PA Editorial

PA EDitorial

Presenting: feeling comfortable in your own story

We’ve all been there. Well, to be factually correct, three-quarters of us have.

The fear of public speaking, known as Glossophobia, affects 75% of people in the UK. In addition, 10% of those people describe themselves as ‘terrified’ of presenting and speaking to an audience and actively avoid it at all costs.

Glossophobia derives from the Greek word Glossa, meaning tongue. Phobos means fear or dread.

Interestingly, the root meaning of Glossophobia doesn’t fully capture what people have shared with me about their experiences, what I have felt, and what I have observed.

It’s not a fear or dread of using our tongue; it’s the fear and dread about using it in front of people who may judge us.

I’ve seen great communicators – the sociable and the chatty – really struggle with public speaking where they have undergone a radical and unrecognisable transformation away from their normal confident state. This change has happened when they’ve been distanced from who they are talking to – when the communication becomes a ‘presentation’ or ‘interview’ instead of their typical communication setting. The actual physical act hasn’t changed, but the setting and context have.

I find this fascinating and believe it holds the key to how we can begin to unpick what’s going on for those of us who are part of the 75%. It could also radically change the lives of those stuck in the 10% who let their extreme Glossophobia dictate how they lead their lives.

Let me be clear here, I am not medically trained. I am not a psychologist. I am not a coach or any other member of the many professionals who work with people to address this issue.

What I am, though, is a transformed member of the 75%. I’ve been there, in that 75% who hated it so much I would have done anything to avoid it. Now I am not. Now I enjoy presenting, and this could happen for you too.

Below, I share my journey and the things that helped me.

Nobody knows what you intended to say

After years of over rehearsing presentations so much that any spontaneity was squashed out of what I had to say, I was suddenly liberated when someone said to me, ‘don’t worry too much about missing stuff out, they don’t know what you intended to say’.

Wow, it was a throw-away comment to them, but it was a game-changer for me.

Of course, it was true. Often, we worry so much about remembering everything we add to the overall pressure. We rehearse and rehearse and get into a negative spiral when we forget one fact out of 30.

Stop that.

I’m not saying we should throw caution to the wind and brazenly turn up ill-prepared and ignorant about the subject we are speaking about – far from it.

But what we must have are discipline and trust. The discipline to put the time into preparing and the trust to believe in ourselves that whatever aide-memoire we choose to use is all that we need.

In addition, by keeping ourselves fresh, we avoid delivering a robotic repetition of a script.

Essentially, we need to shift our thinking to ‘this is something I know about’ and ‘this is something I am interested in’. Then, if we’ve put the work in and are keen to interact with the people who will be there to learn more, this mindset will deliver great results.

Remember, this is your story, and you can’t get your own story wrong.

Less is more – except when it’s about how we think and feel about what we are sharing.

Tools or straitjackets?

Again, I am sure the following is a familiar scenario: a PowerPoint presentation where every slide is jammed packed with text that is read out word for word by the presenter whilst they have their back to us.

In this situation, there is no connection. The presenter’s voice is projected away from us, and we can get confused. We often have to think, ‘do I read the slide, or do I listen?’

It’s not good, it’s not engaging, and it’s not presenting.

There are so many sources of information out there about how to nail giving a presentation. I particularly like this one. It talks about narrative, miracles and treating our audience as intelligent – all of which are the magical ingredients to bring the experience alive for us and our audience.

So, the first thing we can do is work out where we will start and where we are going to finish and let our slides, flip chart, props or whatever we are using act as signposts on the way rather than being our straitjackets that cause the audience information overload.

The most engaging experiences I’ve had where someone is speaking in public are where there was emotion and where the speaker got personal. They shared their ‘why’. Why they were there speaking about their subject, why they had researched their topic, why they wanted to share their knowledge. Sometimes it felt raw, but it felt real.

There is also a lot of information out there about vulnerability and its power. Brene Brown is the most prolific on this topic and exploring this was another key step for me to get comfortable being me and sharing my story in public.

When I say, ‘sharing my story,’ I mean sharing with my audience what the topic I was talking about meant to me, what excited me about it, what frustrated me, what I wanted to do next, and what I didn’t know yet. I learnt not to shower people with facts, figures and opinions but to engage them instead in a dialogue. Let’s be truthful here, there is a huge difference between being spoken at rather than being spoken with; we know this even in our daily friendships.

Perhaps this article sums it up much better than I have managed to put into words.

Pictures speak a thousand words

Obviously, copyright is the caveat here, but this saying has longevity because it’s true. There is a reason why newspaper articles are stronger with an image and why digital formats use images to support the writing – the message.

This article is a particularly succinct summary for some guidance on the copyright side of things.

The use of visuals ties in with my earlier observations about less being more and using emotions when connecting with your audience.

Visual images move us more than words, and we can use this to our advantage and add impact to what we want to say.

In addition, this article has some practical pointers for those who are new to using images.

Breathing and other tools that help

So far, I’ve been talking about the content, not you. So let’s talk specifically about you right now.

You’ve researched, prepared, rehearsed – but you know what – there is one more thing you need to focus on: getting yourself into a place where you manage your anxiety and turn it into excitement.

Adrenaline can be crippling, but a little can be incredibly useful. Unfortunately, our body tends to pump out adrenaline in ‘run from a tiger’ units rather than ‘get really focused and up your energy level’ units – which in our modern age would be more useful!

However, all is not lost. There are many ways to take control of the physical symptoms, as well as tools and techniques to get yourself in the best place to think and speak clearly.

I especially like this article by the British Council and this video clip for learning more about what is going on and how to be more in control of our body’s autonomic responses.

For some people, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) can really help them master the technique of getting into a good mental state when presenting by creating an ‘anchor’ that they can use.

Read more about NLP here.

Meditation and mindfulness can also be incredibly helpful to get you into a calm and relaxed state, allowing you to concentrate on the task at hand. There are numerous Apps and information on the internet as well as organisations and groups that can help you with this.

Saying No or Not now

Okay, this might not be an option if you are asked to present on a topic as part of an interview – but there are other situations where saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’ may be the best option. For example, if you don’t know enough about the subject or have enough time to get up to speed, it’s okay to have the confidence to push back or ask for more time. Believe me, honesty is always the best policy in this kind of scenario.

The end of my story

I recognised that I had transitioned from one of the 75% who hated public speaking to one of the 25% who loved it when I was asked to be an inspirational speaker at an event. After my presentation, someone asked me why I was so happy, and I found myself saying, ‘because I choose to be’. I realised then that it was all about choice; I had chosen to remove my limiting beliefs.

I’m not special; this could be you! And I’d really like to think that my story enables you in yours somehow.

The links below are a good resource for starting to learn about challenging your limiting beliefs

Remember, you are not alone in this. More than half the people in the room you will be addressing will feel exactly like you do about being stood at the front doing the talking. But it’s also in your power to join the 25% who love doing the public talking and sharing their story.

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