By Lee Glickstein
Excerpted from Be Heard Now! Tap Into Your Inner Speaker and Communicate with Ease [© 1998, Lee Glickstein]. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
One day I found the magic key. After suffering from a terrible fear of public speaking for forty-eight years, I reversed it in myself-transformed the energy of fear into magnetism.
And I found a way to coach others to dramatically turn their fear of public speaking around-to instantly convert a history of stage fright into a natural sense of stage right.
At the heart of such fears is a performance-oriented approach to speaking to groups. We feel we must perform. Not be ourselves. We must put on an act, an exhibition, something for the stage.
When we shift from performance to relationship-oriented speaking, relating one-to-one, friendly, personal, real, speaking conversationally to each one in the audience, a miracle happens-the fear is gone! We never again have to be afraid in front of groups.
Whatever your level of education, speaking experience, or lack of it, when you move fully into relationship-orientation with your audience-speaking to them personally, one by one-you become a "born-again speaker" with infinite resources.
Whether you are a professional speaker dedicated to realizing your highest potential, an occasional speaker, or a non-speaker with debilitating stage fright, this book will show you easily how to drop false stage techniques, worries, and unnatural obstacles. It will instead put you in touch with your infinitely creative source, your "Inner Speaker," the real you, the warm, human, natural you, the one who has waited so long to speak.
Even if you don't plan to speak in public, but suffer a debilitating shyness in groups or with individuals, this book addresses the core of your dilemma, and the ideas here apply to you.
Be Heard Now! puts to rest the conventional "wisdom" that only those born with a silver tongue-or nerves of steel-can speak with golden results. For beginner and experienced speaker alike, it will help you access your deepest creativity and find a new sense of purpose in the world-your Inner Speaker knows the higher calling of your heart and soul.
Here you will learn things that no traditional speaking class tries to teach. Relationship-orientation to groups cannot be taught by technique, but it can be caught by a deep awareness of the realities presented.
You will soon understand exactly why speaking out is a problem for most people. And you will see your way clear to tapping into your Inner Speaker-which has remained as fresh and fertile as the day you locked it away.
The reality is that you were a born speaker. You "goo-gooed" and "gah-gahed" with the best of them. You expressed yourself effortlessly and creatively in play and pain-until you were told by people you trusted that you didn't know how to speak.
This book will help you discover your authentic truth. Believe it or not, this truth, simply expressed to a group, results in uniquely eloquent style, just-right content, and poignant, humorous storytelling. Even your deepest and most valid fears cannot stop this wonderful process from happening if you apply the ideas and guidelines that follow.
If you are weary of thinking big and feeling small, if you agree with writer and speaker Marianne Williamson that "There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you," come join me in the great adventure of speaking with ease.
Lee Glickstein, October 1998
From agony to ecstasy: tapping into your own natural power
- "I physically shake in terror and am unable to communicate a point of view."
- "I am petrified, waiting for the audience to expect me to do badly."
- "I'm a polished, professional speaker, but I have a deeper message hidden away and I feel I'm turning my back on it."
- Would you like to transform your agony over speaking in public to ecstasy, no more waiting?
Speaking without fear is your birthright!
- You are asked to present a toast at your best friend's wedding. No problem. You'll look into the happy couple's eyes and tell them what's in your heart.
- Tomorrow morning you're giving a three-minute pep talk to your sales team. You take five minutes to consider what you want to cover. Now you can't wait to get at 'em.
- Tonight you are speaking to 150 people. Instead of being paralyzed with fear and anxiety, uncertain about the outcome-or compulsively overpreparing and rehearsing every word of your talk-you are looking forward to the evening!
Do these scenarios sound impossible, or at least unrealistic? No longer. This is the essence of a new way to communicate based on relaxed, natural, authentic human connections, and on accessing your genuine passion.
Speaking from our heart lets us compel rapt attention every time we speak. Even inexperienced speakers with severe stage fright can gain heartfelt support and immediate trust in sales presentations and classrooms, at dinner tables, in corporate training-while giving a toast at a wedding or a keynote to ten thousand.
Speaking can be fun! Easy, delightful, electric, cathartic, and fulfilling!
You deserve not to have stage fright. And if you are already a polished speaker, you deserve to learn how to go beyond polish.
You will never again have to memorize a speech.
