Self-Conscious And Loving It!

Finding Yourself Out the Front of Your Life

Recently I asked a friend for feedback on an aspect of my behaviour. I badgered her. She deflected. I badgered again. She gave in and chose her words with care. And horror of horrors I did not like what I heard. I reckon I did a pretty good job of appearing nonchalant. On the inside however I was reeling. Rapidly re-evaluating my entire life from this new perspective, I shifted from disbelief, anger, denial and sadness in 30 seconds. Then I stuffed myself with cheese and crackers.

What I noticed over the next few weeks was how self-conscious I felt. I wondered if everyone I’d ever met saw this flaw and judged me accordingly. Ha! I thought. This explains a lot. I suspected I had a problem. Here is the proof!

The problem gained epic proportion while I shrunk and fell through a hole in the floor.

Not So Special

Feeling self-conscious is being aware of yourself, as yourself. It’s a good thing. Means you are alive and you have the conscious awareness to know it! Self-consciousness allows you to perceive your similarity and difference to everyone else.

So yes, you are special and no, you are not so special. We all have an inner tension between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out from the crowd. You see this tension played out on social media. And sometimes you feel it first hand when you are up there speaking in public. You up there, them down there.

I’ve briefly defined self-consciousness. But what about how it feels? The pain, the loneliness, the rejection? The dredging of all that old stuff you thought you’d successfully buried? And bugger it but there it all is, back on public display, reflected in the pitying eyes of your listeners.

But is it pity? Or is it relief that it’s you, not them, up there? Could it be admiration, that you are doing something they could not? Or, might they be thinking about dinner, and not you at all?

Safety Versus Risk

When you speak in front of others you do stand out from the crowd. And there is risk in being rejected for standing out. Finding your peace and place within this balance is the mysterious realm in which I work with my clients.

When you speak to a group, you visibly and energetically set yourself apart from the herd. Speaking up requires courage. The courage to show yourself to others. When people listen to you speak, they want to hear, you. Not a perfect cardboard cut-out. Not a series of excuses. You.

Embrace Wabi-Sabi

I love the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. It means “beauty is in the imperfection.” Doncha reckon there’s our Permission Card right there? Flaws are beautiful! Ergo, we are all beautiful! There is nothing more boring than perfection.

People relate to flaws, not to perfection. We love to witness transformation; it gives us the courage to pursue our own. We watch people take risks, stick their heads above the parapet and wait with baited breath – will they rise to the challenge? And what can we learn from their mistakes and successes?

Self-consciousness is our opportunity to mature, learn, expand. It’s OK to be fearful, but not OK to stay stuck forever, clinging to an outdated notion of how you wanted things to be.

The Spotlight Effect

Positive Psychology describes the Spotlight Effect as the belief that others are always looking and judging us. As if we are the centre of their universe… because we are the centre of ours. Feeling self-conscious blossoms with such fertile imaginings. You can read more in my related Blog article “The Spotlight Effect is On You.” The Spotlight Effect clues us in as to how to love the opportunity of feeling self-conscious by learning from it, rather than shrink with fear and shame.

The Self-Conscious Seagull Flies Again

When I crawled off to lick my wounds, I really invested in feeling sorry for myself. I could be my own 10-part mini-series. Pride. Drama. Pain. And finally, seeing myself on A Hero’s Journey, triumphing over the perils of self-consciousness to emerge an older, wiser and infinitely more attractive human.

This could go on and on or we could cut to the chase with a story that doesn’t involve so much gut wrenching drama. Or copious cheese and crackers.

I emerged from my hole after a few weeks and realised:

  • Much of what my friend said is true. I needed a hefty dollop of self-acceptance for my quirky behaviours. They can’t really be changed. And they make me unique. I like unique.
  • If you ask for feedback, you have to be prepared to hear it. Suck it up princess!
  • Good old Gratitude… works every time to appreciate what I’ve got, rather than what I haven’t.

A Work In Progress

Am I going to divulge my friend’s feedback to you since you’ve so patiently read to the end of this article?

No way!

Just because you share a personal story doesn’t mean you have to strip your soul bare. You don’t have to expose everything. Just the bits you are ready to.

When it’s your turn to be out the front, whether for 5 minutes or for 5 days, breathe in and connect to your purpose in making a difference when you speak. We really are Works in Progress. And I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear and see the real you. To admire your unique beauty, imperfections, quirks and all.

