Do you have lots of reasons you don't want to speak up at meetings or committees or give a presentation? Or maybe you have just one or two BIG ones?
When I hear people say their fears hold them back from speaking. I had extreme speaking fears of my own at one time. And I so want these people not to be fearful that I want to tell them what my old Polish aunts would tell me when negative feelings came up. “Kashka, Don't feel that way.” (But as we know, we’re not supposed to say that kind of thing anymore.)
So I tell them, “Yes, feel that way. And tell me all about it.”
I’ll share more about those stories, and what they can tell us in another post, but for now I want to share four common fears that stop people from speaking. I call them the “Super Silencers.”
Four “Super Silencers”
1. “I'm not an expert in what I am talking about.”
Recently, I’ve been talking a LOT about the “expertise myth.” It's a biggie for me because it keeps the world from hearing so many voices! The truth is you don't need to be an expert, have a PhD, or a fancy title to speak. All the “authority” you need is already in you: your experience, your insight, and what you've learned. Of course you do need a desire to share something that you think will help your audience in some way. But that is ALL you need, I promise.
2. “My material isn't interesting.” (“I work in accounting, finance, etc.” )
Everyone thinks the stuff everyone else does for work is so much more interesting than the stuff that they do. “Who wants to hear about ‘X’?" they say. I’m sure if I ever consulted in a circus related business, someone would say...
“Oh death defying stunts on the flaming tightrope are so boring! Nobody could make that stuff interesting!”
But the truth is that your content is interesting even if it's not flaming tightropes. Here's why: You’re presenting it because you want people to believe something new, or do something different. You are trying to get people to change in some way: change how they think about something, take an action, or know something that will impact them in some way. And change is sexy, even when it involves “pattern-matching-parameter-packets-for-the-gasket-flanges.”
I know, from watching hundreds of presentations, that your content, or “subject matter,” is absolutely not the problem. It's how your content is framed - or not framed - that determines whether it’s interesting to an audience. By “framing” I mean how you package it - how you organize it, how you present it in your title or agenda. Is your content presented as an answer to a question, the solution to a problem, or a benefit to the audience? Probably not, because most people aren't trained or encouraged to even think about packaging. And that's too bad, because it is the single easiest thing you can to make your content interesting.
3. "I might lose my train of thought."
This is a big one for people who are not experienced presenters. Once they get more experience they see that it happens all the time and is no big deal. There are two ways to minimize the fear of losing your place. The first is having an engaging package for your content which helps you remember where you are. When you have the standard organization for your material, a format called, “MANY MANY IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND,” it's hard for you to remember, just as it’s hard for the audience to engage with.
The second way to reduce your fear of losing your place is to have a storehouse of things to say so that your don't have to make up something to say in the moment. I like strategies that involve the audience, like, “What was I just saying? I got off track for a minute.” “Ok where were we?" or “Give me a minute to get back to where I was.”
4. “Something bad happened when I gave a presentation 10 years ago.”
We all have a photographic memory when it comes to “Every-single-thing-I-didn’t-do perfectly-in-my-entire-life.” And of course we have complete amnesia when it comes to good stuff we did. But the truth is that something bad happened when the speakers you LOVE spoke ten years ago but they got up on stage and tried again, and again, and just kept going. And now they are really good.
And that's why the most important thing you can do is to learn to learn from everything that happens and then try again, and learn from that. It’s the most important mindset skill for growth in any area, but especially speaking.