You can be a free, warm, happy speaker and captivate your audience every time.
Everyone can give a talk without fear. Most people were taught to fear groups as a child. That dread will now disappear.
Some of you have already suffered terribly in front of groups. Maybe you will recognize yourself in these real-life quotes:
"I'm an introvert, not a performer. In college speech class I threw up after every speech."
"When I speak to even a few people, fear of saying the wrong thing and looking stupid just overwhelms me."
"I'm so painfully self-conscious, my throat tightens up and I have trouble breathing."
"I have difficulty finishing even one sentence, let alone getting across what's in my heart."
Some of you suffer from a different anguish:
"Shyness isn't my problem, nor do I have stage fright. But I hide behind a rhetorical speaking style, like a politician. I don't really reveal my heart. I have a deeper message hidden away, but I feel like I'm running scared."
There is a new, easier way to enjoy talking to three people or to three thousand.
This book tells how to do this. Simply, quickly. You can now be happy in front of people. You can now be yourself. In this book, you will discover:
- How to get past public speaking myths: public speaking is not about performance. It is about expression of our authentic selves. Stage fright is not to be conquered and overcome. It must be honored and moved through. Critical feedback does not spur improvement. Positive feedback nurtures growth.
- How to defuse your Inner Critic.
- How to quickly be yourself-the key to compelling rapt attention.
- Why humor is not about making people laugh. Humor is about letting people laugh!
- Why being real is mesmerizing.
- How to find your natural speaking style-one that has a deep impact on people.
- How to listen while you speak. Why good listeners are good speakers.
- How to have instant rapport-the four basic steps to connect with any audience.
- How to go from being charisma-impaired to vibrantly vulnerable.
- How to turn nervousness into-nirvana!
- How to quickly and easily prepare a talk that opens minds and reaches hearts.
- From Charisma-Impaired to Vibrantly Vulnerable
I grew up "charisma-impaired" and developed these principles and practices from my own desperate need to overcome the world's worst stage fright.
The very first public talk of my life was a disaster. It was my bar mitzvah speech. Bar mitzvah is the ceremony at which a Jewish boy comes of age-but at thirteen, puberty for me was still just a rumor. I uttered the traditional opening line, spoken by Jewish boys throughout the ages: "Today I am a man." Only instead of the assertive adult voice I was trying for, the line came out in a squeaky soprano!
It brought down the house, and I was so embarrassed that I didn't speak again in public for twenty-five years.
In 1974 I moved to California and became deeply involved in the human potential movement. Many of us "potential humans" were exploring our inner selves with Werner Erhard, Ram Dass, encounter groups, sensitivity training, and every other psychospiritual fad that came down the pike.
I avidly aspired to "become a person," though to paraphrase a Lily Tomlin line, I later wondered if maybe I should have been more specific.
But I was also exploring stand-up comedy and public speaking. Putting my feet directly into the fire seemed the only way I'd ever get through stage fright, a fright that felt more like winged bats than "butterflies in my stomach."
More than a decade before Tony Robbins had his followers walking on hot coals, I trod scorching stages as a way of dealing with my excruciating shyness. It helped, but not enough: I was still shy, but now I could almost survive being shy in front of many people instead of just two or three. I transformed my hidden insecurity into public insecurity. My bats were beginning to fly in formation. My performance hysteria had subsided into anxiety. Clearly, there was more to learn.
Unlike some aspiring speakers, I was constitutionally incapable of covering up my nervousness and insecurity with the techniques or posturing that serve as a crutch for "Outer Speakers," my term for those who hide their true selves, who speak to the audience, not to individuals-who put on an external show as camouflage to disguise the true self, the wonderful Inner Speaker.
Frankly, such tricks made me more self-conscious and uncomfortable as I struggled with acting "lessons" and gimmicks billed as "surefire" audience turn-ons. My apparent liability, however, held the key to everything I now know about public presentation.
I experimented with processes that might help me-and would later help the clients I coached in presentation skills. One day I asked myself what would happen if I didn't try to cover up my discomfort, didn't pretend I wasn't tongue-tied, didn't talk faster and faster to avoid the silences, didn't memorize every word for fear of drawing a blank?
I had no way of knowing whether this utter lack of presentation would work. At first I found the thought of a more natural approach unnatural! But I wanted to test out my theories (or hunches, really) to see if they worked.