(c) 2018, Geraldine Barkworth, All Rights Reserved. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

The Confident Performer By Dr David Roland

Book Review By Speaking Coach Geraldine Barkworth

“I’m not fitted to give concerts. The audience intimidates me, I feel choked by its breath, paralysed by its curious glances, struck dumb by all those strange faces.” CHOPIN

“The Confident Performer” shares this stage fright quote from pianist Frederic Chopin and was the reason why I bought this highly focused little book. So many of my public-speaking clients sound just like Chopin, yet never go near a piano or even a stage.

The author, David Roland, is a performance psychologist. He uses this book to specifically teach mental preparation techniques for any kind of performance including dance, song, theatre, music and sport. The number one biggie for most people, stage fright, he covers particularly well. He includes two excellent scripts to build a habit of relaxation before performance (and life), both autogenic and progressive muscle relaxation.

I like these words from David Roland on page 80: “The very nature of performance requires the artist to expose himself publicly, which usually leads to the experience of stage fright – something every artist needs to manage. Being open to evaluation by an audience is something that does not occur in most other occupations.”

These two points ring true for people seeking confidence in public speaking. Fear of exposure and of being judged by others can be paralysing (or as Chopin said,”struck dumb”). And yet, without taking the risk of exposing one’s true self, there is only facade, a barrier between you and your audience. And they feel it. Listeners miss out on the real you, you miss out on them and everyone misses out on the magic.

You can lessen the risk of stage fright by tapping into the power of mental rehearsal. Psychophysiogical practise transforms fears and hopes into practical reality.

To end with Dr Roland’s quote from cellist Jacqueline du Pre: “Walking on stage – the recognition, the applause, the rumble of interest from the audience when I appeared. It never occurred to me to be nervous. I thought of the audience as a group of friends who had come to hear me play, and I found that very moving. I just played, and enjoyed it. Thinking about the notes would have spoiled the enjoyment. the work was all done beforehand.”

(David Roland has since recovered from stroke trauma and more about his brain-training work can be found on his website: http://davidroland.com.au/ )

(c) 2016, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic public speaking coach. This review is the opinion of the author only.  www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron

Book Review By Speaking Coach Geraldine Barkworth

When I read the back cover of this book I thought, “Aha! Maybe I’m not a neurotic weirdo who doesn’t fit in with the mainstream, maybe I’m just a highly sensitive person ! At last, an explanation for why I am as I am. Maybe if I read it I’ll learn how to be ”normal” like everyone else.

Mmm, maybe not. The author reframes high sensitivity as a positive and valuable attribute, one that is somewhat maligned and unrecognized in today’s extroverted, fast paced, noisy go go go western world. Go? Go where? Who cares? Let’s just go! The relentlessness and pointlessness of it all just wears me out and it turns out, it also wears out the 15-20% of the population who share this genetic feature of high sensitivity.

Notice I said “western” world? In the east, sensitivity and shyness are prized as a sign of intelligence and value. Notice I said “20% of the population”? Fascinatingly, 1 in 5 of the animal world populations are also hard wired for high sensitivity. It ain’t just a human quirk of our current narcissistic obsession with ourselves forever searching for why we are so special.

And I guess in that last rather poisonous sentence I wrote, is the root of why I felt uncomfortable reading this book and struggled with writing this review.

I like thinking I’m different and special. It’s always defined part of who I am. Even the general sense of rejection and weirdness has shaped me and I’ve turned it into something useful. You think I’d be thrilled to read an explanation that justifies why I’m so blooming sensitive. I know very well what a curse and a blessing I possess. Why I see, feel, hear, think and overwhelm so much. I remember waxing lyrical as a child about why I disliked the letter “K” so much and seeing the blank incomprehension on faces around me. I get ridiculously excited about colours, am deeply in love with fuschia cherry pink and can pick out every ingredient in a recipe by taste. I have wild flights of imagination that cause me to rise and rise… and fall. Sometimes, it’s a long way down.

What I gained from this book is a sense of permission to embrace my sensitivity, yes, revel in it. I no longer need to develop a stomach ache to avoid going to a party. I can just say, “God no! A party. How revolting. I’d rather make a cup of tea and create a flower arrangement for every room.”

