talk to during
          your presentation.

10.   Keep your hands free of laser pointer, pen, pencil, or anything that may distract so that you
         can use hand gestures intentionally, as you would during conversation.

12.   Whenever possible, move intentionally (take a few steps, stop and plant yourself, make a point,
         take a few steps, stop and plant, etc.)

13.   Know where the exits are in case you need to make a quick getaway (just kidding)

We understand that simply stating these things as fear management techniques is certainly not the ideal.  We understand too, that these are a lot of do’s and don’t’s.  But in the absence of a live personal coach, these things are better than nothing.  Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed.  You CAN learn to manage your fear.  Select 1 or 2 areas where you think you need work and start there.  Of course, you can always call us.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Fear of Public Speaking

The fear of public speaking is, arguably, the most pervasive in the culture.  According to some, the fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of flying, the fear of falling, the fear of closed places, even the fear of death itself. 
Why is that?  What is it that we’re all so  very afraid of?
From past workshops we’ve heard a number of different things.  Among them, the fear of making a mistake in front of the group, the fear of losing our place in our talk, the fear of forgetting the points that we wanted to make, the fear of tripping and falling on the way to the front of the room, the fear of losing the interest of our audience, and on and on and on.  At bottom, though, it seems that the thing we fear most is the fear of public embarrassment.  And if we accept that this is the over-riding fear, suppose we were able to guarantee that we wouldn’t be embarrassed.  Would the fear go away?  Well, the bad news is that the fear never completely goes away. 
The legendary Bob Hope, who you may or may not be familiar with, was once asked if he ever got over the butterflies in his stomach caused by having to perform in front of thousands of people.  He responded that he never did … but that he learned to make them fly in formation.  That brings us to the good news.  While the fear never completely goes away, the fear never completely goes away.  The lesson to be learned is how to use the energy that the fear creates … and that’s all it really is, is energy … to your best advantage.
There are no secrets, there are no tricks, there is no magic.
There is only knowledge and understanding.
When you understand the fear and what, physiologically, is happening;  when you learn to embrace the fear;  your presentations, your interviews, your conversations, all of your interpersonal interactions become events that you look forward to.  When you learn to embrace the fear you feel a degree of control that you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it.  This is not a matter of conquering fear, it’s a matter of using fear to your advantage.  And once you’ve learned how ... you become unstoppable.  
Coming next – Harnessing the Energy of Fear