Yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing a friend and fellow writer present her very first public reading! Let me go ahead and kill the suspense by saying that she did exceptionally well. Her tone was engaging. She read at a good pace. The piece she shared was without a doubt well written and the audience responded at all the right places. Everything went off without a hitch. The excitement radiating off of her when she came back to the table was contagious. You see, she, like many of us, has a big aversion to speaking in front of a group. As this presentation was held in a theater and her reading was followed by one from a seasoned actor, the term "stage fright" held extra meaning.
This current age of online interaction is doing nothing but helping most of us grow our flock of nervous butterflies. As a child, I was very shy. I have since learned the art of covering that shyness but I have to expend a huge amount of mental energy in order to appear socially comfortable in situations where I am called upon to speak in front of others or even to speak to people that I do not know well. I have an incredible blush response complete with sweating brow and the beet red cheeks. To be honest, if I am caught unprepared for social engagements I go from normal to looking like I'm about to have a stroke in about 15 seconds flat. As you can guess, I try to be caught unprepared as little as possible.
So, why am I sharing this? Because the earlier you start working on the little tricks and strategies that allow you to build the facade of confidence in front of crowds, the more likely that facade will stop being fake and become a solid structure that will help you make your ideas be heard and abilities be seen. If you've got kids, the time to start working on this skill is right now. If you are an adult and find yourself feeling like you'd rather be anywhere but at the microphone, let your kid know and then work on the skills with them! Learning with your child is as important as teaching your child. It sets them up for a life devoted to acquiring new skills.
Here is a list of some of the things I do in order to settle the butterflies, and not only get through but actually not hate speaking in front of others. I didn't learn these lessons until late in high school, and I am still fine tuning 20 years later, but they do work well for me. It is by no means an exhaustive list and some of my techniques may not work for you. This list is simply a place to start. Please, feel free to share your helpful hints as well. We can all use new insight and encouragement!
1. Practice! - NEVER (I can't say that enough times) go into a presentation thinking that you know your stuff and don't need to practice what you will say. Trust me, you will lose your train of thought and forget. Note cards will get lost or magically be in your hand out of order. You will be distracted by the woman in the front row's purple hair and giant, glittery pin. You will find that the one phrase that looked so beautiful on paper reads out loud like gravel in a blender. Practice out loud! Practice with your teddy bear first. Then your mirror. Practice with your dog (cat's couldn't care less what you have to say so don't bother there). Practice with your family. Practice with your friends. Practice until you can almost stop paying attention to what you are saying because the words fall out of your mouth by habit. Trust me. This is the best tool you have. Use it.
2. Know your audience. Speak to your audience in the words and tone that they need to hear in order to understand your message correctly. This does not mean being someone you are not. It is simply the difference between the scientist speaking to other scientists or the scientist speaking to a kindergarten class. The message stays the same, but the delivery needs to be the right one for the crowd.
3. Stand up straight. It will make you look brave. The more confident you look, the more confident you will feel. This might take a little practice, too. No problem. Your mirror loves to show you how awesome you are!
4. Allow yourself to be nervous BUT... This is actually my favorite and least favorite one all at the same time. Before any event, I allow myself to go ahead and be nervous. I allow this until about 10 minutes before I have to be in front of anyone (yes, this applies to making phone calls to people I do not now as well). Then, I mentally gather up all the butterflies in my stomach (making sure to tell each one how beautiful their wings are) and put them in a jar in my head. After I'm all done with the day, I let them back out and I let them flutter around some more while I ponder how the event went and see what areas I would like to work on for the next one. After that, I let them go. Butterflies should never stay locked up - even the nervous kind. Let them fly free once they have done their worst.
5. Remember that you are sharing. Take some of the pressure off of yourself by remembering that you are only the delivery device for your presentation. You are sharing the idea. Be excited about the subject. Your excitement will spread to the crowd!
6. Carry a small bottle of bubbles with you. If you are having a really hard time getting the butterflies to settle, find a quiet place to blow bubbles for a few minutes. This will help regulate your breathing, calm your thoughts, and settle your nervous body. The added bonus is that it is very hard to not smile when you see them floating through the air!
7. Smile! Not a fake smile either. Think of happy things before you walk out. Look for faces in the crowd who could use a smile and then offer them one. Smiles are contagious, and they make us all feel lighter.
8. Reward yourself! Do not miss the chance to congratulate yourself for doing a good job. Don't wait until you "do it better next time". Reward yourself with a little quiet time doing something you love. This will help make the whole experience stick with you in a positive way and will help you recharge your social energy.
9. Do it again. We get more comfortable with things when we do them more often. Grow your skills by speaking in front of other groups. Raise your hand more in class. Offer your thoughts during discussions. Talk to people when you are out and about. Look for opportunities to increase your social interactions in a face to face kind of way. (No, having the buffer of the internet or cell phone with video chat do not count. They are both too easy to turn off and claim dropped service if things aren't going as smoothly as you would like.)
So, go ahead and plan to be brave in the flesh today! It's an incredibly useful skill to have that holds the potential of changing the world... even if it is simply by changing your personal level of confidence!
Have a wonder filled day!
Being a homeschooling parent for 13 years and an independent author/illustrator makes a person learn quite a bit about a lot of things. Now it's time to pass it on!