I decided to get a few people together-and have each of us take a turn standing in front of the group, being exactly who we were in that moment. We could do whatever we wanted for five minutes-talk, sing, recite poetry, or just stand in silence.
We didn't have to cover up our nervousness; it was okay to be nervous, or sad, or silent, or joyful, or outraged. And no matter how we felt or what we did, the others would give us their full attention and support.
Our only ground rules: we would explore how it felt to stay connected with people in the audience, and accept the unconditional support and positive regard of the group. When we were finished, everyone would give only positive feedback about what they felt when we were in front of the room.
We would bask in a completely safe environment-in that rare condition of being fully seen and heard by other people. Our only job would be to explore how it felt to receive that much attention and acknowledgment. And to let in as much of it as we could.
It sounded almost too good to be true, so I put together some groups and tried it out.
The Speaking Circles Start to Turn
At first, some people resisted all the positive attention and support. They complained that being supported no matter what we did-and hearing only what people liked about our presentations-"wasn't fair," or "wasn't real." But we decided to put aside that resistance and try it anyway-to see whether a more natural, personal approach to speaking in public in a supportive environment works.
The results were astonishing. People blossomed in miraculous ways when they felt fully seen and heard-and when they acted exactly the way they felt. Again and again, we saw that a few minutes of focused support could dissolve a lifetime of holding back with groups, and that those who were already good at receiving support could become even more comfortable with themselves, and therefore even more magnetic, more charismatic.
Those who had been nearly paralyzed by the fear of speaking in public began to relax into a lovely, confident presence. People who had adopted "stagy" or "slick" personas became genuine and vulnerable. People who had never felt that anything they said would be valued began to see that their voices could influence others.
Even I was able to move from charisma-impaired to vibrantly vulnerable. It was a completely uplifting and enriching experience that produced startling breakthroughs.
It seemed like magic. We had stumbled onto a way for anyone to be charismatic, because it turned out that the most compelling thing any of us could do in front of the group was to be real-to be authentically, genuinely ourselves. That was the thing that inspired trust-and attracted people like a magnet!
Old Myths, New Realities
To be HEARD now, you have to be HERE now.
That brings a whole new dimension to what happens when one person speaks and other people listen.
When most of us hear the words "public speaking," we tend to believe certain myths about how we should and shouldn't communicate. But the reality of our attention-challenged society forces us to change how we interact with one another-and to think about public speaking on five fronts:
Myth #1: Public speaking is about mastering PERFORMANCE and winning the audience over with style and technique.
New Reality: Public speaking is about EXPRESSION of our authentic selves.
When speaking is a performance, the audience is watching a performer or actor-not necessarily a person who is relating from his or her authentic self. An invisible curtain always keeps this performer at a certain distance from the audience. Performance requires a script, rehearsals, and lots of effort. It traps the performer into a prescribed set of "Do"s and "Don't"s. He can only go so far toward his own truth, or toward the audience.
Twenty years ago I performed standup comedy. I wasn't bad. I memorized my jokes and recited them word for word. If people laughed, I would remember my next line. If they didn't, I would be lost for the evening, which in most cases was mercifully only five minutes.
One night I was doing well. They were with me. Then I was exposed as not being with them. A lamp fell near the back of the room. There was a boom, and a light flared out. But I could not afford to register any of it. I was on to my next joke. They rightfully shut me out the rest of the way.
Ten years later I found out how not to be a performer, yet make it work to be me in a big way. When I speak in front of groups, I now find that I can be entertaining, enlightening, magnetic, and humorous, but with no fixed agenda or strings to pull.
Magic happens when we approach speaking from the perspective of expressing ourselves, not performing. When speaking is the natural expression of what we believe and live, then our audience is spending time with a human being who is telling his or her own truth. Our passion becomes infectious. We can relax, and thus people listening to us can relax.
One speaker said it was like being an artist: "The air space is my canvas and I am the brush."
The new reality turns automated public speakers into authentic speakers, and practitioners list authenticity first among all the benefits of performance-oriented speaking.
"Practicing connecting with my audiences helped break me out of a formula style of speaking into a much more lively, natural, and personally enjoyable way of presenting my ideas," said Dr. Neil Fiore, a psychologist and author who lectures across the country.
"When I'm being most myself on stage, I can actually feel the audience being touched by me," said a corporate trainer.
