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B080: How to overcome your fear of public speaking

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No shame… most people feel nervous whether they’re faced with the daunting task of speaking up in the boardroom, or getting on-stage in front of 300 people. (There is no difference!)

Public speaking can be especially scary if you’ve been ‘volun-TOLD’ to do it, a la ‘Oh, could you just say a few words?’ and you’ve not prepared anything at all. Who enjoys that?? Very few people.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Koya Webb all about how to overcome obstacles in your life, and learn how to face your fears. And one thing I started to realize when we were chatting was how much power we (okay, let’s be real… I) was giving the things I was most afraid of doing in my life.

I used to be shy…

Believe it or not, I was a very, very shy child growing up. 8 year old me was afraid to talk to people. I dreaded using the phone, preferred to play alone, in the closet, by myself. I wouldn’t have—in a million, zillion years—believed you if you said, ‘Hey little Mary, you’re going to grow up and be an international public speaker, a coach, and a podcaster. You’ll be someone who confidently shares her ideas and inspires thousands of people every single week.’ NO WAY, JOSE! No chance.

But over time, that’s who I’ve become.

Wanna hear my secret?

In my mind, to overcome your fear of public speaking, you need to practice (with a whole lotta repetition) these three core things:

  1. Cultivate your courage
  2. Give yourself grace
  3. Own your voice

Let’s simplify that…

1. Cultivate courage to conquer your fear

Doing big, scary things in life means you have to put on your big girl britches and take a bold step forward. Even when it’s scary. (Especially when it’s scary!) Even when you’re not sure where this path is going to take you next.

You feel this internal nudge, this whisper that says, ‘Go on… go for it.’

  • Apply to speak at your industry conference
  • Pitch that big prospective client
  • Visualize yourself taking the TEDx stage and delivering your one big idea to the world…

All of these things require boldness. Not cockiness (because really… who likes to learn from someone who’s cocky??). Instead, courage is the key trait you want to cultivate. And with courage comes confidence.

You come to the table with well-crafted thoughts and ideas, and you believe in your ability to communicate them effectively. Just like a kid learning to ride a bike for the first time, to overcome your fear of public speaking, you must get out of your comfort zone. You must raise your hand in the boardroom, step up onto that stage, and practice your craft (over and over and over again).

Along the way, you will make a ton of mistakes, and you can learn from them quickly. Then, do it all over again. Truly… again and again. Each time, it’ll get easier and easier. Each time, you’ll learn more about yourself and how an audience responds to your style of communicating. You’ll see which jokes land well, and which turn-of-phrases draw blank stares. With repetition, you squash the fear of ‘Yikes! I’m doing something new!!’ and replace it with quiet courage that is growing in strength from within.

Overcome your fear by doing!

In order to cultivate your courage, I want you to do a quick exercise…

  • Google search for ‘call for speakers’
  • Add in your area of expertise
    • If you’re an expert on sales, Google ‘call for speakers sales’
  • Build a list of 10 conferences that look like a match
  • Set a 7-minute timer
  • Brainstorm out various topics that you know backwards and forwards
  • Maybe it’s a big challenge people are facing right now in your industry and you know you’ve got an innovative way to solve it

Write it all down, and begin to create your target list of which conferences and events you’ll pitch yourself in the coming year ahead.

See!

This is you taking simple action towards making things happen and building your courage.

Look at you #DoTheThing!

2. Give yourself grace – everyone has nerves

We think that people who are professional public speakers must never, ever get nervous. We think they’ve got superhuman abilities to memorize their lines. They must have loads of resources at their disposal and were easily voted ‘most popular’ in high school to be where they are now.

Friends, I’m here to tell you… that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the people you admire on-stage are ALL just people. Regular, ‘ol people. Even Oprah. Even Brené or Liz Gilbert or Marie Forleo or Danielle LaPorte. Even me.

We brush our teeth. We wear yoga pants when we lounge at home (and let’s be real, sometimes when we go grocery shopping). We get nervous before we take the stage. No matter how big or small the room is. No matter if we’ve done it a 100 times before. It happens to all of us. So, if you’re feeling like ‘I could NEVER do that’ – just pause on that thought and realize, if you give yourself a little bit of grace right now… you’ll know you can do it.

You will. You are. Each time you communicate with another person, you’re building up your ability to be a public speaker. Each time you learn how to listen deeper (not just waiting to talk), you become a more powerful storyteller.