I also liked these words from Elaine Aron on page 218 which seem like a good framework for psychologically healthy travel through life: “The pursuit of wholeness is really a kind of circling closer and closer through different meanings, different voices. One never arrives, yet gets a better and better idea of that which is at the centre. But if we circle, there is little chance for arrogance because we are passing through every sort of experience of ourselves. This is the pursuit of wholeness, not perfection and wholeness must by definition include the imperfect.”

What I don’t like about this book is the author’s suggestion that highly sensitives are developed from the “Priestly Advisor class”, those who wisely advised the “Warrior Kings” who ruled for millennia in numerous cultures. Presumably, every one else is an insensitive pleb. I feel this rather romantic suggestion cruels the credibility and strengths of this well researched science-based book. Mind you, as I write this, I’m thinking, mmm, “Who am I to stop someone exploring their ideas?” I don’t know. I just didn’t like it. You may love it.

High sensitivity in any population is a very useful survival attribute. Kind of like the canary down the mine. They are sensitive to dangers that miners don’t perceive until it’s too late. The highly sensitive person is the one who notices changes in patterns, in vocal tones, in levels of movement. They notice subtle differences and bring them to the attention of those who don’t. Depending on the kind of culture you are born into, if you are highly sensitive your skills are either valued or dismissed. And you may go through your life with a strong sense of value or a strong sense of valueless-ness.

If you’d like to learn more about your sensitivity (or lack of it!!!) and how to use it to your advantage, read the book or visit the instantly gratifying website for the highly sensitive person. Take the Sensitivity Test. It makes things very clear in about 2 minutes: http://hsperson.com/

(c) 2016, Geraldine Barkworth is an Australian public speaking coach who works with the psychology and physiology behind public speaking fear. This review is the opinion of the author only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

Scared Speechless: 9 Ways To Overcome Your Fears & Captivate Your Audience by Steve Rohr & Dr Shirley Impellizzeri

Book Review By Speaking Coach Geraldine Barkworth

The key morsel of Scared Speechless is the clear and simple language explaining the psychology behind public speaking fear. It goes way beyond the standard explanation of “Your stress response can’t tell the difference between a sabre toothed tiger and an upcoming speech.”

Scared Speechless offers logical, down to earth and humorous explanations to help you understand why in the past you were scared of speaking and how to change it for the future using neuropsychology.

I was surprised at how good this book was because if you are anything like me, your first reaction to yet another “how-to-public-speak” book is yawn. I’d rather pluck my eyebrows.

Also, it arrived unsolicited in the mail from the publicist, so I wasn’t expecting much. I assumed it to be a typical over-marketed “How To Be Awesome On Stage In 1 Minute” hyped-up American rave.

Instead, I enjoyed Scared Speechless’ easy to read, straightforward words; the authors clearly want to generously help as many people as possible. It’s designed to be universally accessible to people of all ages and walks of life from young adults and up.

I picked up some useful gems from Scared Speechless, which I’ve already put to use in my workshops. I’ll only give you three so you’ll have to read the book to get the rest:

  • Practise your speech non-verbally (yes, mime!) with your body to express your meaning first. Then practise with words. Your body will remember your meaning and underscore your words with natural gestures. (Moving also helps you to “unfreeze” should this happen to you.)
  • Prepare your speech to be READ rather than SAID. In other words, write it out loud. (Ever noticed the difference when you’ve heard someone READING a speech as opposed to talking directly to you? Which is the more powerful?)
  • Use “clothing cognition” to your advantage, that is, dress to support your message. Wearing high-heels or bare feet will impact how you deliver and the impressions you create. (If you want to expand your delivery style, practise wearing different hats or shoes. A Police Officer will likely speak and behave differently to a Graphic Designer. As to whether it’s true or not, doesn’t really matter, it’s what you and your listeners BELIEVE.)

If you prefer a weighty academic tome of jargon and unpronounceable technical terms, this book is not for you.

Scared Speechless is down to earth, practical, fun and enlightening. A good read for nervous speakers on a quest to change their relationship to fear for once and for all.

(c) 2016 Geraldine Barkworth, speaking coach, www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au Geraldine Barkworth is an Australian public speaking coach who works with the psychology and physiology behind public speaking fear. This review is the opinion of the author only.

The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

Book Review By Speaking Coach Geraldine Barkworth

I wrongly assumed this biography was the “book version” of the well known 2002 movie, “The King’s Speech”. I was hoping for insight into the innovative speaking techniques used by Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue in his work with King George VI of England, 1914-37.