"Exploring expression in front of a group allows me to connect my heart to my theories, and to discover why the things I speak and write about are important to me," a novelist said.
"What a relief to find that I could be more effective by speaking to the audience in my natural style, directly from my heart and gut, rather than according to the teachings of traditional public speaking classes," said Hermann Maynard, a business consultant.
Authenticity is being touted as one of the most effective leadership tools around. In an age of cynicism and distrust, it is one of the few things that inspire people to action. To get authentic commitment from people, we need to inspire them with genuine passion. What we say doesn't count for much if people don't believe us, or if they don't think that we believe ourselves. Today, enlightened business leaders build trust and get results by revealing their authentic selves and setting an inspired example. If I were putting millions into a project, I would want to look into my associates' eyes and see someone authentic at home in there.
Myth #2: Stage fright must be conquered and overcome.
New Reality: Stage fright must be honored and moved through.
"Stage fright" is not a syndrome reserved for actors and entertainers. Any time self-consciousness impedes communication, whether one-on-one or with a group, there is a degree of stage fright present. This trait seems to be built into the human condition.
The way to move through stage fright organically, to dissolve it rather than merely mask it, is to stand before a supportive group and let ourselves feel the fear. We may even want to talk about it.
This accomplishes two things. First, we are no longer fighting the fear. Whenever we resist something we are feeling, it becomes like a beach ball that we're trying to hold under water.
We can push it down again and again, but the minute we relax our grip, it springs to the surface and makes a big splash. When we stop resisting the fear, we stop giving it power. We stop making it strong by providing it with something to push against.
Second, when we allow ourselves to feel our fear in front of a supportive group who would never do all the terrible things we're (consciously or unconsciously) afraid they are going to do to us, we start breaking down our belief that there is something to fear.
When a group beams appreciative attention on someone with stage fright, the fear usually melts away-and is often replaced by an absolute joy and a new expressiveness that comes as much from relief as it does from receiving the support. When the fear honestly disappears, rather than just getting covered up, we can move more deeply into our own wisdom and reach out more directly to the audience-even an audience in the "real world" that has not agreed to be unconditionally supportive.
Here is what two speakers had to say about stage fright:
"I've been speaking to large groups for fifteen years and have always had a big fear of drawing a blank. With support, I've discovered that when I don't know what to say next, I can just take a few seconds 'in the void.' Something always comes-and when I see myself on videotape, that silence looks fine. As a result, I have created a whole new, and more honest, relationship with my audiences."
"I started out terrified to show my real self. It's a natural fear for those of us who have suffered some crushing event. But when I talked about what had 'crushed' me to a supportive group who just listened and didn't try to 'fix' me, I got through it in just a few minutes. Now I can open up and talk about what excites me in life."
We will explore the concept of embracing stage fright in greater detail in Chapter 7.
Myth #3: Public speaking is a task with defined parameters.
New Reality: Public speaking is an art with infinite possibilities.
The traditional motivation for improving our communication in front of groups is professional development, whether in the service of becoming a paid speaker or a more effective business leader.
"I wanted to polish my speaking skills to promote the psychoeducational program I've developed as a family therapist," said Tom Handlan. "I came to speaking class to work on presentations, like I was bringing in a car to get a good paint job to make it look shiny and slick."
What Tom found, in contrast to his desire to "polish my speaking skills," was a class that asked the question: "Where is your passion?"
"It wasn't about the outside but about looking inward," he says. "It's finding the spark that gets me going in the morning, finding what drives me through the day, and what helps me to move beyond obstacles and detours to focus on the goal."
Finding the "Inner Speaker"-our real self, warm, intimate, honest, the voice we use to speak truly to our loved ones-is a satisfying and transforming process that helps us know ourselves better, work through difficulties we have connecting with others, get clearer on what we believe, and find a stronger voice to express those beliefs in all areas of our lives.
Here are some views of the place speaking holds in our lives:
"Speaking has become for me a transformational experience. Every time I get up on stage I learn more about myself. I grow, and I'm pushed to say what I believe. We all have a particular knowledge, and I believe we're put on earth to speak that truth."
"Expressing myself on stage with support allows me to synthesize my ideas, thoughts, and experiences until sparks fly and I am amazed at what comes out of my mouth. I am learning what my unique gift is by sharing it. This clarity gives me more self-confidence in everything I do, not just speaking."
