Our biggest fear can be conquered. Graham price explains…

Whatever your role in life or work, being able to speak to an audience with confidence and ability is a highly useful asset. Whether you’re an executive or an executive assistant, there are bound to be occasions when you need to address a group.

For many, this is an anxiety-provoking experience. Surveys in many countries, including America, have clearly shown that speaking to groups is by far the most common source of anxiety; much more widespread than heights, spiders, flying or even death. Over 80% of people have experienced it. I myself was anxious speaking to groups through my teens and well into my 20s, until I discovered how to resolve it.

Those who’ve read my earlier articles will know that whenever we act in a way that’s driven by an uncomfortable feeling (anxiety or any other limiting feeling) we reinforce the unconscious belief/s driving that feeling. So in the case of speaking to groups, every time we avoid speaking to a group because we feel anxious, we reinforce the unconscious belief driving the anxiety (speaking to groups is “dangerous” or “threatening”).

You’ll also know that if we want to unwind the unconscious belief driving a feeling, we need to accept the feeling and repeatedly take the opposite action. I call this tool: “Accept the feeling, choose the action”. So in the case of speaking to groups, we need to practice accepting the anxiety – be willing to feel anxious, stop wanting or trying not to feel anxious and understand we can feel anxious and still speak however challenging that may at first seem – and create lots of opportunities to speak to groups.

For most people who live in or near a town or city, the easiest and safest place to practice speaking to groups will almost certainly be a Toastmasters Club. The Toastmasters route to becoming a confident and able public speaker is well known in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Less well known in the UK, Europe and Asia, it is still widely available.

For those not familiar with Toastmasters, these clubs exist to provide a safe place to practice speaking in front of a group, in order to gain confidence and ability, without being judged by anyone if your starting point is “no confidence and no ability”. Confidence is gained primarily through practice. Ability is gained primarily through feedback from those who are “initially more experienced” every time you speak.

In most developed countries today, it’s hard to find a recognised speaker, whether politician, corporate leader or in any other field, who hasn’t used Toastmasters as at least part of their route to achieving this. You can find a club near you by searching at www.toastmasters.org. If you join a club, here are some tips for achieving rapid progress:

  • Clubs generally have plenty of expertise around how to improve your speaking abilities. They’ll advise how to improve speech organisation, body language, eye contact etc, but most know little about how to deal with anxiety. So remember my advice. Most anxiety speaking to groups is being anxious about feeling anxious. Anxious speakers worry about whether their anxiety will increase and affect their delivery and whether people will notice, so they desperately want not to feel anxious. This inevitably makes things worse. The answer? Stop wanting not to feel anxious, remind yourself that it’s normal and understand you can feel anxious and speak. The result? Your anxiety will diminish. Combine this with lots of practice and it will quickly be resolved.
  • Focus on any benefits you can give your audience through your talk. It will diminish any negative thoughts about your own performance.
  • Take particular notice of feedback given by several people and focus on implementing it. Generally ignore feedback given by one person. It’s likely to reflect their individual preferences.
  • Volunteer for assignments as much as you can. Give impromptu one-minute talks and prepared speeches and enter competitions even if you feel unconfident. It will enhance your progress.
  • When most inexperienced speakers get up to speak, they have a “survival” mindset. “If I can just get through this, I’ll be fine.” Such a mindset doesn’t generate rapid progress. It’s self-limiting and tends to hold you back. A much better mindset, in the “safe” environment of Toastmasters, is to throw caution to the wind and be brave. Once you’ve set the baseline by demonstrating any lack of confidence and ability, start trying to be as amazing as you can every time you get up to speak. Try to emulate the good speakers. Try to stretch yourself beyond whatever you believe to be your natural ability. The resulting messages to your unconscious will unwind any limiting beliefs far more quickly and your progress will be more rapid.

Once you’ve gained confidence and ability through Toastmasters, start creating opportunities to speak in less “safe” environments. If you have a topic of interest, offer to give after-dinner talks at Rotary Clubs or talks at other venues. If you need a subject, how about your experience gaining more confidence speaking to groups.

Best wishes in your goal to become a powerful speaker.

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Graham W Price is a chartered psychologist, personal and executive coach and development trainer. He’s an accredited member of the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and a leading provider of Acceptance Action Therapy ... (Read More)

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