What’s your earliest memory of public speaking?
Mine was a disaster – one that left me speechless for years to come.
My First Presentation
When I was really young (I honestly don’t remember), my Biology teacher assigned us the task of presenting something we had learned to the class. The idea of presenting in front of the 20 other kids in my class made me incredibly nervous and just the thought made my heart beat like hummingbird wings.
Over the course of the two weeks we had to prepare, my fear got worse. With every day that went by, I let it grow in my head; the fear of getting stuck, forgetting my words, everyone thinking I am stupid.
When the big day came, I sat on my cold wooden chair in the classroom and waited, rocking back and forth. I was so nervous that I couldn’t listen to any of the other speakers; I was trapped worrying about when it would be my turn.
And then, I heard my name.
I stood up, knees shaking, cheeks blushing a bright, beetroot red. Standing in front of the whole room, it began to blur…
I tried to speak, but no words would come out. In fact, there were no words in my head at all – I had gone blank.
After some time, I put my head down, focused hard on my sheet of notes, and read them out loud, word for word, as fast as I could.
It was an experience that made me swear to never do public speaking again.
So, How Did I Get Here?
You may be wondering how someone who so vehemently hated public speaking now heads up the Speaker Express team. We believe that anyone can fall in love with public speaking – and I am testament to that!
Over the years since my first experience of public speaking, my learning and opinions grew, and I wanted to share how I felt with the world. But I couldn’t, because of my real fear for communicating openly.
I tried taking up a public speaking training course to get over my fear – but I didn’t improve, at all.
No External Technique Will Help You Internally
It took some real introspection to understand my problem, and why my training hadn’t worked: no external technique can fix an internal problem.
My problem was negative thinking. In any attempt at public speaking, I allowed myself to worry, criticise, and focus on the worst possible scenarios.
This is one of the most common problems with amateur public speakers, and it can easily be dealt with…
Quell Your Inner Demons
The method I use to counteract my negative thinking is quite simple. I personify my thoughts.
We all have empowering thoughts, and disempowering thoughts. So get in your head, and try this:
- Start noticing when you have negative thoughts, and assign them to a character
- Similarly, when you have positive thoughts, assign these to another character
For me, my negative thoughts are personified by cat woman. She is pointed, judgemental, malicious. And for every attack that cat woman launches, she is met by a positive force: my unicorn. Pure, encouraging, and free, my inner unicorn will always send her scurrying into the shadows.
Who could these two characters be for you?
Find Your Inner Strength
We all create imaginary monsters in our minds, but as we grow, it’s important to realise that these aren’t real. Just like the boogey man, a hostile audience is something we make up and fear. It’s something we must overcome in our own minds, and we can do so with the help of positive characters and positive thinking.
Over the years, I have practiced this technique alongside practicing my public speaking.
I even entered a speaking competition in 2013, where I found myself being overtaken by my own students! Before cat woman could pop up and criticise my skills, especially as a teacher, my unicorn came to the rescue. These students had learned from me, and went on to truly excel at something they used to worry about.
That was a much more positive lesson, and one I truly enjoy seeing with everyone I tutor.
5 Tips to Reduce Negative Thinking
- Recognise your negative thoughts. The first step to reducing negative thinking is to catch yourself doing it.
- Personify your thoughts. Give your negative thoughts a character, and similarly give your positive thoughts a character that can vanquish the negative. Mine come from films, but yours could be books characters, animals, or something completely different.
- Vanquish negative thoughts with positive thinking. Psychologists recognise that we cannot eliminate negative thoughts, but the ideal ratio is almost 3:1. For every negative thought you have, can you think of three positive ones?
- Make the distinction between real and fake. Many of our negative thoughts are exaggerated or simply untrue, especially when we face a fear. Try to rationalise your thoughts, and you will start reducing their frequency and potency.
- Value your positive experiences. The final, and very important step, is to recognise when you have positive experiences. These memories can ward off future negative thoughts and fears, so be sure to enjoy them and internalise them. These will help you to build your confidence too!
Personal note from Annik:
Creating this blog has really helped me to make peace with the TEDx talk I did in 2013. This was just at the beginning of my speaking journey and the content I put together at the time REALLY made me cringe for years to come AND one person even clicked ‘thumbs down’ on YouTube. Unbelievable. Today, I use this talk to teach people the concept of:
- Start before you THINK you are READY!
- Give yourself permission to be sh** at first as that’s your baseline for continuous improvement. (…but also remember, what you consider mediocre someone else might really like and celebrate you for.)
- Get married so you can change your name and people don’t find embarrassing talks about you on YouTube 😉.
Keep the momentum and join 2,000 other professional & aspiring speakers in the Speaker Express Facebook group here or join our free training taking your through The Speakers’ Method, our proven way to grow your speaking business.
We are looking forward working with you or meeting you at one of our events.
To your speaking, Elliot & Annik x