Whoops. Instead, the book is a sentimental and thoroughly researched history of the author (Mark Logue’s) grandfather Lionel, his relationship with the King and the WW1 and WW2 era in England and Australia.

An unexpected highlight was learning about the era’s emphasis on character development and community contribution through the ability to speak well. Lionel Logue could sell out the Town Hall with his evening recitals. For the first time people who “wanted to get ahead”, took elocution lessons. With the advent of radio, awareness of the power and importance of voice became universally understood especially for families clustered around the radio listening to war updates. Later in business, it was paramount to articulately persuade and present well.

Orators are made, not born. And so the Public Speaking Industry begins.

After reading the book, I borrowed the dvd movie, “ The King’s Speech .”

Wow, what a movie. Gorgeously shot, acted and directed. Such feeling, such subtly, such understatement as the English do so well. I can keep raving, but I won’t. My husband’s tearful High 5 at the end says it all.

The movie tells the story of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue’s role in helping King George VI handle his fear and reduce his stutter. King George VI had a strong stammer that caused him endless fear and worry about speaking in public, especially when it was broadcast by microphone. It affected his self confidence and unfortunately caused others to lower their expectations of his abilities. Which of cause turned out to be a huge mistake. Sound like a familiar pattern to you, dear reader?

Lionel’s stand out “technique” for me as I have observed with my own clients, is the power of the pause and use of rhythm. The simple (but not always so easy to do) act of slowing down generates a magical sense of calm control and relaxed spaciousness. Presence and gravitas emerge effortlessly.

Great movie; interesting book.

(c) 2016 Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

The Spotlight Effect On You

No One Notices Your Bad Hair Day

It’s true! According to social psychologists, the Spotlight Effect is the tendency for people to believe that others pay more attention to us than they really do. Simply put, the Spotlight Effect occurs because we are egocentrically the centre of our own universe. And because we think we are fascinating, we assume, we must be fascinating to everyone else! However, everyone else is terribly busy being the centre of their own universe, so really, no one notices your bad hair day.

Quick Quiz

  • If you trip and fall, do you quickly look around to see if anyone has noticed?
  • If your shirt has a small stain, do you find yourself covering it up with your bag?
  • If you say something brilliant at a meeting and no one else comments on it, do you find yourself getting annoyed or doubting the validity of your contribution?

How did you go? If you answer any more than one “yes”, you are NORMAL. These everyday examples of the Spotlight Effect, affect all of us, some of the time.

Legends In Our Own Mind
Spotlights magnify and enlarge and what is under that lens appears… bigger. So big, that we are sure others will be able to see us in all our glory, good and bad.

People generally overestimate their impact on others. I see this often with clients who assume that everyone in the group or audience has superhuman powers of perception and can see how nervous / incompetent / unprepared / a fraud they really are. Not so.

Groups Not So Scary
Interestingly, when people are members of a group their attention is split between themselves as an individual and that of the whole group. Ever spoken up in a group and felt “ignored”? Or felt the pressure of “so many eyes” that your every move will be scrutinised? Again, not so. At least 50% of the group’s attention at any one time is focussed on the whole group, not on you. It’s not that your contribution isn’t valued, it’s that there are so many contributions for group members to focus on. You just can’t have all the attention all the time.

Nervous About Looking Nervous
Research has found that an audience does not notice you are nervous as much as you imagine. You are often the only one who knows. People routinely overestimate that their internal states (feelings and thoughts) are leaking out and that others can see. They become nervous about looking nervous and that others will think less of them.

It’s a bit like worrying about not falling asleep. The worry increases adrenaline, activates the stress response and you have trouble falling asleep. When people worry about public speaking nerves, adrenaline courses through, the stress response activates, generating sensations of fast beating heart, shortness of breath, constricted throat, feelings of panic, trembling limbs, shaky voice and so on. The fear of social judgement flags potential embarrassment, magnifying the Spotlight Effect to make speaking in public a bigger deal than it needs to be.

Your brain is plastic, which means that anything you have learned in the past can be unlearned. If fear is getting in the way of you achieving your potential, this article “Overcoming Your Fear” by Verity Chadwick at Neuronation explains how you can learn how to change it by changing your brain.