Myth #4: Critical feedback spurs improvement.
New Reality: Positive feedback nurtures growth.
Too many speaking careers are sabotaged in the early stages by the "friendly fire" of well-meaning suggestions from friends and associates in the guise of "advice," "helpful criticism," and "the honest truth"-"truths" like:
"I counted five 'um's in your talk."
"You speak too fast."
"You seemed nervous."
"You might try walking across the stage and gesturing like so to drive home that point."
Speakers at any stage of professional development make quantum leaps in self-expression when they get generous amounts of support and appreciation. People flourish when we invite only positive feedback. There is no need to be shamed in public in order to know what you want to correct-and critical "corrections" are not only paralyzing, but often inaccurate.
Myth #5: Humor is about making people laugh.
New Reality: Humor is about letting people laugh.
As discussed in greater detail in Chapter 8, healthy and effective humor comes out of sharing an awareness of our common humanity-our frailties, the tensions in our relationships, the chatter of our minds. Laughter flows when we remember that the human mind is God's little practical joke, and when we share the embarrassment of being human-together. Humor that is mean-spirited, deprecating, or manipulative isn't funny for very long. But humor that is inclusive and kind-hearted will stand the test of time.
Authentic speaking allows the natural humorist and storyteller within us to emerge:
"People laugh at the most unexpected places when I'm telling stories about my life! I'm at my funniest when I'm really not trying to be funny but am just having a good time recounting an incident."
"As a humorist, when I share my humanity and emotions I am gently massaging the listeners' pain until it turns to pleasure, like when someone tenderly pushes and rubs the crick in your back."
"As we get older and wiser, we find out more about who we've always been. It's sort of like a banana, peeling off some of those defense mechanisms and expressing what's underneath. Drama is about peeling the onion; comedy is about peeling the banana."
The four great truths of all good communication
Before we delve into the "how-to's," let us look at an overview of public speaking in the light of our new approach.
1. The most compelling thing we can do is to be real-to be authentically, genuinely ourselves-and no one can do that as well as we can.
Everyone has a story to tell, a unique message to deliver, and a special voice in which to express it. Our presence speaks more loudly than anything we say. If we are at ease with ourselves, people know it and can relax with us. The more comfortable we are, the more eloquent and compelling we become.
"When I'm standing up there feeling inspired by the glow in my listeners' faces, those are the exact times I'm told I am inspiring," says a secretary.
Authentic speakers don't use formal "styles" or "public speaking techniques"-because these tend to mask our authentic selves and are not particularly compelling. The best technique is no technique.
2. A deep, powerful presence and relaxed self-expression emerge naturally when we are fully seen and heard in a safe, supportive environment.
When we can be completely free from any fear of criticism, rejection, or reprisal, our most authentic selves emerge naturally.
As this essence is nurtured over time with positive feedback, the layers of defenses fall away. The more we are ourselves, the more the audience can be themselves, which makes the room even safer, which lets us be more ourselves, and so on into a powerful upward spiral.
"I used to love my pajama parties," a corporate trainer told me. They were safe, cozy gatherings where we girls told the truth and no one put on airs. Thirty years later, I lead what I think of as 'pajama circles,' and I am in heaven!"
3. Connection is everything.
As we speak, we "listen" to our audience, and return again and again to our common humanity and heart-and-soul connection.
The key to instant rapport is making others feel fully seen and heard in our presence. When we listen to others, they listen to us. When we honor people with our full attention and regard, they listen to what we say, whether we are speaking to one person or ten thousand people.
4. The key to connecting with any audience is not knowing how to give to them-but knowing how to receive support from them.
It's not what we put out, it's what we allow our audience to give, that determines our relationship with them.
These four elements of effective public speaking-being ourselves, creating a safe environment, connecting with the audience, and receiving support-all work together and strengthen one another. When we do any one of them, the other three are enhanced.
"Transformational speaking": genuine, natural power
The Be Heard Now! principles developed out of the experience of two thousand Speaking Circles. This greenhouse environment gave birth to "transformational speaking." When you make speaking a relationship event (person-to-person, one-on-one, intimate, real, warm) rather than a performance event (distant, staged, manipulating), you have achieved the easy miracle-you have become a "transformational speaker." You are changed. Your audience is changed. You and your listeners are one, transported to a deeper, higher level of rapport.
