“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Effective leadership begins with presence and self-awareness. Knowing your impact on others, what motivates you (purpose), understanding and playing to your natural strengths and accepting weaknesses are critical keys for successfully communicating and connecting with others. Brain researchers and psychologists tell us that self-awareness is not an inborn trait but a complex capacity people develop through life experiences. It requires reflection, intuition and an ability to accept and process feedback from others. It requires openness, an ability to deal with ambiguity and acceptance of and caring for others.” MWH
It is natural to feel apprehension when speaking in front of a group, particularly a group of peers. A certain level of anxiety is actually necessary for you to perform your best. The key is to use this anxiety to your advantage, harnessing it to make you dynamic and animated. The physical symptoms of anxiety are very similar to that of excitement. If you can train yourself to interpret your symptoms as excitement, instead of nerves, you are well on your way to using the anxiety to your advantage. So, how do you do this?
1. Avoid negative self-talk. For example, do not use phrases like, “They won’t listen. They’ll be hostile.” Talk like this is not only self-defeating, but it is self-fulfilling. Tell yourself instead that you will succeed. Tell yourself, “I’ve done my research. I’m prepared, and I have practiced.” These statements are also self-fulfilling–in a positive way.
2. Don’t exceed your time limits for a topic. Know how much time you have been allotted and then keep to the schedule. Carefully preparing your material will allow you to cover the topic well, but also selectively. It takes longer to say something than it does to read something. The best way to make sure you do not run over time is to follow the suggestions in step 3.
3. Practice and prepare. Once your presentation material is prepared, it is time for you to prepare. Practice is the key to feeling confident. There are several ways to do this.
–Practice on an audio or video tape. Play it back to catch mistakes you might have made. This will help you catch distracting idiosyncrasies such as touching your hair, playing with your rings or saying “um” over and over again.
–Practice in front of a mirror. Remember to practice what you do with your hands and arms. If you use gestures when you speak, make sure they are natural and not overdone.
–After you have practiced on your own, it is good to get an “audience” to watch your presentation. An audience doesn’t have to be more than one person. Ask for constructive feedback that will help you improve and bolster your confidence.
–If you are trying to persuade your audience of your viewpoint, ask a friend to give you some opposing viewpoints to get a sense of what your audience may be thinking as they hear your presentation. Understanding opposing viewpoints is especially important if you allow questions after the presentation.
4. Know your audience. Your presentation must correlate to your audience’s interests or you will lose them. Knowing your audience will also give you a positive, confident attitude about speaking with them.
5. Visualize yourself succeeding. Do not just tell yourself that you will do well; picture yourself doing well! Take a deep breath, close your eyes and imagine yourself walking to the front of the audience with your shoulders back and a smile on your face. See yourself speaking while the audience nods with approval, laughs at your jokes and applauds when you finish. Carry that successful mental image with you when it is time for you to present.
6. Fake it until you make it. Your audience will not know how nervous you are. They will only know what you show or tell them. Regardless of how you feel inside, act confident. Acting confident can actually make you feel confident.
7. Don’t stress over what “could have been” or “should have been.” Leave the presentation behind once you have finished. Allow yourself five minutes to obsess about what you could have done differently, then move on. Plan constructively for your next project. Set some goals and take what you learned to make the next one even better. A good evaluation tool for yourself is to consider the impact your presentation had on the audience. After all, it was for them you did the presentation.
Dealing with Fears—Confront and grow
As I sat in the audience listening to the facilitator from the Center for Creative Leadership, Jeri Lou Johnson, little did I know that one sentence was about to change my point of view on life.
On this grey and dreary day Jeri Lou gave a marvelous presentation. She had many valuable things to say. But there was one line — one absolute gem — that stands out. Here’s what she said:
“If you want to learn who you are, you must be willing to be uncomfortable.”
I’ll never forget those words. And Jerri was right on the money. To achieve your goals and realize your potential, you must be willing to be uncomfortable, take risks — to do things that you’re afraid to do. That’s how you develop your potential!
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And yet, what do most people do when they face a frightening situation or new activity? They back away from the fear. They don’t take action. I know… because that’s what I did for many years of my life. And I can tell you without hesitation that it’s a losing strategy.Show me a successful person and I’ll show you someone who confronts his or her fears and takes action!
