“I need to be confident before I can speak!”
As a presentation and public speaking coach, this simple statement is by far the most common reason people give for avoiding presentations or public speaking. And, on the face of it, it makes perfect sense, until you realise that confidence isn’t something that can be bought or taught. It’s something that comes from within. True confidence only comes when you do the very thing that you fear. So most people are trapped by what psychologists call a “double bind” where there is an inherent dilemma between two conflicting beliefs. In this case, the two statements are
- “I can’t speak because I am not confident”
- “I can’t become a confident speaker until I speak in public”
The best way to break out of this self-limiting mental trap is to question the truth of these two statements.
Having spoken to thousands of speakers, I know that all of them were petrified when they first started public speaking. They realised that you don’t actually need to feel confident to start speaking. Then, the other day, I heard Jacqueline Gold, the CEO of the retail brands Ann Summers and Knickerbox, being interviewed on the radio for the BBC’s Desert Island Discs programme. During the broadcast, she expressed this concept in a wonderfully concise way. She said…
“I have always found that courage always comes before confidence.”
You see, the truth is that confidence is a by-product of doing the things you fear to do. When you say you need to be confident, what you actually mean is I need to find the courage to express my knowledge, ideas and opinions with a group of other human beings.
So how do you find the courage?
Here are five ideas to help you face your fear and discover the courage to speak in public.
1. Start by speaking about topics that you know and care about
Sounds obvious, I know, but it’s much easier to speak about stuff you know about and believe in. A baby learns to crawl before it can walk and then run. So, too, should you start by making your challenge stretchy but doable.
2. Find a friendly supportive audience
Usain Bolt’s first race wasn’t in the high-pressure arena of the Olympic finals. Start by speaking to small, friendly groups who will support you and give constructive feedback rather than harsh criticism.
3. Prepare what you are going to say in advance
Yes, I know that you probably admire people who appear to be speaking off the cuff without any notes, but you have to remember that they have been developing this skill for months or years. Take time to script or outline the structure and flow of your presentation and then practise it on your own before you stand up in front of others.
4. Remember that the audience is on your side
Most people find public speaking scary at first and your audience is no difference. The fact that you are standing up in front of them shows that you have the courage that they lack. They are literally willing you to succeed. Take a moment to remind yourself of this fact before you start to speak and you’ll tap into an empowering source of energy that will bolster your courage.
5. Remember that your audience is much more important than you are
Many people tell me that public speaking becomes significantly less frightening when they remember that they are doing it to help other people. You’re not doing it to show off or to look clever, you are doing it because you have a message that you believe other people will benefit from hearing. This simple shift in your mindset can and does make a huge difference.
Over to you
So what do you think – Is there anything at all in this post that you could take away and experiment with? If so, please try it out and let me know how you got on.