Recently I had a consulting client who was extremely nervous about giving her presentation. She repeatedly lamented that the organization should pick someone else to do the public speaking and that she really, really didn’t want to do it. Client X resisted and she procrastinated. She talked about how theoretically she could do it, but didn’t want to do it, although in her life scheme, she saw herself as a person who would do it … at some point. And there’s the rub. The bridge between want and doing is very often, bravery. One of the techniques we used to build up her courage was the actor’s “what if?” Usually when someone is afraid of something presentation or public-speaking related, it circles back to “What if I screw up and make an ass of myself?” Good question, but it’s too vague. What the “what if?” conversation allows for is specificity. How exactly will you screw up and what exactly will happen? It looks something like this:
Client: I’m worried that I’ll forget everything I want to say. Me: Okay, what happens when you are introduced, you stand up to speak, and nothing comes out? Client: I stand there and people stare at me… Me: Yep, they’re going to stare. And it’ll be terrible. Do you think they’ll throw fruit? Client: No, of course not. Me: Will you run away? Client: No. Me: Will they boo you off the stage and immediately demand their money back? Client: I don’t think so. Me: So then what will you do? Client: I’ll look at my notes. Me: Yes, and…? Client: I’ll look at my notes and I’ll start speaking. Me: Yes, grasshopper, you will.
This kind of specific visualization is incredibly powerful in dealing with unformed and general failure fears. As a wise person says, “Everything is overcome-able.” The key is to drill down the scenario. Revel in it and get dirty in your discomfort. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg says, “Lean into the suck.” You’ll find that once you look at specific horrifying scenarios and how you mentally overcome them, your courage is easier to find and hold.
The second way to connect with your brave self is to simply rehearse. No, it’s not sexy or glamorous but it is the truth. Rehearse. Know your material inside out, forward, backward, using a British accent or with green eggs and ham. Actors call it organic. Make the material part of you. It’s more than memorization. It is understanding why you’re saying what you’re saying to whom you’re saying it when. Rehearse! Then do it again.
Finally, connect with your audience. They want you to succeed. Smile, speak with people and not at them. Look at individuals, not over their heads. These people are here for you. You’ll quickly notice that people smile back. They nod, they agree, they lean in and they are with you. Remember that your goal as a speaker is to be remembered in the best possible way. Otherwise, it’s pointless.
Bravery is a function of doing. If you never do, how will you know what you capable of?
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company uses theatre strategies as a platform to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.