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Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

One of my favourite books about public speaking is called “The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking”. It is a 1962 rewrite by Dorothy Carnegie of the textbook her late husband Dale Carnegie wrote for his courses called Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.

So in 2021, the ideas originally put forward by Dale Carnegie would be approaching 100 years old. However, like his other moderately well-known book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, it’s amazing how well the principles have stood the test of time. Today I wanted to share four pieces of wisdom from the book with a few notes of my own.

You are not unique in your fear of speaking in public

Back then, Dale Carnegie estimated that around 80 – 90% of people suffer from stage fright. Most relevant modern research focuses on anxiety and public speaking as a source or trigger. Most studies end up at around 70-80% of people having some level of anxiety (ranging from mild to severe) in relation to public speaking.

A certain amount of stage fright is useful

Dale Carnegie pointed out that your heart beating faster and breathing becoming faster were natural responses to preparing for a challenge. He added that the trick is to keep these physiological responses within limits and they will make you capable of thinking faster and speaking with greater intensity.

These days we know a lot more about the science of what is actually happening in your body, but in a nutshell, he was spot on about controlling the severity of the response and directing the energy positively.

Even many professional speakers never lose all stage fright

Dale Carnegie offers one of my favourite lines by saying “Speakers who say they are as ‘cool as a cucumber’ are usually as thick-skinned as a cucumber and about as inspiring.

Many a time I’ve had people speak to me about my classes and say something like “I’m really lucky I don’t have any trouble with public speaking.” Then I hear them speak and they are certainly right about one thing…confidence is not their problem.

The chief cause of your fear is simply that you are unaccustomed to speaking in public

Dale Carnegie points out that for the beginner, learning to speak in public is a complex series of strange situations. He says the best way to make public speaking a joy is to get a record of successful speaking experiences behind you.

Which brings me back full circle to last week’s message. There is no substitute for stage time.

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There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

“I think it’s a fallacy that the harder you practice the better you get. You only get better by playing.” – Buddy Rich

Okay, I don’t think practising is a bad thing. I don’t think that Buddy Rich meant that either. I think what the great jazz drummer meant was that there are some things you can only master on a real stage. Similarly, sports coaches talk about the fact that there is no substitute for game time.

When it comes to public speaking, I certainly learnt that being in an environment where all you do is practise, just makes you great at practising. When it came to the real deal, it was frustrating, but at the same time enlightening, to discover that I was still nervous and anxious after so much time invested.

It was only once I started getting regular experience in front of real audiences, that I gradually became more confident. I learned to manage my physical and mental responses and become more aware of how I was interacting with the audience.

That is essentially how my training is intended to work these days. I give you some tools and strategies and a chance to try them in a safe environment. But then you need to go out and apply them in the real world – evaluate how it went – tweak and re-apply. Keep improving.

Don’t use practising as an excuse to procrastinate or as a crutch to convince yourself you are doing something, when deep down you know you’ve reached the point where you need to play to a real crowd to get better.

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Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

“Reciting lines is hard; making stuff up is much, much easier.” – Zach Galifianakis

I’m not sure about the context that Zach Galifianakis said this in but let me be clear, when I chose this quote I wasn’t thinking that you should literally make stuff up. However, I am a big fan of not necessarily knowing exactly what words are going to come out when you get up to speak.

Speaking is not acting. If you are going to script everything in order to get on stage or in front of a camera, you also need to learn to emote while recalling and reciting lines, and do it in a way that is believable i.e. acting. Personally, I am no Leo DiCaprio so trying to do that is fraught with danger – likewise for the 99.9% of people who aren’t skilled actors.

Reading is not speaking. When you read from a teleprompter app on your device it comes across exactly like you are reading from a teleprompter app on your device. Likewise, when you read from notes in front of an in-person audience, it may get you through the experience without messing anything up, but it is a huge barrier to connecting with those people.

What to do instead

For a start, if you’re not speaking from a position of knowledge you shouldn’t be there. If you’re not speaking on a topic you care about, you shouldn’t be there. Speak from the heart and speak from knowledge (or skill or experience or all of the above).

