Let's face it: without the right tools, you can try to overcome your fear of public speaking until the cows come home. Well, the cows have returned, and they have a message: you won't cure your stage fright until you change your thinking.
Part of that is learning how to calm your nerves before speaking. But you need to effect a more profound change in your thinking. Change it in a very simple way, actually. Not necessarily easily. But you already know that 'simple' and 'easy' are not always the same thing. That's all right, though—because succeeding at what you're trying to make easy is what's important, right?
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Here's how to get in the right frame of mind—or as we might say, to turn your fear of speaking on its head!
You're a Wonderful Person . . . But It Ain't About You
Because you're human, you want to do well and be recognized as good at your job. You may even go further and realize that your true task as a speaker is to meet the needs of your audience. If that's where your head is at, you're well along the road to being the right kind of speaker. And you'll always be looking for ways to know how to connect with an audience.
You'll be halfway down the road, perhaps . . . no more. The next step is to perform a magic trick that every serious performer aims for: the artist's disappearing act. That only happens when you can become the performance itself, not your idea of it. Think of a jazz musician, a dancer, or an actor, then add yourself to the group. Artists pour themselves into their art form so that the art pours out of them—there's no longer any difference.
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For you as a speaker or presenter, it's not your art but your message that you must learn to serve. Give everything you have at the moment to getting that message across to your audience, and you too will disappear. Part of that is knowing how to stay fully focused. Since your key message is the thing of value for listeners, they will get what they need. And once they do, you will have become a very successful speaker indeed. Simple.
Here's the Rub, as Hamlet Might Say
The difficulty here, of course, is that it's damnably difficult to cure yourself of the I-want-to-do-well disease. So much so, in fact, that you can lead yourself down the primrose path of good intentions, with predictably bad results.
In other words, you need to think more like a leader. Learn more in my Free cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: 5 Essential Speaking Techniques."
I've seen it time and again in my speech coaching practice. People with fear of speaking will (admirably) grab hold of the skills and techniques best suited for overcoming stage fright. But they have difficulty completing the trick, that is, the actual disappearing.
They'll say, "I won't let the fear take over," or "I'll develop positive coping statements or use visualization." Or, "I'll be sure to breathe the right way so I calm myself just when I need to." The problem here is that every one of those sentences, or others they use, all begin with "I." In other words, they're still front-and-center on stage in their own minds, when it's that message-and-audience-connection that needs to be there.
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Changing the Equation. Truly, if you have speech fright, you need to recognize something larger than yourself. What's needed is a fundamental change of thinking, not just knowing some key techniques (those though help as well). A change in the formula, in other words. Erase the 'you' every time you see it in the speaking equation, replacing it with 'them.'
When you can do this, you will discover that you're focusing on your listeners' needs at every stage of your presentation—from conception to preparation to delivery. It's not easy to learn to leave yourself behind like this for the sake of a great performance. It's just necessary.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.