Public Speaking makes people very nervous. Jerry Seinfeld famously joked that most people would rather be in the casket than speaking at their own funeral. And, it makes sense. Public speaking is dangerous! Look at what happens to people who get noticed by the group! Jesus, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, the list goes on. So, if you're afraid of public speaking that's understandable. But, at some point, if you want to succeed, you will probably have to speak up.
So, here's an exercise I've given to a lot of my top C-Level executive coaching clients, and to rooms full of people, in countries all over the world. It makes a huge difference for them and their public speaking, and it will make a huge difference for you, if you take it on.
The surprising thing most people never think about.
I'm on my way to a party and I stop to get a cup of coffee and then I spill some coffee on my super nice shirt. And, I don't have time to go home and change, so i show up at the party, make a beeline for the bathroom, try to wash the stain out and now i've got a big water spot on my shirt. So, I walk around the party awkwardly trying to hide the spot on my shirt thinking, "I hope no one notices the big water spot on my shirt. Oh, I should have gone home and changed. Blah, blah blah."
Meanwhile, no one notices the stain on my shirt because they're all walking around thinking, "I'm having a bad hair day... I hope no one notices how silly my hair looks... Blah, blah, blah."
The point is that I'm so worried about what they think of me that I never stop to consider that they're just as worried about what I think of them!
You see, who is nervous about? I get blank looks for a second when I ask this, but think about it... Who is nervous about? It's all about you! You being worried about what they think of you. You being worried about whether or not you'll do a good job. You being worried about you.
Stop being so narcissistic.
Okay, I admit that there is a very good, positive side to being concerned about what others think of you. You're self aware, you care about the impact you have on others. That's all good. But, when it comes to public speaking it gets counterproductive very quickly. So, here's the exercise that has dramatically changed the executive presence of many of the people with whom I work. It's an easy exercise and it might just change your life.
The mental Jiu Jitsu exercise: stop and breathe.
Step one: from now on, whenever you enter a room with one or more people in it we are calling it a party; whether it's work, a meeting, home, or anywhere there are other people, that is now called a party.
Step two: whenever you are about to enter a party I want you to stop, just before you go in, and notice that you're worried about what people will think of you. It's normal, it's human, it's okay. Now, before you enter the party, leave that outside the door. And, here is what you do, instead: Put everyone in the room at ease. Instead of worrying about what they think of you... Let them know you think they're okay.
Of course, people ask me, "who am I to be letting other people know I think they're okay?" Well, who are you not to be? The bottom line is that it is just the better alternative.
Here is a strategy to help you put this into practice.
FORD: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. Ask people about their family, their occupation, their recreation and their dreams and then listen and actually be interested. That will let them know you think they're OK. It will let them know you're interested in them. And, as they share with you, acknowledge them, ask to hear more about their victories and keep letting go of any worries you have about what anyone else thinks of you.
The most excellent results.
First of all, life gets more interesting, relaxing and fun. Then, after you practice this for a while, getting on stage becomes a lot more interesting, relaxing and fun, too. It's not like your butterflies go away completely, that wouldn't be good, anyway. What does happen, though, is that you get a whole new ability to shift your attention off of yourself and being nervous and over to the audience and being present with them. It takes attention, but it's simple. It will make you a notably better speaker and leader, and it will definitely make being at any party a lot better.