Transformational speaking is speaking from the heart directly to one member of the audience at a time. It transforms fear of speaking to joy of speaking. It transforms a performance into an intimate conversation. It transforms an Outer Speaker (external, distant, manipulative) into an Inner Speaker (warm, personal, intimate).
People everywhere are realizing that those who can stand before others in a genuine way, being themselves in all their glory and vulnerability, can get more done and produce better results in all areas of their lives.
"Transformational speaking is on the cutting edge of what's going on in this country in business," says Doug Krug, a trainer of corporate leaders and co-author of Enlightened Leadership: Getting to the Heart of Change. He writes:
It's clear that what we've been doing just isn't working. We've been trying to deal with the surface stuff, not the real issues, which are people issues! People want to get real and authentic, and business leaders are beginning to see that they have to get real with their potential customers and clients-and with their employees.
And it's true. People want to do business with those who can look them in the eye and connect deeply. They recognize slickness. They want to be dealt with honestly and given a chance to express themselves and have their best evoked. They want leaders in whom they have faith, leaders who have, as Doug Krug calls them, "the 'soft skills' of support, listening, connection, and authenticity."
Consultant and professional speaker Chuck Moyer, president of TrendPower, adds, "The key to balance and success in business and relationships in the twenty-first century will be a keen awareness of and attention to the basic human need of human beings to be fully seen and fully heard exactly as we are."
Until recently, we might not have used these terms to describe successful business relationships. Today, the same values described in this book are on the cutting edge of American corporate culture.
The ten great benefits of transformational speaking
Confidence. We learn how to move through fears easily and quickly, and become more at ease with ourselves and others. Even if we are nervous, we don't panic.
Authenticity. We become more natural and real, and we open into a genuine, heartfelt connection with our audience.
Spontaneity. "Thinking on our feet" becomes second nature. A natural humor starts to emerge that relaxes listeners and makes them more receptive. We move from stage fright and compulsive overpreparation to relaxed spontaneity.
- "It's like I can't do anything wrong up there when I'm in the flow. Everything works because I say it does," says a salesman.
Clarity. We speak simply, clearly, from the heart. Because we are calm and clear, we influence our listeners in a natural way.
Self-expression. As we open ourselves to the dance of giving and receiving, we naturally become more self-expressive.
- "Since I began telling my audiences that I was motivated to get into financial planning by my dad's failure to create a secure future for my mom and myself, I've become aware of deeper levels of commitment to my clients," says Chuck Root. And this inspires more of his listeners to become clients.
Instant rapport. We connect with people on a human level and honor their essence, so they want us to succeed.
Better listening. We learn to listen to people, even while we are speaking. This carries over into all aspects of our lives, enriching both business and personal relationships.
Being heard. When we listen to people and let them support us, they listen to us!
Charisma. We learn to find and honor our own unique charisma, which lets us speak to groups as naturally as we would to friends over coffee. That's an irresistible force-one-to-one or in a huge auditorium.
Personal growth. We develop higher self-esteem, enjoy better relationships, become more productive, and find a deeper appreciation of others.
Eve Hinman is an engineer who specializes in the design of terrorist-resistant buildings. She recently did a briefing in Washington about a report she wrote for a high-risk government agency moving into a new federal facility not designed to resist explosions.I played it in my usual low-key manner. One guy in the meeting said, "Have you conferred with [a certain consulting firm that happened to be my previous employer] for your study? I've read some very excellent reports from them on the Oklahoma City bombing." I responded, "Well, I wrote those reports."
Before my practice in transformational speaking, I would have gotten self-conscious about it. It would have made me feel uncomfortable to have that kind of positive attention paid to me. Now my ego enjoyed it. It feels natural to be an expert and have that expertise confirmed publicly. I chatted with him afterwards and made a new professional friend.
Transformational speaking represents not only a new way of speaking, but a new way of living, relating, and doing business.
Who Are the Transformational Speakers?
People of many different ages, economic circumstances, walks of life, and outlooks become transformational speakers.
Studies show that speaking in public is the number one fear among Americans, outranking even the fear of death! In the ten years I've coached public speaking, I have heard this fear expressed many ways. Here are three situations in which these fears typically show up.
