Bernard O'Riordan, Media Trainer
The words "public speaking" strike fear and panic in the minds of some of the most competent and confident people.
Whether it’s giving a speech or presentation, or even doing a media interview, for many people the mere thought can be crippling, not to mention career limiting.
Often referred to as the Impostor Syndrome, a term first coined in 1978, it is generally a fear of being exposed or of not being good enough. And usually, it’s just in your own head.
Research suggests it often affects people who've overcome obstacles to get where they are, including many high-achieving women, those from ethnic minority groups and LGBTQ employees. Often their anxieties are fuelled by feelings of being different.
Last year, for instance, I worked with a young businesswoman who broke out in a cold sweat when she was thrust in front of the camera for a role play media interview. It's normal to feel uncomfortable in the media spotlight because it's an environment most of us are not familiar with.
But the longer the interview went, the more her fears grew. Her voice shook, she was afraid of saying the wrong thing and she just couldn't get to her key messages. It was uncomfortable to watch, and she later confided that she felt like a fraud.
It really doesn’t matter who you are, nervousness and self-doubt can strike anyone at any time. And it just gets worse, if you allow it to.
I know because in my 20s and 30s I did everything I could to avoid situations where I'd have to speak in front of a group. It was so debilitating that I even declined being the best man at a friend's wedding - all because I knew I'd have to get up and make a speech.
The good news is you can conquer your fear and it starts by acknowledging it, understanding the triggers and arming yourself with techniques to beat it.
For me, things changed a few years ago when a mentor said something surprisingly simple: "Who cares what people think of you? Let them think what they like."
I was reminded of the constant mind battles people have over summer when I read a book by speaking coach and actor Dr Gary Genard.
Fearless Speaking puts the fear of public speaking into perspective, and includes a lot of really useful tips and techniques to help minimise the fear of doing a media interview, giving an executive presentation or getting up on stage to perform.
One of the first steps is to acknowledge your rogue thoughts and put them in perspective. Genard suggests putting your self-doubt in an imaginary box while you give your presentation, as actors do when they get up on stage to perform.
It's important to find a technique that works for you so that when you hear those demons of self-doubt, you can acknowledge them and then kick them to the kerb, even if it is just temporary.
Here are some other useful ideas for anyone who lets fear-driven thoughts sabotage their career or private life.
Leave your baggage at the door
Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important thing is not to let that doubt control your actions, or your career. Reframe your negative thoughts and think of the great outcome you'll achieve. And remember, who cares what other people think of you? Let them think what they like.
Focus on the audience
An obsession with you and how you look will make you nervous. So make it about your audience. Tell stories and involve them. The whole reason you are giving a presentation or talking to the media is because people are interested in your insights and expertise.
Embrace your content
Feeling like you don’t know your material is a major reason people are afraid of public speaking. Being under-prepared for a presentation or interview gives the impostor an open invitation to wreak havoc, so take time to understand the issues and practice your message. Just don’t over-prepare or you’ll overwhelm yourself and lose track. If it’s a media interview, have three talking points that you can always go back to, and use bridging techniques if you're uncomfortable with the line of questioning.
Have some structure
Don't try to memorise every single word of a speech or presentation, that's too much pressure in the heat of the moment. Break your information into three chunks or three bullet points that you'll easily remember.
Stop trying to be perfect
Perfectionism and impostor syndrome go hand-in-hand, so stop trying to be perfect and just be you. It's okay to lose your way in a presentation and even say the wrong thing. Have a laugh if you lose your train of thought and move on to something else.
Confide in a mentor
It's often helpful to share what you’re feeling with trusted friends or mentors. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal. Remember, up to 74 per cent of people are said to experience these feelings at some point in their lifetime.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
CONQUER YOUR PUBLIC SPEAKING FEARS