A Speaking Fear Relaxation Exercise That Really Works
So many public speaking fear exercises out there… which one to choose and which one is right for you?
A solution feels like a good fit when it exactly addresses the specific problem. In other words, you don’t just have anxiety, you have “public speaking anxiety”. If you apply a generic formula, you’ll get a generic result, one that’s just not quite right for you. So you abandon it and lump it in with all the other failed solutions.
I’m a specialist public speaking coach and I introduce my clients to a mindful breath technique I’ve developed for nervous public speakers. It works for speaking nerves and it works for dinner with your mother in law. It works whether you are a coach, therapist or CEO.
Breathe Your Way To Inner Calm
I call this special mindful breath technique, dum de dum daa: The Inner Calm Exercise. Below is a short MP3 audio recording of my voice and a quirky home-made video on how to breathe your way to inner calm with this public speaking relaxation exercise that really works.
Simply click the “Play” triangle below and you’ll hear me talk you through it. Make sure you turn up your sound button.
The Inner Calm Exercise MP3:
The Inner Calm Exercise Is The “Hit” of Every Workshop
It’s such an effective technique I offer it free to everyone. It’s the “hit” of my retreats, workshops and private coaching. Years later, clients contact me to exclaim over how it’s still changing their life. They use it before speaking, to help them go to sleep, to help them wake up and focus, to deal with moments of overwhelm and with difficult conversations of life.
And here’s a short training video demonstrating how to do it:
Public Speaking Fear Begone and Stay Gone!
To enjoy the full benefits, I recommend you practice it every day for 6 weeks and continue to use it on a regular basis. Pretty soon, your body and mind begin to associate mindfully taking a breath in and out, with taking emotional control. Make Inner Calm a daily habit and find a way to make it part of your daily routine.
If you prefer to have step by step help to stay on track with learning this new habit, try my Online Course called Confidence & Connection. It’s a 43 page eBook covering weekly public speaking confidence exercises to make your public speaking fear begone! It includes MP3 recordings of visualisation exercises to help you speak with ease and authenticity. More information on using the Inner Calm exercise is included.
Now you can take a big breath in… and out. Finally, a public speaking relaxation exercise that really works.
I’ve just returned from my annual silent meditation retreat and once more am reminded just how naughty is the mind and flighty are the emotions! I know I’ll do anything to get out of sitting in meditation sometimes. A cup of tea is suddenly vitally important. Or perhaps the garden needs weeding. Anything really, to avoid the discipline of intentionally doing nothing but observing in silence and stillness. Geez, I’m not making an attractive case for meditation am I?
And yet, I return, again and again to this ever changing, vital practise. Because deep down, I know, it’s good for me on every level. Actually I love it, I just need a reminder of it’s WOW Factor now and again which is why I go to an annual retreat. Sort of like a “top up” to my personal practise.
Anyway, as a result of years of meditation I realised that a deep relaxation practise brings sooooo many benefits including calming nerves and clarity of mind. Gosh! Perfect for nervous public speakers!
Inner Calm is a 6 minute relaxation exercise I developed specifically for nervous public speakers and those who want to speak with greater clarity, presence and authenticity. Because when you are comfortable in your own silence, you can hear your Inner Voice. That’s your authentic voice, the one that gets ignored and forgotten. And it’s the one you can trust and the one that others truly want to hear.
Many people who avoid public speaking are fearful of their physiological response to fear, not the act of public speaking itself. In reaction to any kind of fear, threat, anxiety or stress, our bodies may respond with:
A pounding heart and pulse, sweating or trembling, scattered or racing thoughts, unable to think logically,
nausea or a feeling of passing out, desire to sleep or, run away, racing thoughts, often negative or anxious,
feeling surreal, disconnected or a blank mind, anger, agitation, aggression or panic and overwhelm.
These are commonly reported reactions to public speaking. They are also the same symptoms of panic, fear, stress and anxiety. To spend your life avoiding public speaking because of a fear of these symptoms is like shooting the messenger.
The good news is you can change your old fear habit by changing your psychological and physiological responses. I’ve created specially designed relaxation and visualisation tools to help you tap into your inner speaker. These include Calm Barometer(mentioned in a previous post) and the Inner Calm Exercise.