Know what you want to talk about but don’t get hung up on the exact words.

For a pre-prepared presentation, preparation should include organising your points and info so they flow. It should not include writing it out word-for-word.

For truly impromptu situations, have a system for organising your points in your mind.

Having said all that…

Come to think of it, I don’t agree with Zach Galifianakis. Speaking without reciting lines or reading is not easy at all. If it was, everyone would be able to stand up, or go in front of a camera, and speak naturally and confidently.

But not many people can because it’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable.

That’s exactly why if you can learn to do it and get comfortable, you will stand out – because you will exude genuine authenticity, trustworthiness and authority.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

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Should I be worried when I am described as ‘professional’?

Should I be worried when I am described as ‘professional’?

Should I be worried when I am described as ‘professional’?

I used to have a boss who taught me to look a little deeper whenever somebody described our company as “very professional”.

Why? Surely that’s a positive thing, right?

Well, yes, being professional means that you did everything right, there were no mistakes and everything was flawless. Most people would be happy with that.

Then again, someone like a hitman would also be stoked with that definition of their work.

When you are in the business of giving people experiences or dealing with them at a personal level, you want to make sure that ‘professional’ doesn’t mean clinical.

You should also be asking…

Were they engaged?

Did they feel heard and recognised?

Did they get what they needed from the experience emotionally and mentally?

Thankfully, most of the time when I look a little deeper, people are having meaningful experiences. It’s often more a case of them not being very creative with language so they just go with “very professional”. However, it’s always worth checking in with them.

Photo by Tommy Roca from Pexels

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Workers are Not Your Punching Bag

Workers are Not Your Punching Bag

Workers are Not Your Punching Bag

A couple of weeks ago the whole family had been out on Friday evening at various activities. Once everyone was finished, we decided to call into Macca’s on the way home and get dessert.

My daughter wasn’t sure what she wanted so we went inside to order on the touch screen. While we were there, there was a situation unfolding at the counter. From what I could figure out, a group had caused an issue in the drive-thru and been refused service. Rather than leave, they parked and rang the store and abused the Duty Manager who hung up on them, and now one of them had come inside to continue the argument in person.

So we had someone about 50 years of age unloading on a kid of about 19.

Having placed our order, my kids and I were waiting as things really began to escalate with language such as “You have no idea who I am. You should be very scared.”

Now, I have to tell you that if I was alone I probably would have jumped in before this point – as I have done plenty of times in the past. But when the kids are with me I exercise a bit more caution.

However, this was one of those moments of truth where I had to weigh up having my children see me get involved in a confrontation versus modelling what’s right. After all, one of the things we encourage in them is “Be an upstander not a bystander.” Plus, if it was happening to my child at work, I would hope somebody would back them up.

So, my kids witnessed me publicly confront a bully.

Was it something I wanted them to see? No.

Was it something they needed to see under the circumstances? I believe so. I don’t want them thinking that that sort of behaviour is normal and that it is just part of life when you work in customer service.

According to the retail and hospitality union, SDA, over 85% of workers are being abused while at work. That’s not ok.

The world has a lot of problems at the moment. We are in a mental health crisis as it is. If we are any chance of healing our society, I think it begins with setting certain standards of behaviour towards others in our everyday interactions and not tolerating abusive behaviour when we see it.

I should point out that I didn’t abuse this person in return or get personal with them. That wouldn’t help. I confronted them about their behaviour and firmly told them why it was wrong. They initially tried to get personal with me but I stuck to my point, and they gave in pretty quickly and left.

What if I can’t intervene in a situation directly?

If you think you might be in physical danger by directly intervening in a situation, DON’T DO IT. If someone is violent, or violence is a real possibility, call the police or security (if you are in a place that has security officers on duty).

If the abuse is verbal only but you just don’t have the confidence to intervene directly, there are other things you can do. For example, maybe walk up to the counter and ask a question as a distraction. Or, simply stick around at a safe distance until it’s over then offer your support to the person who has been abused.

Whatever you do, just don’t let it slide and don’t assume someone else will help.

Contact David Wise

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