“Fear is a pair of handcuffs on your soul.” – Faye Dunaway
I was coaching a client today and she was admitting that, even though she’s a successful international executive, she still gets nervous when she speaks.
She has an important investor pitch coming up next week and she’s afraid she might freeze up.
I asked her, “Are you an athlete?”
“Yes. I swam in college and I run, work out or do yoga several times a week.”
“Good. From now on, you’re going to approach speaking as a sport.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are two kinds of athletes.
Those who, when the game is on the line, say, ‘DON’T give me the ball’ and those who say, ‘Give ME the ball.’
I’m betting you’re the latter.”
She laughed and said, “You’re right.”
“From now on, prep for speaking just like you would for a championship match.”
1. Check out the venue in advance so you have home-field advantage.
When I speak at conferences, I always go to the ballroom the night before (sometimes at midnight) when no one’s around.
I take the stage, throw my heart to the back of the room and give part of my presentation with the same volume of voice and animation I would before an audience of a thousand.
“Why is that so important?”
“You can’t be casual at practice and expect to be brilliant as soon as you start playing for real.
The same is true for speaking. You can’t expect to be your best in a boardroom or ballroom if you haven’t rehearsed with the same intensity and quality you want for the real-thing.
Pop Warner said, “You play the way you practice.”
Practicing the way you want to present where you’re going to present gives you a competitive edge. Other speakers will feel out of place in these unfamiliar surroundings but you’ll be relaxed because you’re on your home turf.
2. Go for a walk/run to get out of your head and into your body.
Have you been told to practice your speech in front of a mirror?
That’s terrible advice!
Practicing in front of a mirror focuses you on YOU which makes you self-conscious which is the opposite of the stream-of-conscious state you want to be in when you speak. Plus, you want to focus on your audience (not yourself).
The best way to develop the ability to do that is with RWWA.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“You’ve heard of MBWA – Managing By Walking Around – which is when you get out of your office and connect with your front-line employees to find out what’s really going on?
RWWA – Rehearsing While Walking Around – is when you walk-talk your presentation which more closely mimics what will actually be going on when you speak.
I always go for a walk outside the morning of a presentation.
Not only does this kick-in my endorphins and get my oxygen pumping and blood flowing – it aligns left and right brain so I’m at my analytical/creative/energetic best and raring to go.
Plus, looking around at my surroundings while navigating my way and rehearsing my talk is a way to practice multi-focus speaking.
Multi-focus speaking is that state of concentration where you’re sharing your message while observing and adapting to your surroundings – without getting distracted or pulled off topic.
Experienced teachers and champion athletes are pros at multi-focus. A teacher can be writing on the white board and delivering the lesson plan while noticing that Suzie is texting on her (forbidden) cell phone, Nick is sleeping and Vanessa is whispering to Tiffany.
A world-class athlete can process the elements – a change in the wind, a heckler in the third row – without allowing it to break their concentration.
Confident presenters have mastered the ability to stay focused on what they’re saying now and adapt what they’re going to say next . . . in real-time . . . as they evaluate the reactions of their audience and respond accordingly.
For example, If I’m speaking and notice a couple people in the back row checking their email, I might walk towards the back of the room and raise my voice to re-engage them . . . all without losing a beat.
When I suggested this to my client, she said, ‘Sam, I agree with RWWA in theory, but it doesn’t always work in real-life. What if I’m running late and arrive at an event minutes before I’m supposed to speak?”
I asked, “How much money are you asking for?”
“So, you’re asking for more than a million dollars and wouldn’t invest a few hours to prep yourself to increase the likelihood of closing this deal?
You’ve spent months putting this venture together, developing your products, website and team, and wouldn’t do the one thing that could make the difference between you walking in feeling pressured and panicked . . . or walking in feeling poised, professional and powerful?
Your future may rest on whether you get a yes from someone in this room and land funding.
Isn’t it worth arriving early – just like an athlete prepping for the Olympics – so you can acclimate by RWWA which will prepare you to do your best and be your best?
Walking briskly turns panic energy (“What if I forget what I’m going to say?) into pro-active energy (This is how I’m going to keep my cool if my mind goes temporarily blank.)
She protested one last time. “What if I’m still nervous?”
Then, you’re still in your head, THINKING about what YOU want to say and what the audience might think of YOU. This feeds fear which keeps you in neck-up nervousness.
Audiences come in three states of energy – actively resistant, apathetic or eager.
Our goal as a communicator is to have such commanding, convincing, confident energy, it wins over the neutral and resistant individuals and adds to the energy of the fans.
The best way to access and exude that type of ConZONEtration is to immerse yourself in the “one-with-what-you’re-doing-peak-performance-zone state” where there’s no room at the mental inn for doubts.
The best way to do that is to remove the handcuffs of fear that exist in your head and free up flow by embodying your message.
And the best way to embody your message is to immerse yourself in your presentation beforehand by DOING IT and MOVING IT – not standing in front of a mirror and thinking it or reading it.
Want more ways to see speaking as a sport and walk in with the confidence of a champion athlete?
Check out my books What’s Holding You Back? and ConZentrate (both from St. Martin’s Press) which show how to access the exquisite state of confident ConZONEtration where you remain poised under pressure and perform your best.