Inner Calm Exercise
To take control of speaking nerves and restore calm and clarity, simply practise the 6-minute mindfulness exercise, “Inner Calm” every day to build a habit of inner calm. It will help you to:
Manage nerves when you are about to speak or present
Gain an accurate insight of your current stress level
Get “out of your head and into your body”
Ground and centre yourself in your purpose
Think and articulate clearly with a coherent flow
Be focused, present and connected for the “big moments” in your life.
How To Begin
Begin by reading through the Inner Calm Exercise below and listen to my MP3 recording to hear how it’s done. This exercise simply involves counting the breath evenly from “1 to 10” for 3 rounds. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably and won’t be disturbed.
“Close your eyes, rest your hands in your lap, put your feet on the floor and let your body sink down into the chair. Take a light, even breath from your chest. Release gently. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Take another light, even breath in and release it slowly on the out breath. Feel your body sink deeper into the chair, knowing it supports you. Know there is nothing else you need to do right now and nowhere else you need to go.
Now we begin the Inner Calm exercise by counting the breath evenly from 1 to 10… and we’ll do that 3 times…
Mindfully breathing in, 1, Mindfully breathing out, 1.
Mindfully breathing in, 2, Mindfully breathing out, 2.
Mindfully breathing in, 3, Mindfully breathing out, 3.
Mindfully breathing in, 4, Mindfully breathing out, 4.
Mindfully breathing in, 5, Mindfully breathing out, 5.
Mindfully breathing in, 6, Mindfully breathing out, 6.
Mindfully breathing in, 7, Mindfully breathing out, 7.
Mindfully breathing in, 8, Mindfully breathing out, 8.
Mindfully breathing in, 9, Mindfully breathing out, 9.
Mindfully breathing in, 10, Mindfully breathing out, 10.
And now, take a natural breath in and out, no need to count it, and acknowledge that you have completed “1 round.”
Repeat counting the breath from “1 to 10”, twice more…
And now to finish, I invite you to take a light, even, uncounted breath to complete the Inner Calm exercise. Become aware of your body sitting in the chair. Feel your feet on the floor and stretch out your toes. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Notice any changes from when you began… Bring your awareness to the present moment, take a light breath in and out, open your eyes, stretch your body, and know you carry Inner Calm wherever you go.“
While you are doing this exercise silently in your mind, you may find your mind wanders. This is perfectly normal. Just gently bring your mind back to “1” and begin again. Don’t make a guess and start at “5” to get through the exercise faster! The more your mind wanders, the more scattered you are feeling. The more you are able to count your breaths from “1 to 10” in a complete round, the more inner calm you are feeling. Please know you cannot fail this exercise. You can only learn more about yourself, your current state of calm and how much control you have over changing it.
How did you go? Practise every day for long term results, insights and personal growth.
I bet you are wondering where “flirt” comes into it and whether it involves batting your eye lashes at a big bad audience? Well… it can!
Unless you are up with social psychology, you may have only heard of the Flight Or Fight Response. Fear is now deemed far more complicated than that and like all good moderns, multi-tasks under pressure! So you can now add “Flirt and Freeze” to “Flight and Fight.”
And of course it is that perceived pressure or threat which activates this ancient response. Trouble is, once adrenaline is released in the body, it triggers a series of responses designed to keep you safe. These responses are similar in all animals and tend to follow the sequence of freeze, flight and fight.
Perception Of Threat – Flirt Freeze Flight Fight Response
In the wide spectrum of phobias and fears, public speaking still ranks in the top 3. If you don’t suffer from public speaking fear or avoidance, no matter; you still have the Flight Or Fight Response.
Anything you perceive as a threat triggers this response and can include: being confronted with a daily mountain of paperwork, a drunken yobbo at 2am or a speech in front of 5,000 people. Anything that gets your heart racing, voice shaking or temperature rising.
Interestingly, your brain does not discern a difference between being mugged or introducing yourself as a newbie at a meeting. If you perceive that either or both these things are a threat, then your body will respond accordingly – just doing it’s job really.
The Flirt Response
In our sophisticated modern world, the suggestively named Flirt Response can have greater success than freeze, flight or fight. The “Flirt Response” could also be called “Play” or “Fawn” and refers to behaviour that distracts the threat through helpfulness, silliness or attractiveness. It downgrades your status to “no perceived threat.” Very useful survival tactic for avoiding confrontation, aggression or even rejection. It’s often seen as “sucking up” and works really well in certain situations. I remember using this one as a child when confronted with bullies.
