Noun. The fear of public speaking.
People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
– Jerry Seinfeld, 1993
In a world where there is so much uncertainty, we are crying out for people we can trust. One of the simplest ways for us to do that as bloggers, entrepreneurs and influencers is to make sure that we are successfully communicating with our audiences and being the standout face of our brand.
Doing this means that we are able to speak in a way that connects with those we are targeting with honesty and authenticity, letting them see who is behind the blog/product/business, finding out why it’s been created in the first place and how it goes about serving the community. All this helps to draw audience in and most importantly, creates a brand they can trust.
There was a time, not all that long ago, where if you’d asked me to get up in front of a crowd of people and speak, I would have politely replied with two words (I’ll let you work it out for yourselves). ‘But, what will people think of me?’, in fact, ‘I don’t want them to think of me, because I’m sure that whatever they think it will be along the lines of, ‘what on earth is she talking about, she knows nothing’’.
Oh, good old imposter syndrome. Yes, I’m a trained actress.. Give me someone else’s words and I’d be away with the fairies because, quite simply, they’re not my words. But if you’d asked me to speak my own? Nah, you’re alright.
Yes, I still get plagued with it now. Every time I speak at an event, go to a networking ‘do’ (shudder), or work with new clients, I have that wonderful little voice in my head that tells me, once again, that I know nothing and ‘why should anyone want to listen to me?’. Joy.
But (and this is a big ‘but’, like the biggest of big) – I’ve found ways that help me tackle that voice in my head, ways that make it look like I’m confident on the outside, even if on the inside I’m still absolutely bricking it.
With the rise of events, expos, talks, Facebook live, IG stories and now IGTV – how on earth are we ever going to begin combating those nerves and pressing that ‘Start Live Video’ or stepping out onto that stage?
Here are my quick top tips to help you up your speaking game and begin to get your message out there:
One of the best ways to help us relax is to breathe. We’ve all heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response and one of the ways that our bodies will try to get us out of a situation we feel is threatening is to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (which raises heart rate and releases adrenaline) in order to either fight the threat or get us out of there… quick! However, our physiological systems can’t distinguish between a perceived threat or an actual threat.
Breathing is one way we can start to calm the nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system before speaking, which helps to calm us down.
As opposed to breathing into our chest as most of us have learned to do, try breathing into your diaphragm by placing one hand on your stomach. As you breathe in, focus the breath into your hand and push it away from your body. As you breathe out, your hand comes back towards you.
A quick exercise I like to use is –
Breathe in for one, out for five
Breathe in for two, out for five
Breathe in for three, out for five,
Breathe in for four, out for five
Notice how your body relaxes, how the muscles release and how the heart rate begins to slow.
Open body language
When that fight or flight response kicks in, our body language can also change to protect us from a perceived threat. We may find ourselves crossing our arms and/or legs, putting our hands in our pockets, rocking from side to side or even fidgeting. Crossing our arms in front of our chest is a survival technical to protect our vital organs and nerves tend to come through rocking and fidgeting.
But what on earth am I meant to do?! I hear you cry.
You may have heard of Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on Power Poses – if you haven’t you can check it out here. Amy found that by unfurling our arms and legs and posing in certain shapes for two minutes (for example the wonder woman – feet hip width apart and stood with hands on hips), feelings of power and confidence rose – as did our body chemistry. Testosterone levels increased and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels decreased. You might want to try this in the toilet before speaking though as opposed to on stage!
When speaking itself, unwrapping our arms, having feet hip width apart and our hands directly in front of us allows us to come across as physically confident and gives you the opportunity to use hand gestures in order to emphasise what we have to say even further.
Remember, if we’re in front of a large audience our movements have got to be big enough to communicate what we’re saying right to the back of the room – so make sure you judge it appropriately!
Even if we’re absolutely bricking it on the inside, smiling helps to release endorphins which in turn help to relax us and make us feel more confident. It also helps to show our audience that we’re happy to be on camera or on stage talking to them (always a good thing!) and makes them feel like we know what we’re saying and we feeling confident… even if we’re not!
Engage with an audience
Using language that our audience can relate to is essential when speaking. If you’re talking about nutrition and the effect that certain chemicals have on the body in scientific terms to nutritionists, then great – go ahead and use that language.
However, when we’re speaking to those who might have an interest in it but may not necessarily understand the technical terms, we need to break it down into layman’s terms and translate it in a way that is understandable and relatable to them.
Another really simple example is this – my boyfriend is ex-military and to stop me getting confused about all the different ranks (which I find it really tricky to get my head around) he explains it in terms of teachers; whether they’re a subject teacher, head of the year, deputy head or headteacher… much easier to understand!
Passion and enthusiasm
Quite simply, the most important thing we can do when speaking is to do it with passion and enthusiasm.
If we don’t believe in what we’re saying – no one will!
Passion catches – it’s authentic, it’s honest and technique aside, it’s what is most likely to connect with our audience. Our voice and our bodies tend to respond accordingly. Our physical and vocal expression heightens and matches what we’re saying without necessarily thinking about it.
If we’re watching a singer or musician perform and they’re lost in their music, the way they move and express themselves just comes without them thinking about it (Florence and the Machine does it amazingly well in my opinion). As an audience member, it can be captivating and we can get caught up in their passion and love for what they’re doing – and the same is true for when we speak!
Connection and passion.
We’ve all been that person, forced into polite conversation about how cold the weather has got again and how the snacks are not up to scratch. That feeling that you get where you’re thinking, ‘please don’t let this sentence end because I don’t know what to say to you next’.
That squirming, cringey feeling inside where we just want to run away. I’ve found it really useful to make sure that I’m talking about something I actually want to speak about. Whether I’m speaking to someone else or in front of an audience, it’s got to be aligned with me and how I perceive the world before I can start sharing with other people. Otherwise, they’re going to pick up subtle hints that I couldn’t really give two figs about what I’m saying and I’m simply not going to engage them in the way I want to.
If you’re stuck in a conversation, think of asking them if they’ve seen the TV show you’re obsessed with at the moment or if they’ve been to your favourite restaurant. Honestly, it’s amazing how people light up and how a connection is made as soon as we start talking about something real.
Remember, nerves are natural
This is sometimes the hardest one to grasp and keep hold of in the moment. Actually realising that the feeling in the pit of my stomach and the faster beating of my heart are ok to have. They show that I care. That’s how I know that I’m passionate about what I’m doing or speaking on. That’s where the breathwork comes in to help slow the heart rate down, relax the body and open out those pesky hands and feet. Where we connect with those around us.
Sounds simple, but these things took me a while to put to use and get comfortable with doing. Now it’s become second nature, but I still have times when I revert to my old self. Ultimately, it’s worth trying them out, one by one and seeing what works and what doesn’t for you.
To share how we perceive the world, to let others in and allow them understand what we think and feel and to share what makes us most inspired and excited is a gift. We all have the magic within us to do so. It’s about finding the right key for us to unlock it.