Even the thought of speaking in public is enough to put the fear of God into you. But when you've got to do it, you've got to do. Here's how to do it with confidence.
Our Wellness Expert, author of Owning It: Your Bullsh*t-Free Guide to Living with Anxiety and The Confidence Kit: Your Bullsh*t-Free Guide to Owning Your Fear, Caroline Foran reveals her secrets to confidence when standing in front of a load of people with all their eyes on you...
Confidence, as we now know, isn't an all-encompassing thing. We don't just 'get confident' and then have an abundance of confidence in all areas of our lives, but maybe with a little work we'll enjoy a confidence boost when it comes to something like relationships or confidence in the workplace - wherever we feel the need for an increase is where we should focus our efforts.
Confidence around public speaking is something very few of us don't need a little help with. It's rare to meet a person who loves the idea of public speaking; I am in awe of this person but as an anxious overthinking professional worrier, I cannot relate to them at all. In fact, I'm jealous of their brain. I can relate to the person who feels the fear and does it anyway, or who is all too familiar with that stomach-in-your-mouth feeling but has techniques to keep their stomach in its place. Public speaking is something that comes up time and time again for me - as I'm sure it does for many of you reading - and though I will now put myself forward for it, it's still not something I relish. I still have that moment of 'why did you put yourself in this position?' and I still think 'I'm not good enough to do this'. But I recognise those thoughts - I don't pay them too much attention - and I have learned something that really makes a difference; it's just about changing the way you think.
The secret ingredient
In my book, The Confidence Kit, I put into practice something that I was taught by a brilliant psychotherapist called Dr Mark Tyrell. The idea is what's called 'comfortable neutrality' and as far as I'm concerned it's the secret ingredient to get you through your public speaking endeavours and maybe even enjoying it too. It's not about trying not to be nervous or expecting yourself to not feel fear or waiting until the moment when the idea no longer scares you before you do it (you'll be waiting a long time) but learning to be okay with the possibility that things may not go your way. You may stutter, you may forget where you were (but for this public speaking notes are an essential crutch that I'm all for), you may trip over a wire. Then again none of these things may happen and it could go really well. Either way, you have to learn to be comfortable with any outcome. You prepare as best you can, you do it again and again so you have experience, and you cultivate the idea of comfortable neutrality so the prospect of 'failing' is something you're okay with.
Feeling the fear - and do it anyway
The secret to a brilliant public speaker isn't just a case of someone who's fearless, but someone who feels that fear and says 'okay, this could go good or bad, and if it goes good great, if it goes bad, what's going to happen to me?' And then being okay with what might happen to you. This usually takes you to worst-case scenario territory which is very unlikely to happen (provided you prepare). However, I find considering the worst case scenario is a good thing; it's a necessary step towards comfortable neutrality. It better prepares you and takes a lot of the fear out of this potential worst case scenario. Essentially, you're neutral to it going either really well or not as planned.
If you can practice comfortable neutrality and you can get familiar with the worst case scenario - it will feel uncomfortable at first - I'm confident your confidence around public speaking will rise. And if you nail this idea of comfortable neutrality here, you can apply it to any other area of your life too. For me, it's a game changer.