The body language of the Flirt Response includes: taking up less room, softening vocal tone and volume and diminishing body presence. Conversely if safe enough, hair tossing, lip licking, lots of wide-open mouthed laughter and smiling, increased physical closeness, extended open-eyed contact and “cheeky” playful comments to test the boundaries.
The Freeze Response
The degree of freezing relates to the degree of perceived threat and can look like “playing dead” or “hiding in plain sight.” This response is designed to reduce the attention that movement attracts. Freezing is useful initially as it provides opportunity to assess a situation before deciding to flee, flight or flirt. However if you are speaking in public, freezing for too long is not a success strategy. Turn it into a pause and intentionally use it to gather your thoughts and kickstart equilibrium.
The body language of the Freeze Response includes: a frozen posture with stiffened or locked up muscles, reduced, awkward or “mis-timed” gestures, wide eyes, hands covering the face, flushing, holding the breath or tentative steps. The voice may also rise up in an uncertain tone, be soft or even seem to disappear (throat muscles tight and saliva reduced). The best way to counter freezing when speaking is to take some kind of ACTION like drinking some water, checking your notes, taking a breath and intentionally making eye contact with someone supportive. By unlocking your breath and muscles you restore flow.
The Flight Response
“Run away to fight another day” is a wonderful survival strategy. However, it doesn’t look too good or help to build interpersonal communication skills if you simply “take off” in the middle of a speech or conversation. So if a situation is something you are wiling to face, notice your body language and shift it toward commitment to tell your body/mind that you are staying not fleeing. Turn with full engagement, lift and open your face, take a “I can handle it” stance, breathe and clear your mind!
The body language of the Flight Response reveals our desire to flee by subtle direction changes that indicate we wish or intend to vamoose! We reorient our bodies (notice your feet and shoulders) toward doorways or exit paths. Interestingly, if you have ever felt bored or badgered by someone at a party, hallway or street corner and you don’t wish to continue the conversation, you will shift your body toward escaping. This often looks like a side-on turn with greatly reduced eye contact and vocal response. “Uh huh”… eyes flick… feet slide away. You see it clearly in children who want to get away from you!
The Fight Response
Generally, people and animals will choose to fight only as a final resort. It often begins as a display of anger. Anger occurs when we perceive our boundaries have been crossed or threatened. I have seen public speakers get angry with their audience. My my, don’t try this at home or in public because it just doesn’t work; your listeners are likely to first go into their own freeze response, then flight or even fight (think of hecklers in a group).
The body language of the Fight Response includes a tense, prepared stance, a lifted chin, clenched fists, fixed and narrowed eyes, heavier breathing and a taunting, clipped tone or even no words at all if all sense has the building. If you are going to fight make sure it’s for a good cause. If it’s inappropriate, well you just might want to literally take a step back. Break your habitual body/mind anger pattern by moving differently. Restore an even breath, pause and focus on your purpose in speaking, not your temporary egoic reaction.
Yeah I know, easy for me to say, writing this all snuggled up in my cute home office. But believe me, when I’ve had a combo of PMT and unwilling workshop participants who want to make a scene, I’ve had to pull out all stops to remember “Hey! I’m a Professional!”, even though I sure as hell didn’t feel it while my fingers were curling.
Restore Equilibrium With The Relaxation Response
Restore equilibrium through activating your Relaxation Response, the antidote to the Flight or Fight Response. Try breathing evenly (“in two, three; out, two, three”) taking action and applying logical thinking. Your body/mind will downgrade the threat level and your fear, anxiety or nerves will calm. This means your muscles relax, your eyes stop darting about, your breath slows and your mind becomes calm and able to process multiple sources of information. You can see how useful knowing how to restore equilibrium is for communicating with ease and under pressure!
Speaking Is Powerful
Words and ideas are powerful and can be just as threatening and fear-provoking as physical violence. Remember what happened in the middle ages when the Catholic Church felt threatened by the notion that earth was NOT the centre of the universe? People were killed for even suggesting it.
When you speak in public you are taking on the mantle of leadership in that moment, whether it’s the dinner table or a stadium of 50,000. Be aware of the responsibility of expressing your words and ideas. And be aware of your right to express them and be seen and heard. Do your best to not trample or infringe on the rights of others. And finally, be aware of your personal reaction to fear or threat and take the steps to handling it. You will be on your way to confidently taking on the world. Taa daa!