Give Yourself A Reality Check

1. Transfer your attention away from yourself to others. Remind yourself that the Spotlight Effect works both ways. You are not the centre of their universe; they are! Remember that in a group, everyone’s attention is split, so you will be doing well if you receive even 50% of their attention.

2. Shift and broaden your perspective by asking yourself: will I remember this moment in 5 years, 20 years, or at the birth of my first grandchild? And, will this audience group remember my presentation in 5 years, 20 years or at the birth of their first grandchild? I think you know the answer.

3. Listen and watch body language from your audience group when it’s feedback time. If someone says: “That was really good” and smiles warmly at you…. well, believe it. Notice if you habitually ignore positive feedback and focus on “the awful experience.” When we focus on the fear inside, we miss the valuable, character building, good stuff on the outside.

You Can Choose To Ignore The Spotlight Effect On You

Consistently speakers rate themselves as more nervous than what their listeners would rate them. Next time, why don’t you choose to listen to your listeners first, rather than the grandiose, fear-mongering, exaggerations generated by your personal Spotlight Effect?

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

Video Review: Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are, by Amy Cuddy

I share Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are by Amy Cuddy, for conveying confidence, credibility and authority with body language more than any other TED Talk.

This is a brilliant 20 minute talk from Amy Cuddy for understanding how to make simple physiological changes to transform the way you feel and how others see us. Perfect for those who need to lead, influence, get a message across or feel more confident in any situation.

TED Talks: Ideas Worth Spreading.

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This video review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

Do You Umm And Err When You Speak?

Conversational Fillers

“Umm and err” are conversational fillers. A filler is a word or sound which signals in a conversation or speech, that the speaker has paused but has not yet finished.

Recently I was asked to give a radio interview, this time about “why people use conversational fillers and why they are so annoying.” The main offenders were “umm and err” with “ahh” being attributed to the over 70 year olds. Middle aged people were chastised for the too frequent use of “actually”, “seriously”, “okay”, “right” and “well.” And younger generations were blasted by radio phone-ins for the inane repetition of “awesome”, “like” and “it’s all good”.

Personally, I’m fond of using “So…” when thinking on my feet. What do you use?

So Much To Say… So Little Time
These words of course aren’t just fillers, some are mindless cliches and some are used by listeners as conversational “reassurers” to signify, “Yes I’m still here, still listening to you.” They fill in a space that the listener assumes needs to be filled. But does it?

Some cultures favour speaking only when necessary and assume a speaker doesn’t need to be emotionally propped up with reassurance. I like that approach. What ever happened to silence, space and trust? Westerners are so used to receiving encouraging sounds when speaking, if there is silence, we assume the other is not listening.

Annoying, Distracting & Detracting
Both speakers and listeners use conversational fillers to signify an unspoken intention. The over or under use of such fillers can be annoying, distracting and detracting. What is your tipping point when “umms and errs” become more fill than conversation?

Some international public speaking organisations, nominate a club member to be the official “Umm and Err Counter” and the list of shame is duly read out at the end of the evening!

Honestly, it is ridiculous how many people timidly knock at my door, shoulders drooping, eyes downcast, admitting in hushed tones they are “terrible” at public speaking because they say “umm” too often.

How Many “Umms And Errs” Are Too Much?
Ok, an “umm” or “err” in every one to two sentences is too much in my opinion. Western audiences assume the speaker is either unconfident, doesn’t know what they are talking about, or may not be telling the truth. The occasional “umm” here and there is just fine.

Interestingly, what do we assume if the speaker just pauses, instead of filling the space with an “umm”?

Or what’s your reaction to a speaker saying thoughtfully, “Mmm” and gazing eyes up with a head tilt at the horizon whilst their next brilliant idea appears to be percolated? I’ve heard from clients that academics often use a thoughtful “mmm” to sound more engaging than a vacant “umm.”

How To Reduce “Umm And Err”And Other Fillers
Keep reading dear ones, as I explain the 3 step technique I use to coach my clients out of over dependence on this habit:

  1. Gather Evidence – first go on a research mission and note what you say and when. Ask for feedback.
  2. Slow Down To Think Before You Speak – Give yourself time to process your thoughts before you say them. No one chooses to say “umm” deliberately.
  3. Choose A Positive Substitution – Decide on a new type of filler, like dieters recommend drinking a glass of water instead of a eating a chocolate bar. I find the most successful substitution is to pause instead of saying “umm”. Simply stop, take a small belly breath, and continue on. Another method to use occasionally is to say “mmm” and look thoughtful, rather than blank. If you use other devices, please share them!

