June 29, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself
If you’re afraid of public speaking, it’s ok! So is everyone else, including me.
Standing up in front of a group of people with nothing better to do than make instantaneous judgments about the kind of person you are and the level of your intelligence… Public speaking? You should be scared.
Fear is a good thing: it protects you from danger. Other than snakes, I can’t imagine a more dangerous situation than speaking in front of an audience. Pounding heart, clammy hands, inability to catch your breath, trembling limbs, flushed face…these are all your body’s way of telling you that you should be at home instead, curled under the covers with a good book and perhaps a small bag of M&Ms.
However, there are times in life when public speaking is unavoidable, and I’m going to show you how to get through your public speaking event alive.
The first thing you need to do is find a group of kindergartners. Any group will do. Plan a speech lasting no more than five minutes. Between the kindergartners’ short attention span and the health of your nervous system, five minutes is plenty to start with.
Now all you have to do is give your speech.
“But I’m scared!” you’ll say. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a bunch of five and six-year olds. I can’t do it!”
Yes, you can, and here’s why: They will not pay any attention to you whatsoever. Seriously. Not a word.
Watch what happens when I give one of my art lessons to the kids:
ME: I’m so excited to talk to you about Vincent Van Gogh! He was a brilliant painter a long time ago and he loved painting! He painted all day, and talked about painting with his good friend all night. He didn’t sleep at all for weeks! And so he got sick. His mind got sick, and one day he got into a fight with his friend and somehow ended up cutting off his own ear with a razor blade! Yes, Susie?
SUSIE: Last night, a raccoon ran across the fence in our backyard!
ME: Umm…ok. But Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear! He could walk around carrying his own ear in his hand! Isn’t that shocking? Johnny, you have something to say?
JOHNNY: David’s sitting in my spot and he’s not supposed to be there. He got in trouble and now he’s supposed to be sitting in the back.
ME: (pause) Does anyone have anything to say about Vincent Van Gogh? Yes, Michelle?
MICHELLE: My mom packed me three chocolate chip cookies for snack today!
See? They’re not paying attention to me at all.
Kindergartners won’t judge you. They’re not thinking you’re doing a bad job, and they don’t even notice that you have to take deep breaths in between your sentences because your heart is beating so fast you’re in danger of becoming oxygen depleted.
Practice speaking in front of kindergartners several times and you will notice something unusual: your heart will stop beating as fast. You’ll be able to breathe easier and you won’t be as clammy and nervous.
It’s now time to take the next step: present to a group of 6th graders! I know. It’s sounds scary, doesn’t it? They’re older and they will judge anything and everything that comes into their path. But here’s a secret: they won’t pay any attention to you either. They are older, to be sure, and are now capable of devoting 5% of their brain to you, so it seems like they’re paying attention, but they’re not. They’re far too busy posturing for the opposite sex and trying to look cool for their own sex.
After you present to 6th graders a couple of times, you will come to an important realization: you work hard on your presentations. You practice to infuse the right balance of information and humor, and you scour the internet for beautiful images to add to your PowerPoint presentations. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could present your material to a group of people who actually listened to you?
And might that group of people be of the adult variety?
This will seem like a good idea right up until the moment you find yourself standing before your adult audience with a vacant stare in your eyes and your heart pounding out of your chest.
You see, fear doesn’t go away. But, you can learn to manage it. Instead of imagining them naked, which depending on your audience, could be frightening, imagine they are kindergartners, with nothing else on their minds than who they are going to play with at recess, and I promise you you’ll get through it.