I tend to give “difficult” people like “Know It Alls, Power Players and Drama Queens” in the audience a long rope unless the integrity or safety of the group is threatened. Handle each challenging situation from the start with strong boundaries and agreements and model your expectations of the group with your own behaviour. The group will be watching you closely to see how you handle things. There is no neat solution and “difficult” is in the eye of the beholder. Here’s how I handled 3 different situations:
Example 1: Drama Queens In The Audience
During a workshop on selling from the platform, one participant came in late, took a mobile phone call when she sat down, started explaining why she was late, asked if anyone wanted a throat lozenge and even knocked over her water bottle. Throughout the workshop she kept shaking her head and sighing melodramatically with numerous toilet breaks and requests for information to be repeated. Which she then proceeded not to listen to but tried to change. I considered she was not genuinely distressed but had mistaken the workshop for her lounge room. In both breaks I asked her privately if she was ok. Her mysterious response was to nod without speaking, would not look me in the eye, turned her back and walked away. She appeared to want attention publicly, and then rejected it when it was offered privately. As Facilitator, I chose compassionate damage control primarily by redirecting audience attention with my body language and authoritive directions. I also gave her a couple of public opportunities for attention which she then spurned. This minimised distraction for other participants as they then saw she did not pose a threat to learning and kept the workshop flowing smoothly. Our Drama Queen added a learning opportunity for us all as well as a giggle.
Example 2: Know It All Attempting A Take-Over
In a small group of 20 business owners who had come to learn about communicating with presence, one man had an answer to every question, even rhetorical ones! Soon I started saying: “Now this is just something I want you to think about silently… to yourself…” but he still felt his thoughts were worthy of sharing. Other participants were starting to sigh, eyes began to roll and bodies shifted away from him. I hadn’t shut him down immediately because his contributions were interesting and I wanted to encourage interaction… but too much from one person becomes dominating and the group can become confused as to who is the actual leader. It was me or him. When he next tried to butt in and talk over me, I gently put my hand up in a soft “stop” position, said abruptly: “One moment please” and turned my body away from him and faced the rest of the group. I then finished my words and directly engaged other participants to tip the balance of energy and power… by saying something like… “Mary… what are your thoughts about…?” After that I continued to respectfully acknowledge him in the same way I did everyone else… and we both settled down with egos intact and the group stayed on track.
Example 3: Power Player Dominating Her Group
Within a small group brainstorming session, one woman ignored my directions and took command of a group of inexperienced young people she had chosen to join. She loudly took centre stage, reassigned roles and changed the focus of the exercise. Five other groups were working cohesively around the room with a flurry of conversation and the smell of texta pens in the air. Her group however was quiet, bodies drooped, participants sat far apart and all texta pens and paper were exclusively under her control. Rather than embarrass or confront her by redirecting her in front of the others, I apologised privately for making a mistake. I explained that each group needed diversity in age and experience and so I had asked 2 confident and more senior participants to switch to Ms Power Play’s group and invited 2 younger ones to leave. This totally changed the dynamic, destroyed her budding power base and restored momentum to the exercise. And I’m happy to report, everyone then got a fair go with the textas and “power” was restored to all.
Keep in mind that challenging people like drama queens in the audience, are a great learning opportunity and in the minority; perhaps 5% of any group or audience. I’ve often found the other 95% valued the presentation more because of what they learned from observing the interplay of power, drama and watching how you handled it as Facilitator.
Boardroom presentations offer you an opportunity to develop intestinal fortitude and emotional intelligence. And neither appears on the Meeting Agenda. There’s a lot you can learn beneath the surface – about yourself and others.
If you don’t know how to stand your ground and make yourself heard in the boardroom, one of the most intimidating of public places to speak, you will quickly become it’s casualty. When intimidated, my clients have reported the following feelings:
• A sense of being made small or reduced in value;
• Wondering if they are wearing a Cloak Of Invisibility;
• Anger and in danger of saying something they’ll later regret;
• A drop in esteem and creeping self doubt.
Feeling intimidated can happen to the most confident of people. Learning to be less influenced by the behaviours of people around you, allows you to stand your ground with greater ease.