Each time you speak up in a team meeting, confidently share your ideas, listen with true empathy, or inspire the team to rally around you, you’re doing the thing. You are gracefully growing as a dynamic leader who people want and need to hear from.

Join a public speaking group

If you’re unsure how to take the leap and put yourself out there as a public speaker, consider joining your local chapter of Toastmasters International.

Here you will find others looking to overcome their fear of public speaking, and a safe space to help you practice. By building that repetition and practicing, you build courage. And later, confidence. With a little grace, you’ll get there, too.

3. Own your voice

When you’re just starting out and trying a new skill, whether it’s scuba diving or public speaking, the tendency is to replicate the expert you admire most.

You pick up on their style, their vocal rhythm, their subtle nuances and attempt to parrot it back. This is all fine and dandy when you are finding your feet under you. Match them, wobble about a bit. Try, try, try again. But as soon as you’re up and running, I really want to encourage you to find your own voice along the way.

You are a unique expression of the Divine… remember, there’s never been someone quite like you in the entire existence of humankind. And there never will be, in the future. So, what makes you YOU? That’s your ‘special sauce’ and your essence. Don’t let anyone water it down or get pressured into fitting into a certain box.

Owning your voice means…

  • Knowing what you believe in
  • Knowing what big idea you want to share with the world, and
  • Confidently doing it in a way that feels aligned with the TRUE you, deep down inside

I’m talking about the quirky, funny, deep, imperfect (yet still loving) you that resonates at an incredibly high vibration. The you that needs to be heard and wants to break free.

Complete these phrases…

Set a 7-minute timer and journal out your thoughts to the following statements. Complete these sentences:

  1. My friends describe me as _______.
  2. In my line of work, I’m known for _______.
  3. If I had no limits to my success, I would create ________ next.

Remember, owning your voice starts first with building awareness of who you are, what you believe in and how you want to make a positive impact on the world. And then, taking daily, imperfect action (over and over and over again) to make it happen.

One final whisper

Here are a few quick tips to help you to keep calm, and overcome your fear of public speaking:

  • Wear clothes that make you feel like a million dollars… nothing too clingy, nothing too tight. If you’re pulling and tugging at it constantly… or it’s too tight around the armpits and you’re totally sweating, it’s not the outfit for you. You want to step up into the spotlight, feeling confident and those ‘Dang, I look good!’ vibes emanating from you! That’s what makes you radiant and captivating to others.
  • Drink lots of water and skip the coffee 1 hour beforehand – you don’t need caffeine mixing with your inevitable adrenaline rush during soundcheck. Instead, stay hydrated. And hey, if you love coffee, reward yourself with a cup immediately after your talk.
  • Don’t rely on your slides to carry you… no one enjoys a text heavy slide presentation where the speaker just reads it word-for-word. Instead, make your slide deck image heavy and use that as a visual cue for you to move on to the next learning point you want to share.
  • Think in bullet points and communicate through stories. Ask the audience questions and make things interactive wherever possible. This will help you get your point across in a human way and less mechanical. Less robotic.
  • Remember, Amy Cuddy’s power poses. Before you’re about to go on-stage, change up your physical stance. Shoulders back, hands on hips… it’s time to stand tall like a superhero. This 2-minute exercise changes something in your brain to instantly help you feel more confident, more calm and ready to #dothething.
  • Create a master plan for your talk, kinda like a roadmap. Write it down… What is the core outline of what you want to communicate today? What does success look like for you? What about for the audience member, as in, what do they hope to learn and get out of seeing your talk? Map your talk out (big picture) from start to finish, ensuring you’re covering the major talking points and learning objectives you want to get across. Rehearse, review and let it seep into your every fiber.
  • And then, when you go to deliver the talk and you forget something or you stumble, remember to give yourself grace. It’s in the stumbles where we truly learn, grow, and master the art of public speaking over time.

You can do this, I believe in you.

It’s time to SIMPLIFY.

If this thought of the day inspired you…

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Thank you!

Show credits: Suzen Marie, our Podcast Editor. Jeffrey Lynn, our Video Editor. Lyden and Janine Yardley, our Show Notes Editors. Manminder Athwal, our Blogger. Aubri Nowowiejski, Chris Justice and George Mills, our advisory board. And I’m your host, Mary Baird-Wilcock. Thank you so much for joining us.

As always friends, keep things simple.

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