Examining Our Fears
Have you ever been afraid or anxious before trying a new or challenging activity? Has that fear ever stopped you from taking action? I’m sure you’ve been paralyzed by fear at one time or another in your life. I know I have. That’s simply part of being human. Of course, every person has a different fear threshold. What frightens one person to death might have little impact on someone else. For example, to some, speaking in public or starting a new business is scary. Others might be fearful about asking someone for directions… or for a date. Regardless of how trivial or silly you believe your fears may be, this lesson applies to you.
When I talk about fear, I’m not referring to physical risks that might injure you or endanger your health, such as diving off cliffs in Acapulco or bungee jumping. I’m scared of those things, too — and I have no plans to do either of them. What I’m talking about here are those challenges that stand in the way of your personal and professional growth. These are the things that scare you — but which you know are necessary if you’re going to get what you want in life.
The Comfort Zone
When you’re gripped by fear and anxiety, it’s usually because you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Let’s take some time to discuss this important concept — and how it relates to your success and the development of your potential.
Each of us has a comfort zone, a zone of behavior that is familiar to us and where we feel comfortable and safe. Think of your comfort zone as the inside of a circle.
The activities and situations that lie inside the circle are non-threatening and familiar. They’re routine, part of your everyday life — the things you can do with no sweat. In this category are tasks such as speaking to your friends or co-workers or filling out the daily paperwork at your job.
When faced with something outside your comfort zone, you suddenly feel nervous. Your palms become sweaty and your heart pounds. You begin to wonder,
“Will I be able to handle it?
“Will others laugh at me?
“What will my friends and relatives say?”
As you look at the diagram above, what does the “X” represent for you? In other words, what fear is holding you back from reaching the next level of success or fulfillment in your life?
Is it fear of approaching new prospects?
Is it fear about changing careers?
Is it fear about learning new skills?
Is it fear of going back to school?
Is it fear of telling other people what’s on your mind?
Is it fear of public speaking?
Whatever that “X” represents for you, just be honest and admit it. My guess is that thousands, if not millions, of people have the very same fear you have!
The Ultimate Solution: Just Do It
Ralph Waldo Emerson offered some simple advice, which, if followed, can transform your life. He said, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” I know this advice makes good sense, but some people are just too afraid to act. Remember my prior words about the steep price you pay when you let your fears dominate you.
In the end, running away from your fears is a losing strategy. It will only bring you frustration and unhappiness. I can tell you that from personal experience.
There’s nothing wrong with having some fears. Successful people have fears. The difference is that successful people take action and move forward despite being afraid. It’s not always easy, I’ll grant that. But you’ll always feel better about yourself when you face your fears.
In the last 30 years, I’ve had the privilege of traveling throughout the United States and Canada… and doing hundreds of workshops and presenting to thousands of people. During all this time, I haven’t met one person who confronted their fears… looked them in face…developed a plan of action…took action…received feedback on what worked and what didn’t…persevered with more action.. who ever regretted the journey of personal development and change. And I’ve met many people who tell me how much they regret not being able to tackle their fears — and suffered because of it. Have the courage to keep experimenting until you conquer those fears.
As a training/consultant friend, Bob Heckman, often says, “Don’t be one of those people who let negativity and regret take the place of dreams.”
So, stretch yourself. Confront your fears and be willing to expand your comfort zone. The courage muscle can be developed just like any other muscle — with exercise. And when you do an activity outside your comfort zone a few times, you know what happens? That same activity becomes part of your comfort zone!
There’s another bonus when you’re willing to expand your comfort zone. When you push through fear and take action in some areas of your life, you’ll develop confidence in other areas, as well. It’s true! As I became more comfortable as a speaker, I also became a better teacher, communicator, consultant and coach… the list goes on and on.
You can try to deceive yourself that it is no big deal. But be assured you won’t develop your potential to the fullest unless you are willing to tackle your fears. Life doesn’t reward those who refuse to take risks and challenges. Confront your fears… and you’re on the way to developing your way to living a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Now list one of your fears__________________________________________________________ and begin to challenge it in the next 24 hours. Good Luck and stick with it till you conquer it.