"I'm fine one-to-one, with colleagues I see every day or even people from out of town. But put me in front of three or more people, and I freeze up. It's as if somebody reached in and cauterized my brain cells."
"I make my living training departments within corporations to communicate better, and I do a good job-but I have to be hyperprepared and it's agony! I have to know everything I'm going to say a week before I say it, and rehearse endlessly. I just want to be relaxed and comfortable with those people. I want to be spontaneous."
"I hold back at church or PTA because I'm not quite sure what I want to say-and I'm afraid people won't listen anyway. When I do have to stand up and give a committee report, I just go as fast as I can to get it over with."
Which kind of speaker are you?
Are you confident addressing a group when you know exactly what you are going to say, but lose presence when you need to be spontaneous?
Do you run a meeting or training session with great spontaneity and excitement, but go stiff and dull when asked to present a prepared talk?
Does the prospect of standing in front of any group fill you with feelings of shyness, discomfort, anxiety, or dread-even though you know in your heart you have a contribution to make?
Are you already a good speaker who could use some leading-edge coaching to take you over the top?
I have tested the methods in this book with more than three thousand groups over nine years: CEOs, salespeople, entrepreneurs, trainers, schoolchildren, artists and writers, storytellers, community leaders, health care professionals, people in career transition, and others from every walk of life, including professional speakers.
These methods can turn almost anyone into a relaxed, compelling speaker who actually enjoys being in front of groups. And who can communicate a clear message with high impact-just by being themselves.
Confidence about public speaking carries over into all aspects of personal and professional life. Transformational speaking takes you to the next level, whether you aspire to be a five-figure speaker like management consultant Tom Peters, address your staff for five minutes with your head held high, or inspire your friends over lunch.
"Mealtime is a fun time to play with this communication approach," Elizabeth, a wife and mother, told me. "After I get someone's attention and before I ask them to 'please pass the salt,' I make soft, deliberate eye contact for two to three seconds. Then I stay connected for a couple of seconds after my 'thank you.' There is a wonderful shift in the sense of attention around the dinner table. It brings the family together."
Practicing These Principles
You can practice this natural way of speaking in a conference room or in your own living room. The final chapter will give you all the tools you need to set up your own peer support Speaking Circle. Thousands of people have moved from agony in front of groups to ecstasy in weeks, sometimes in minutes, in these sessions.
An international community of transformational speakers has emerged from the thousands of sessions done to date. Our farthest-flung circle, made up of recovering stammerers in Ireland, has let it be known that they welcome visitors from any other part of the world, whether stutterers or not, to sit in and participate in their circle.
"We stammerers are the only Irishmen who have not kissed the Blarney Stone," says Conor Murray of Dublin. "Come show us how you speak."
Scarcely a day goes by that I don't hear from someone in fear. Here's an e-mail that recently came to me from Chicago:
I'm in a professional position with the federal government and have had many successful years of avoiding speaking before groups. I need help ASAP. My shaking hands don't look good when I'm introducing someone who's won an award. Through the years I've had many bad experiences where I begin focusing on how I sound, which creates greater anxiety. I need help. Best regards, Rick.
Rick, like many of us, requires practice to get beyond his fears. He needs a safe place in which to speak his truth, a place in which he will not be ridiculed, criticized, or interrupted, perhaps for the first time in his life.
He can find that place with a friend as outlined in chapter 4, or even in his own mind as he imagines a completely supportive audience. Or with a few friends in the comfort of a living room or around a kitchen table.
Others will find it useful to gather family, friends, or colleagues to form a peer support Speaking Circle (see chapter 13 for instructions), or to join one that already meets in your area.
Speaking as life
Good speaking is about the thrill of self-discovery. It puts us in the middle of life's adventure. We express what is unique about ourselves and experience our deepest connections and commonalities with other people.
"I've learned more about myself and other people in three practice sessions of transformational speaking than I did in twenty years of studying psychology and metaphysics!" said one writer.
Practicing with a supportive group lets us do on a small scale what we all want to do in the larger world: share support and community. And in the process find more of ourselves.
We already have within us everything we need to be wonderful communicators. It's just a matter of bringing our talents, powers, and magnetism to the surface.
Excerpted from Be Heard Now! Tap Into Your Inner Speaker and Communicate with Ease [© 1998, Lee Glickstein]. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.