It’s a new day for public speakers. Whether you lead team meetings, teach children, train adults or present information to civic or work groups—you’re likely doing all, or some, via webcam.
For more than twenty years I’ve coached and written speeches for business leaders, government officials and convention speakers, as well as trainers, entrepreneurs and political candidates. I’ve found that it really doesn’t matter whether you're preparing for an in-person or virtual presentation, the best practices for preparing, writing and delivering speeches remain the same.
The Speak on Your Feet® series will touch on all aspects of public speaking. This installment suggests ways to establish a mindset that helps you speak with more confidence and less stress.
Even confident speakers find that the first minute or two of a speech is when they experience a flood of energy. This sensation feels like anxiety and can overwhelm nervous speakers who’ve not learned how to channel their adrenaline into a powerful delivery.
Is adrenaline your friend, foe or fuel? It depends upon how you choose to frame it, embrace it and channel it.
I’d like to introduce you: Speaker, meet your new friend adrenaline! This is the start of a powerful relationship.
It took me quite a few years to recognize adrenaline’s value. Until I began taking risks to be seen and heard in high school, I often cowered in silence. I dreaded hearing my name called, especially for book, history or science reports. I didn’t have a clue about how to manage my fear. I just assumed something was wrong with me.
I'd scribble my notes on 3 x 5 index cards, and for days I’d fret over what was to come. When it came time to actually SPEAK, my hands shook, I’d nearly hyperventilate and my eyes couldn’t focus as I tried to read my cards.
In my late 20s I took a job in sales and made a life-changing decision to face this fear head on. One day, while reading about how to overcome fear when making business presentations, I encountered a suggestion I’d not heard before. Ground yourself! You’ll feel confident, calm and strong.
Eager to succeed, I’d have tried almost anything in my first sales presentation. To start, I planted my feet, thinking that would ground me. As an overachiever, I even set my arms bent at my sides as my hands gripped my laminated visual aids.
Another tip suggested looking over the heads of the audience members; in this case, there were nine lovely people in the group. But gazing above their heads was making me feel oddly disoriented and disconnected from them, which made the scene even MORE threatening. Where was I? I remember feeling as though I wasn’t even in the room.
Adrenaline rushed through me. My brain thought I was facing a T-Rex. My body shifted into panic mode. I wanted nothing more than to FLEE!
As the adrenaline found its way to my knees, they began to knock together like a pair of claves.
With the exception of cartoons, I didn’t know knee-knocking could actually occur. The worse it became, the harder I fought to stand frozen. The energy had no release. I felt awful, and I was certain I’d either pass out or die. When will that calm confidence kick in? I wondered.
Now I know that understanding the triggers that lead to the excess energy and anxiety is the first step to dealing with it or, as I recommend, channeling it into useful energy, focus and strength.
Can you pinpoint something you remember that triggers your adrenaline? Capturing your thoughts is key. Is this from an actual memory? My students often discover that they have an immediate association between public speaking and, for example, a terrible church pageant incident or, like me, reading oral book reports from 3 x 5 note cards.
Assumption is another type of memory association that can cause a rush of adrenaline. It doesn't matter whether it happened to you — you simply assume that it could. You might hear someone else talk about their dread of public speaking and assume that you will feel the same way. Or you may remember seeing a movie where a speaker falls apart from anxiety. Those memories are enough to launch a rush of adrenaline.
This adrenaline surge is designed to help you move faster to escape grave danger. Its effects on your body are extensive. Full attention zeroes in on the moment; your eyes can focus at a distance. You will take in plenty of oxygen, and your heart rate increases sending blood to your extremities. Unfortunately, a huge rush of adrenaline is overkill for a speaker (even one who is NOT trying to stay perfectly still, thinking that was what grounded meant).
Take a look at this simplified version of the adrenaline process. I think you'll find it memorable and useful:
Here’s the good news! This is not just useful information about biology. It's the beginning of a plan to address each of these reactions so that your adrenaline can be better regulated.
We’ll cover many tools in the second part of this series, so that you’ll be ready to right-size your adrenaline rush, transforming it into useful, positive energy for your next presentation. We will also explore ideas on visualization, movement and audience interaction as a stress reducer. You’ll even learn how to develop a ritual that will see you through each speaking engagement.
In the meantime, I’m not leaving you empty-handed. You can get a jump start on transforming anxiety into energy. Click here to read or download my guide for specific ways speakers can establish a positive mindset.
Someone told me, back when I was working to overcome my speaking terror, that FEAR stands for Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real. Remember, your imagination can be used to either stoke fear or manage it. Today, I thoroughly enjoy speaking, especially when I’m teaching.
If I can learn to manage my thoughts and my response to the adrenaline rush I feel—I know that you can, too.
Gloria Thomas, The Communication Wizard, Positive Power Lines™
CONFIDENT. CLEAR. CONNECTED.