For many people, access to the Boardroom is like being invited into a secret, powerful society. It has a mystique about it… but that doesn’t mean you have to believe it! These people are often perceived as the cool in-crowd at school. Your beliefs about your worthiness to be accepted may be influencing your feelings of intimidation or sense of welcome ease.
Let’s take a moment now to redesign your boardroom presentations experience. Which of the following appeal to you the most?
• You are always greeted and acknowledged at the start and finish.
• You feel included in the groups’ eye contact, body language and conversation.
• When it’s your turn to speak, you feel heard.
• You are treated with respect and rarely interrupted or reduced.
• The group is prepared to action or discuss your proposal.
• Anything you’d like to add?
OK, so now you know what you want. Next, follow these 6 steps to make it happen:
Prepare and think through your boardroom presentations. Be clear about your purpose, outcomes and benefits. Anticipate possible objections and create counter arguments or alternatives. If you have considerable material, email to the other members in advance. Develop a good relationship with the chairperson, or even better, be the chairperson!
Dress well. If you look good, you’ll feel good. Do not wear revealing or inappropriate clothing. Humans make judgements of each other in less than 6 seconds.
Walk into the room with your head high and without hesitation, initiate gentle eye contact and acknowledge others politely. Take a seat beside those you feel an affinity or who are positively influential.
Claim your space at the table. Don’t allow yourself to be elbowed out by other’s paraphernalia or presence. Take slow, deep breaths, ground yourself though the floor, relax your hands and avoid fidgeting.
When it’s your turn to speak, pause, take a breath, make soft eye contact with one another person and succinctly outline your subject, purpose and it’s relevance in less than 2 minutes. Engage their interest by explaining what’s in it for them, outlining an outcome or benefit. Be clear about what is needed from them to make it happen. If people don’t know what to do they are more likely to say “no” without even thinking about it.
At the end of the meeting, arrange to connect with your allies to continue the conversation or project with the aim of building relationships. Always follow through with what you say you will do. The next time you enter the boardroom, you will have gained at least one new relationship and you’ll automatically feel more confident.
Many of my clients find it useful to visualise a powerful, immovable object that cannot be ignored or bullied, like a huge tree with spreading roots and limbs or a venerable mountain or a deep, calm lake. When they summon up the qualities inside themselves of that powerful, timeless, immovable tree, mountain or lake, they cannot be intimidated.
Try creating a simple visualisation for yourself before your next meeting and you too may become a force of nature in the boardroom.
When we stand up and speak in front of others, we want to be seen, heard and remembered. Otherwise, what is the point of public speaking?
While you can control yourself, you can’t control much else. If you find yourself in difficult speaking environments like noisy cafes, how can you keep the attention of your audience, when:
• Crash goes the coffee machine;
• Waitresses pass back and forth;
• People seem more interested in their bacon than you;
• Listeners are scattered over lots of tables and want to chat;
• You feel overwhelmed by noise and can’t remember a single sensible word.
For many people, the impact of multiple distractions in a noisy café brings up fears of having to work really hard to attract and maintain the attention of your audience. Because if you can’t keep their attention, what might that say about you?
Fears can trigger old beliefs to surface. Many people adopt one of these tactics when feeling under pressure:
• Speak really fast to keep everyone’s attention – this is OK at first, but it becomes tiring for listeners and the speaker due to lack of space to think ideas through and connect with each other.
• Perform, entertain, be larger than life to make more noise than the coffee machine – this becomes trying and inauthentic, loosing credibility for you and your service.
• Doggedly follow your memorised or written script – when you ignore natural laughter or events like a glass breaking loudly – it reveals you are not genuinely present with your audience and they are in fact, immaterial. This destroys trust and rapport.
• Your voice, eyes and spirit just fade away as you assume you can’t possibly hold anyone’s attention because you have nothing of value to offer – audiences may cringe and your esteem and self-belief plummet further.
The simple way to attract and maintain an audience’s attention in noisy cafes is to be fully present each and every time you speak. An audience can tell immediately if a speaker is emotionally as well as physically present and will listen, accordingly.
In a nutshell, the key is to connect personally with your audience as individuals and engage their interest with a topic and information that is genuinely relevant and useful to them. Following is a list of steps to remind you how to be seen, heard and remembered every time you speak in a difficult places like noisy cafes:
• Give yourself time to prepare in advance to be mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually present.
• Arrive early, familiarise yourself with the room and meet people personally.
• Take a slow deep breath before speaking and make eye contact.
