This is an open letter to all the public speaking gurus, coaches, experts and mystics. Ignore at your own peril.
Time and time again do the most obvious and not-so-sexy things get ignored and go unreported by you public speaking bigwigs. Well I’m not gonna stand for it any longer!
Specifically, it’s the advice you give to those wanting to overcome the pesky public speaking fear.
Here’s an example of what goes on behind the scenes:
Aspiring speaker: "I want to overcome the fear of public speaking!” [Seeks out public speaking guru]
Public Speaking Guru: "If I tell him what actually works, I’ll sound like a simpleton…[scratches head]...Hmm, what can I say that makes me sound like an expert?”
If you just told the people what actually freaking works, the world would be a hell of a lot better off.
I get it. The simple stuff is not sexy. It doesn’t get the clicks, the attention, and it sure as hell doesn’t attract the Clinton Foundation donors. The truth is that simple, unheralded techniques are often the easiest to explain and not to mention the most effective advice you can offer.
Why muddy the waters with complicated jargon or mysticism in order to sound like you know WTF you’re talking about? You don’t. Let’s get that out of the way right now...Okay, okay, okay...maybe you do. And if that’s the case, start acting like it!
I’m going to set the precedent by giving advice with no ulterior motives. You ready? You’ve got not choice 'cuz I'm going for it.
What Advice Are You Talking About, Matt?
Here is just some of the advice I’ve seen disseminated throughout the interwebs which is no bueno for a tyro (look it up):
- Meditation or rigorous mental preparation. It's not that it doesn't work, it’s that it is too damn soon...
- You’ll say things like, "Just imagine the audience is cheering for you. They want you to succeed.” Yeah, that’s gonna help someone in a death-defying situation, especially one they’ll be experiencing for the first time.
- And sometimes it’s what you leave out! In an attempt to avoid scaring off a potential instant gratification client, you’ll omit that some of the best methods for overcoming the fear of public speaking are experience and time.
- "Look at their foreheads! That way you don't have to look into their beady little eyes. It's like they're not even there!” Oh boy. You’re probably justifying it to yourself now, “It’s CIA misdirectional voodoo where you simultaneously fool yourself and the audience members at the same time. HiYaaaaa!!” Sure thing, Mr. Expert...
Why Do Mystical Methods & Jargon Suck?
First I’m going to show you why they won't work for a new speaker. Let’s look at what is going through the mind of a public speaking sacrificial lamb:
- "Remember my lines, remember my lines, remember my lines...Don’t forget my lines, don’t forget my lines, don’t forget my lines. Ah crap, I forgot 'em.”
- Intense anxiety to the extent that someone merely saying “hi” during the moments before their speech can drain mental resources.
- Body physically tense. Difficulty relaxing. (Neck, shoulders, jaw, legs, hands, etc.)
- Self-conscious thoughts. “What will they think?”
- Self-doubt. The internal critic starts with the negativity bias; that is, focusing on all the evidence (past failures) as to why they’ll fail again.
- Dealing with dry mouth, leading them toward more self-conscious thoughts.
- Thinking about which famous motivational speaker they’re going to imitate.
- And so many more consuming and self-sabotaging thoughts...
As you can see, there's soooo much going on in the mind of a newborn speaker. It's not practical to unload on them a bunch of fancy schmancy techniques—you'll push them to the brink.
You're Not All Bad, Though...
I try to be objective, so I will offer up a little credit on your behalf. You do, on occasion, whether by accident or not, give some good advice. Below are examples of your best work:
- Thoroughly prepare! Though, effectiveness of certain types of preparation is questionable such as reciting speech while in front of the mirror.
- You’ll tell them to speak about something they know and care about. Spot on!
See how simple that is? So simple. So beautifully precise. Keep that up, okay?
The Simple Foundation Of What DOES Work
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to list the goods. So what if it’s not spicy or clickbait? It works. Isn't that what matters most?
Here are a few simple techniques that a new speaker must be made aware of to axe their anxiety:
- Above all, one must BREATHE. Explain that deep breathing helps calm the body down by slowing the heart rate, and that this relaxed state lessens the mental taxation which hampers the ability to consciously think. Simple, effective, and backed by science and stuff.
- The RIGHT topic. To ease anxiety, encourage the terrified speaker to talk about a subject that they are knowledgeable and/or passionate about. This requires no special instructions, which will only add to the stress level. Perfect.
- Preparation. This means the speaker should give herself enough time to practice and get familiar with the content. Could mean weeks, could mean months, but make sure there is time. When one is confident about the material, nervousness is unable to gain a totalitarian state over the mind.
- Sleep. Eat. Relax. These deal with physical comfort. Rest up. Eat enough to get the energy needed to battle nerves. On the day of the speech, one should take it easy by avoiding activities that drain the mind (politics, drama, busy work, things that piss you off, etc.).
- Have a goal. Either a deeper goal (financial or other), or a simpler, straightforward one ("get through the classroom presentation to pass my final”).
Look, you’re the experts and I find it improbable that you don't know the fundamentals that work.
I hope that, in your chase of becoming the newest and freshest, with the latest and wildest ideas in an attempt to stand out, you don't lose sight of helping those that need it.
At the very least, save the mystical junk for LATER, you know, when they’ve had enough experience with the simple stuff first.
Matt Kramer (A slightly irritated public speaking junkie)
Please share this so all the Public Speaking Oligarchs get the message!
About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life and it can change yours, too. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.