The Five Fears: And Public Speaking is only #Five!
The early months of this year were full with the launch of Transformational Speaking–Online! So my article today is about one of the challenges we address throughout the course: the fear of speaking. Be sure to continue reading as there is a short video to help you center yourself on the spot!
Sometimes we stop ourselves from speaking our truth because fear rises up and shuts us down. You’ve heard it said that public speaking is our number one fear. After experiencing this myself for more than half my life, I was pleased to learn that Buddhism lists five top human fears, and “fear of speaking in front of a public assembly” is only the fifth.
Buddhism ranks the top fears as:
1. Loss of life
2. Loss of livelihood
3. Loss of reputation
4. Fear of a supernatural event
5. Fear of speaking in front of a public assembly
At first I found that comforting–until I realized that we could accomplish all five with one unfortunate speech! So it’s no wonder fear looms so large.
The noted Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls reminded us, “Fear is excitement without the breath.”
So what can you do to transform fear from enemy to ally, and turn fight or flight into flow? The first thing is to acknowledge your fear. Fear is normal and even the greatest of speakers experience fear before they get on stage. Honor that sensation you identify as fear with preparation and practice and begin to recognize the surge of energy in your body as a signal that you’re ready to go “on.” For those of us who are soft-spoken, especially, we need that extra energy to show up fully in front of an audience.
The possibility of joining together with your audience at the edge of transformation is supported not only by your stories and the words you choose but also by your inner state and stance. The more energy we hold and balance in our bodies, the more we have to work with when we need it. Here are a few practices to help get yourself out of your head and into your body:
1. Ground Yourself
I never speak to an audience without first feeling my feet on the ground. Helps me get out of my head! To create a clear column of energy within yourself so your delivery is authentic and powerful, focus on the connection of your feet to the ground.Take time to breathe in that earth energy. Once you feel the energy in your feet, envision it moving slowly up through your core. Pull it up through your body until it reaches the crown of your head, then extend that energy towards the sky. Now imagine capturing that energy by lifting up your arms above your head. Direct the energy flowing from the sky down through your core, circling your arms above you and using your hands in front of you to push it down through your core and back to the earth. Once you’ve reached the ground, stand up and breathe into your wholeness and feel the fullness that is present.
2. Breathe into your core.
Find your power, presence and passion in your body and breathe into that space. To do this, contract your lower abdominal and gluteous muscles and imagine grounding into this area of your body. Then focus on your upper body, dropping your shoulders back and down giving space across your chest and collar bone. Notice the soft area between your ribs and breathe deeply in that space (solar plexus) while keeping your lower body contracted and your upper body relaxed downward. Breathing in this space allows you to remain anchored and centered.
Another way to use your breath to calm yourself is through a Multiple Exhalation exercise demonstrated in the video below. (This video is one of eight different practices contained in Transformational Speaking–Online! All eight methods are designed to make your connection with yourself intentional so that you will then connect with your audience.)
3. Reflect on how you want to feel.
Once you have taken the time to ground yourself and feel your center, ask yourself: How do I want to feel? Present? Connected? Alive? In the flow? That my presence here adds value and perspective? It is a familiar axiom in speaking that“They won’t remember what you said but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”The feeling your audience receives from you comes from the foundation you build daily. You must know the original gift you and you alone bring (more about that in the next newsletter) and the message only you can share. When you get up on that speaking platform, you are only as strong as your internal state, amplified by the communications skills you choose to develop each day through all your interactions with others.