• Speak as though you are having a one on one conversation, pausing naturally, allowing your words to flow, giving your audience space and time to absorb your words. It also allows you to listen to your audience.
• Manage your emotions by choosing to connect only with audience members who are already offering you their eyes and attention. Do not be distracted by anyone who appears to not be listening to you.
• Interact with your audience by asking questions, request raising of hands, brief feedback, invite participation through exercises. Make it physical – if you have a product, show it or demonstrate a special technique – this also allows you to “speak less, and say more” via action rather than words.
• Tell your audience you want them to do something at the start of your talk as this engages interest and creates a “giving and receiving” loop.
• Give the audience something truly useful, relevant and memorable to take away, like an article, product sample or your business card.
Take a moment now to visualise yourself speaking in noisy cafes. Imagine yourself systematically working your way through each of those 8 steps directly above. What would you be doing, saying, feeling, differently to last time? And if your visualisation makes it clear you need more concrete help, contact Goddess Of Public Speaking for some divine intervention!
I am often asked by people managers about communicating under pressure; how to balance staying strong and non-threatening in a “difficult situation” like a performance appraisal or with a mistrustful group.
Working with people is one of the most difficult juggling acts we perform and many of us do it everyday, at home and at work. Finely turned interpersonal communication skills and a basis of empathy is needed, especially if you are supporting the personal and professional growth of others.
There are many ways to be both non-threatening and strong when working in potentially difficult situations. And “difficult” can refer to many situations including those that are uncomfortable, frightening or require sensitive handling. I’m going to focus on just 4 ways for a Manager to use their body and words when communicating under pressure with staff. These techniques are also useful when facilitating groups:
1. Room Set Up
Create a sense of trust, credibility and security in physical environment by:
Manager to take the “authority” position, which means to keep a solid wall behind and a clear view of what’s in front with easy access to all tools and room to move. Taking an authoritative position allows you to stay physically strong and hold the space – you are in charge. Avoid creating a power imbalance like the classic joke of a manager dwarfing the participant with a big, high desk. You may like to set up arm chairs for informality or to create a sense of approachability.
Invite the staff member to sit comfortably with “room to move”, access to any needed tools and most of all, PRIVACY.
2. The SOLAR Posture
Use the SOLAR posture – a non threatening but physically strong stance demonstrating openness and receptivity, implying “I can handle it”.
Sitting – knees apart, lean forward slightly to show interest, and palms are open and facing the staff member or group.
Standing – fully face the staff member or group. Strong, wide legged stance (like the letter “A”) with palms open toward the staff member or group. Keep shoulders dropped, chest open and speak slowly with lots of appropriate eye contact and acknowledgement.
3. Explain Format, Purpose & Outcome
Everyone feels better and like they have a choice, when they understand where they are going, the reason and the benefit to them of the meeting or presentation.
Manager gives a respectful welcome, full face, eye contact, tell the staff member or group that you are going to begin by briefly outlining the format (structure), purpose and intended outcome of the session. Check their understanding and gain their permission to continue. After all, this is a 2 way conversation between adults, not an information dump or lecture.
Manager to summarise the main points at the end, check for agreement and leave genuine space for the staff member or group to provide feedback.
4. Edging Out
When a fire is burning out of control, you don’t give it more fuel. If the staff member or groups’ behaviour is inappropriate, as the Manager you can take control by:
Acknowledge the person or situation respectfully and honestly,
Use body language to reduce attention to them – turn your body side on (edging out), reduce or remove eye contact and if there are others, increase your positive interaction with them to tap into group dynamics of peer pressure. At no point belittle or expose, just acknowledge, reduce and refocus. Trust your gut – sometimes the unexpected works.
Explain clearly what your next steps will be, the consequences if you don’t and then follow through your steps. If you are working with a group, don’t let one person wreck the experience of everyone else – your job is to work with the whole group and if necessary, ask the trouble maker to leave. Keep the group energy focused and don’t let it dissipate through distraction.
If the process or presentation is completely disrupted and cannot continue, take control by acknowledging the situation and stating that you are now ending it. Offer rescheduling options if appropriate. Then, go and reflect and find your own mentor to debrief and reassess the situation.
Always work with people from a place of firm compassion. This is both non threatening and strong. Don’t forget; this is a human being in front of you. Some days we wear pit boots and some days we are fragile as gossamer.