A client I recently worked with told me her boss found her unconscious habit of saying “yep yep” meant she wasn’t paying attention and instead trying to hurry him along. She’s now using a belly breath to pause and just listen or a pause to gather her words while she thinks before speaking.

Now It’s Your Turn
This is the 3 step technique I invite you to try with a trusted friend:

  • confess the conversational filler you mostly use;
  • the positive substitution you intend to use (pause, mmm or something else);
  • celebrate and learn from each others results.

Benefits Of Pausing Versus Conversational Fill

  • clearer and cleaner communication;
  • you and your message will be heard and understood;
  • you will feel more calm, confident and in control.

Final Thoughts
Conversational fillers and re-assurers like the occasional “umm and err” or “I see”, play an important role in everyday western communication. The problem is unconscious overuse in situations when we aren’t present, prepared or listening. “Like, it’s not all good, man.” Next year, aim to use less fill and give more of you. Say more, umm less!

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

Flirt Freeze Flight Fight

The 4 F’s Of Public Speaking Fear

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!

© 2014-17, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

Shy People And Parties Survival Guide

Cheese Is A Terrific Starting Point

Many people find it difficult to “just be themselves”, especially shy people at parties. Remember that feeling when you first walk through the door, confronted by a sea of unknown faces or backs? Should you stick around or should you run? Parties can bring up fear of being separate or rejected by the group. Similar fears surface when public speaking.

Basically, when self consciousness looms, people shrink with fear and disappear, or pump themselves up with a flashy veneer.

At parties, it’s frequently a case of one human shield meeting another human shield – no wonder it’s difficult to connect meaningfully with the room awash with air kisses.

Trust & Rapport
Recently I attended a women’s’ “drinks & nibbles”. (Yes, the dreaded “After Hours Networking” – see the related article “Un-Networking For Shy People”.)

The guest speaker was a funeral director and she explained the process of building trust and rapport with someone you’ve never met before. Her process can also be applied to creating heart to heart connections at a party.

Level 1:  Surface chitchat about the party…Head nodding acknowledgement.
Level 2:  Basic information exchange…Name, connection to host.
Level 3:  Offering of safe opinions… Scanning for similarities.  Longer eye contact.
Level 4:  Exchange of appropriate personal thoughts…Standing closer, feeling safer.
Level 5:  Opening up & sharing honest feelings…Authentic Connection.

If your party experience traditionally stays between Levels 1 and 3, then you miss the opportunity to “show yourself” and so does the other person. Self consciousness keeps you in its’ grip and it’s purpose is to keep you feeling safe. Whether you need it or not.

And hey hey hey! If you get to Level 5, you can consider yourself someone who just got comfortable with being themselves at a party, or at least, with one new person. Shy people and parties, who would have thought?

Dropping The Mask
Most of us hide behind a façade at some point. We do this because we don’t feel safe enough to be ourselves. We fear judgement, rejection or loss. Parties and public speaking can trigger a lot of fear! Here’s a quote from a client of mine who sums it up:

“  I can see now that speakers who rely on putting up a mask, rob their audience of the authentic experience of being with them. “ Elise Wynyard, Art Therapist

And so it is at parties. When you wear a mask, you rob people meeting the real you. I am not recommending you drop your guard and expose yourself to the whole wide world this afternoon.

I am recommending you try this technique next time you feel uncomfortable at a party, or when public speaking:

•    Take a slow, deep breath and feel your feet on the floor.
•    Take all the time you need to slow down, make soft eye contact.
•    If you feel like it, introduce yourself to someone who willingly offers eye contact.
•    Pause, smile, and allow space for words to arise naturally. And they will.
•    If someone appears impatient and moves on because you didn’t enthral them within thirty seconds, let them go; you were never going to feel safe enough to open up and connect with this person anyway.

After The Party, Ask Yourself:
•    Is it more satisfying to have connected authentically with one real person, or
•    Is it more satisfying to have ten superficial conversations about the cheese?

It is not my intention to deride conversations about cheese. Cheese is a terrific starting point. The key is to find that starting point, a place of connection with another person. One real person, meets another real person and hey presto, you can be yourself, even as one of the shy people at parties.

© 2013, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au