5 minutes to go. I’m sitting in the changing room, on a small chair facing the wall,
I hardly hear the meditation guidance in my earphones as my heart is pounding like a hammer.
The meditation session is over and I stand up. I start jumping like crazy. It wakes me up.
My palms are cold and my ears are all red. I hear my name. It’s the time to get on stage.
What is it about public speaking that causes so many emotions?
Performing in public is an amazing tool that enables you to share ideas and influence others. Invaluable for artists, business leaders and parents. It seems to be one of the best mental workouts of all — it is entertaining and available for free. All you need to do is step outside your comfort zone for a moment.
Many people tell me that it is not for them: not the right personality, not the right time, not the right… whatever reason. Maybe it is not for them, but I assure you it is for you.
Let me tell you more. Giving a talk is easy and brings a lot of satisfaction. We just learn to think it is hard. I have worked with people of all kinds: young startup founders, mid-level managers and seasoned corporate CEOs. Many of them were achieving great things but went cold feet over speaking in public. All of them ended up doing a great job on stage. It didn’t require much time, it just required commitment to change. The 10% of effort to generate 90% of result was only about rewiring the way they thought about speaking, but how do you rewire the way people think?
Let me share with you six elements of the mental model for speaking in public that will actually work.
1. You are cool
Some people think that they have a “bad” personality and they need to change this in order to deliver a valuable talk. This is not true. Don’t pretend to be who you are not. In a recent survey I did on LinkedIn most people responded that what they valued most about a speaker is honesty: being your true self and telling the truth. You don’t need to change. Isn’t that a relief? All you have to do is accept who you are and convey what you already know. People can smell dishonesty a mile away. Don’t look for problems in your demeanour and magic posture tricks, look for your strengths as a speaker and the true lessons you have learned. When I picked up this truth from Adam Rogala it became a turning point in my interactions on stage and with camera. Nobody is perfect… and perfect is boring.
2. Nobody cares about you
The audience is there to grab a few thoughts and emotions and take them back home. They are hungry for your experience and stories. But, sad to say, most of the time they don’t care about you. You are the only one who thinks about the color of your tie and the way you articulate. Stop being a self-centred narcissist and just deliver the story. When you get on stage think about your story as being a gift to others — you have already won.
3. Your story is good
Recently I had a conversation with a very successful author – Mark Manson. I told him I was worried about whether a book I was planning to write would appeal to anyone. There were so many greater minds than mine writing about almost everything I had to say. Why would my story be any good? “Because it is your story and people will feel it and enjoy it.” — he said. When in doubt remember — your story is unique as only you have experienced it. This makes it a different story and there is someone out there waiting for it!
4. Keep it simple
Simplifying the message makes it easy for everyone. Think about what your audience needs to learn or experience. Decide on one idea you want them to remember. Then use situations from your experience to illustrate it. Use simple words a child would understand. Put on one short idea per slide. Split a good story in half. Start and finish by telling it. Make it easy for the audience to understand the point… and for you to memorize the content.
5. Get excited
When you are about to appear in front of an audience, you are most likely going to feel a bit nervous. Everyone does. Do not try to shut this feeling up. It will just make it worse. Similarly: when somebody tells you not to worry you usually end up even more stressed. The expert performs a mental trick to switch this energy from anxiety to excitement. Hey, you are about to give all these people a lot of great value! Isn’t that great? Now the stress is gone and you are ready to rock.
6. Expect nothing
When you are on stage don’t let any blunt looks from the crowd distract you. Maybe this person is just having a bad day or someone forced them to join the meeting. Imagine all these heads in the audience are a field of cabbage. This will help you stay on track. Don’t expect huge applause. One very interested and happy listener is a great reward to start with.
Remind yourself of these six elements as the mental model for any speech. No matter if you are planning your first presentation in front of a few people from your team or a huge keynote in front of a thousand faces. Your relaxed attitude will transform into performance. Turn off the self-critic and go with the flow.
I get off the stage and grab a bottle of water. Was my speech valuable or not? To me the majority of worries come after the presentation is over. I am thirsty for feedback and looking forward to watching the video from my speech to learn. This is the right moment to be tough on oneself and to be open for rough comments.
But even while being critical I tell myself that I accomplished something. No matter how big or small, it asks for a reward. So the last hint. After you are done — don’t just jump into another task. Reward yourself by building a positive association in your brain between public speaking and a guilty pleasure you are looking forward to afterwards.
Now imagine that big chocolate cookie or glass of wine you will earn by accomplishing this task.
Are you ready to get on stage?