Finally, remember that you don’t always get to wear the Manager’s hat. Tomorrow it could be YOU in a group or on the other side of the interview desk, being “managed” by someone else.
Marcia, an experienced and inherently wise executive coach, presented to me with a drop in self confidence. She felt the fear of a difficult conversation. She worried about not being able to stand her ground.
How We Unravelled Fear Of A Difficult Conversation
The situation triggering the fear, was the potential loss of a long term corporate client. Critical self doubt was festering in her imagination and Marcia was assuming the worst. After a coaching conversation and visualisation, Marcia’s presenting issues were:
Fear about security: “How will I live on reduced income?” and “Will I be able to replace this valuable client?”
Fear about what people think: “My client may have lost his respect for me and passed it on to the rest of his team.”
Self doubt: “Maybe my work has lost its edge and I’m no longer relevant?” and “Why am I fearing and avoiding this conversation rather than just handling it?”
The Aha Moment
I asked Marcia a couple of questions:
“How do you feel about asking for what you want?” and;
“Is it really true that your client no longer wants your services?”
Aha! For Marcia, these questions quickly opened the door to new possibilities, a feeling of release and tapping into her old confidence. The fear of a difficult conversation vanished.
Together we worked out a plan. For Marcia, the most important part of this plan was to recognise and counter an old self sabotaging pattern. Instead she created a unique process to tap into her inner wisdom and confidence whenever self doubt crept in.
She recognised her assumption about her client was merely an assumption. We prepared her for her next client meeting with role play practice. Marcia left the session with a new self confidence, one born of having survived a minor crisis.
So What Happened Later?
Marcia emailed me the next day. Marcia explained that her client had just telephoned during a conference to ask her advice. He stated how much he valued her and set up a time the following week to discuss a new direction in working together. Remarkable timing!
That meeting flowed beautifully into new opportunities; a reflection of Marcia letting go of her fear of a difficult conversation about her worthiness and the power of intention. Marcia knew that something had shifted within her. Once again she stepped into trusting herself and her ability to ask directly for what she wants.
* The client’s name has been changed to protect privacy. If you are ready to refine your authentic voice and inner speaker, contact professional speaking coach Geraldine Barkworth to have a fun, fearless and confidential conversation of your own.
Forget all that mush about egalitarian sharing. The fact is, as Master Of Ceremonies or MC, you must take control of your Event or anarchy will prevail. Anarchy includes people talking too long, ignoring agreements and cues to finish, interjecting, power plays, energy dissipation… the list goes on.
To ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak but not at the expense of others, take control to protect everyone’s right to be heard and to keep the show on the road. Here are tips for MC’s to work effectively with both sides of the fence, Guest Speakers and Audience.
Make personal contact with Guest Speakers beforehand and advise your requirements for the Event. This defines a clear boundary of expectation on either side. Be sure to include: length of allocated speaking time, clarify purpose of speaking topic and intended outcome, whether it’s interactive, time or not for questions, expected start and finish time for speaking. Provide Guest Speakers with the Program so they can see their own place within it and understand how to fit the context. After all it’s your Event, not theirs.
When the Guest Speakers arrive, connect with them personally – as the MC your job is to help them feel at ease. While chatting, reinforce the length of time they have to speak. Ensure they understand the Program is packed and keeping to time is important – check their understanding by looking into their eyes. Discuss the signals you will send to let them know when they are Close To Time, or Time to Wrap Up or Time To Finish. This reinforces there are consequences to poor time management and that as MC, you willing to take immediate action to keep the show on the road for everyone’s benefit.
When the Guest Speaker is presenting, make sure you follow the agreed signals. Sometimes Guest Speakers get on a roll and can’t stop, or become addicted to the adrenaline rush of all that attention, so as the MC, it’s is your job to shepherd them graciously off the stage so that others will have their turn.
Thank and acknowledge the Guest Speaker privately as well as publicly. This also sets up a good management relationship for next time.
When the “floor is opened to questions”, things can get very exciting if you are dealing with contentious issues. Your diplomatic lion tamer skills are needed. (You may find it useful to watch Jenny Brochie the facilitator from the SBS television program, Insight, for great role modeling.) Of course if the subject fails to raise a ripple of interest, you may want to have some staged questions or prepare some of your own if the Audience is quiet.
