You take the steps up to the stage.
And what you feared starts to happen.
Your legs begin to tremble.
Your heart is pounding in your chest.
And your face and neck turn bright red.
Exactly as you feared.
This can all be so different.
If you just switch your focus.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve shared with me their recurring nightmare.
It normally happens in the first half hour of our presentation skills courses.
Public speaking has been ranked our number one fear in past surveys.
Higher than our own death.
And when you hear clients talk, you can see just why.
I was told this week:
“I literally got brain freeze.
“And forgot everything I was meant to say.”
Another described a scene from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
“It felt as if my heart was jumping out my chest with every beat.”
So I ask the question:
“Why do your legs shake uncontrollably?”
“Why do you go red in the face?”
And the answer usually comes back:
The fear of freezing.
Fear of shaking.
The fear of going red in the face.
So let’s give this some thought.
When you wake up, you tell yourself:
“Right, let’s get some breakfast.”
When you head out to to work, you think:
“Time to grab my car keys and leave.”
When you check your phone, you’re thinking:
“Any messages for me?’
And each time, your mind and body collaborate to do what you’ve requested.
So as you approach the stage, if you’re thinking:
“I always start to shake on stage.”
“I’m going to break out in a sweat.”
“I always go red in the face in front of people.”
Then guess what.
Your mind and body will collaborate to oblige.
Quite simply, what we think about, we bring about.
Whether it’s brushing our teeth or going blank on stage.
If you’re out driving or cycling and spot a pothole.
Steer to the right or left of it.
But if you keep looking at it, you’re likely to go right through it.
Because an obstacle is what we see when we take our eye off the goal.
So approaching a meeting or public speaking, we need to change our focus.
We need to focus on delivering our material well.
Rather than what could go wrong.
And we need to tell ourselves what needs to happen.
So as you approach the stage, remind yourself:
“I’m excited about this and I’m well-prepared.
“This will go well, the audience will enjoy it.”
Then go about making every word, phrase and sentence count.
Focusing on just each phrase and sentence as they come.
You see top sportsmen and women “in the moment”.
When their only focus is the next play.
But when they look to the podium, they lose focus on the job in hand.
Novak Djokovic saw off match points against him to win Wimbledon.
The subject of last week’s blog, golfer Shane Lowry, showed tremendous focus.
Putting aside a nervous start on the final day to win golf’s Open Championship.
Because they focused on delivering what they had to do, second by second.
And that’s what we have to do on stage to conquer public speaking.
Focus on delivering the words.
Slowly, clearly, enthusiastically with passion.
Focus on looking at every person round the table.
Or to every corner of the large room.
Focus on smiling when appropriate.
And being serious when appropriate.
Focus on finishing, having delivered exactly what you intended.
Then, and only then, can you consider the occasion, rather than the delivery.
What you think about, you bring about.
Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can read his full profile here.
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