Prompt Audience interaction by clearly displaying a time set aside for questions or discussion in the Program.
Next when you address the Audience, repeat this information, speak slowly, watching your words sink in as you articulate the parameters. For instance, “We have 10 minutes for questions so that’s probably about 3 questions…”, or “Each person has 5 minutes to share their view. Any longer and I’ll have to gong you off (sound the gong to show consequences) to ensure everyone gets a chance” (stating context and appealing to universal fairness.)
After you’ve described the parameters and if you anticipate heated discussion, ask for everyone’s agreement up front and wait. Say nothing until you see a sea of agreements. This method uses group dynamics to enforce the parameters, rather than you.
And of course, you must stick to the parameters. No matter how scintillating the Question from the Audience, the same rules must be applied. If they stir strong interest within the group, suggest they meet later after the program is finished. This keeps the Event on track, provides options to continue the discussion and means Audience members build trust in your ability to handle the situation. It may also give individuals the confidence to speak out, knowing they too will get a fair go.
When you clearly and graciously take control as the MC and Event Coordinator by setting parameters in advance and reinforcing consistently throughout the Event, both Guest Speakers and Audience will relax and enjoy themselves under your firm guidance.
People frequently associate “public speaking” with delivering a formal speech. But I define it as the ability to have an easy conversation with anyone other than yourself. “ Cool Calm Connected ” means having the self-awareness, self-confidence and self-assurance to present who you are and what you do with natural grace and radiant authenticity. Who doesn’t want some of that? Let’s look at a common scenario:
You have been invited to speak.
In front of people you don’t know.
And in front of people you do know.
You can’t decide which is worse. Your heart pounds. You feel sick, in fact, you are definitely going to be too sick to speak on the day, even though it’s two months away.
You know this for a fact. Because it’s happened to you before.
So, you decide that it’s better for everyone concerned that you email an apology, stay in your office that day and work on new marketing strategies that allow you to avoid speaking in public. You cleverly decide that this is what they mean by, “work smarter, not harder.”
You Aren’t Alone
Never fear, you aren’t alone in your avoidance of presenting yourself in public. Self-consciousness is rampant in western society. It’s a feeling of acute separation of yourself from everyone else. Most people suffer it by varying degrees at some point in their lives.
Self consciousness can show up at:
speaking to the Board,
delivering a paper at a conference,
meeting a client unexpectedly in the street,
introducing yourself at breakfast networking,
standing your ground and stating your full fee.
And it looks like:
Sweating, pounding heart, blank mind (“I’m going to die up there”)
Talking too fast to fill in any spaces (“I’ll give them no space to think”)
Memorising, sticking rigidly to notes (“I must be perfect”)
Polished, inauthentic performance (Looks good but feels hollow)
Giving way too much information (I’ll impress them with my knowledge”)
Stiff, inarticulate and formulaic (“I don’t want people to see who I am”)
Giggling, twitching, umming (“Gee I hope someone rescues me soon”)
Thinking: “I’ve nothing of value to offer” (“This just confirms I’m boring”)
Rambling incoherence (“I’ve got no idea where I’m going”)
Believing you must be an expert (“I’ll put it off til next year when I ready”)
Softly Softly Technique
Whatever the source of your beliefs, discomfort or fear around presenting yourself in public, there is a “softly, softly” technique that allows you to emerge as the cool calm connected professional woman you truly are. It starts with taking a breath and slowing down.
It’s Not All About You
Whenever you speak to a group, it’s because you want to educate, promote or inspire an idea, product or service. First though, you need to build trust, rapport and relevance. As an audience member, would you listen to and buy from, a speaker you couldn’t relate to and didn’t trust?
Thinking that it’s all about you in the spotlight as the speaker, makes you feel self-conscious. If you start with the WIFM (‘what’s in it for me”) by establishing your credibility and the benefits they’ll gain by listening to you, speaking becomes about the audience, not you.
Cool Calm Connected
Your job is to focus on connecting with them, one human being to another. When you “drop the mask” and invite people in, generally, they will do the same. And what you create, is authentic connection, an understanding of who you are on a much deeper level simply by choosing to be cool calm connected.
Communicating from the heart, fully present with others, brings acceptance and understanding. There is a sense of “oneness” which is healing for all – speakers and listeners. The ability to connect with others is radiantly attractive to all people. It is the defining characteristic of great leaders and speakers …and human beings.