When it’s your turn to approach the front of the room to speak or present, what are you telling yourself? What are you imagining you look like? Do you have an old tape or some old film footage from junior high playing in your head?
You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
It’s the tape that plays a decades-old old recording about how awkward you are or how tongue-tied you get in front of a group or how everyone will look at you like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe it’s the film footage that showcases your frizzy hair or big glasses, or that plays re-runs of the time you bumbled your way through your oral report because it was the one and only time you really didn’t prepare … yet you got called on.
Yep, we all have old tapes that play in our heads.
Let’s flash forward, though. Where are you now? You’re in a different spot, aren’t you? You look good, you feel good, you’re experiencing some measure of success, and the people around you think you’re perfectly confident in front of a group – in fact, other people think you have it all sewn up.
But you still find yourself unable to breathe as you approach the front of the room and dreading – or at least resisting – any version of public speaking. Am I right?
Public speaking – whether a formal speech or presentation or just leading a meeting – often brings out unexpected levels of anxiety in otherwise bright, accomplished, articulate people. I have discovered in my practice as a communications coach that more often than not, it’s because of old tape recordings and film footage; people who had bad self-images or experiences in their formative years carry those forward into their professional lives … and into their presentations.
You don’t need to do that, and so let’s take a look at how you can record new sounds and images over the old tape so that your confidence is coming from inside of you and oozing out. Let’s look at your body and your mind:
Your Body. Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” has had over 4 million views in two years and, most recently, a feature spread in The New York Times Sunday Styles section [link]. Amy is a social psychologist and an associate professor at Harvard who shares her research about how “power posing – standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident – can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.” She advises getting big in stance and posture in several different ways – often with arms and legs wide and body, upright and tall.
I have tried Amy’s power posing suggestions, and I love them! If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to watch her TEDTalk [link], it’s inspiring and empowering. And then try out a few poses and see what happens when you make yourself and your stature bigger. (Hint: Wonder Woman lives on … in you!)
Your Mind. If your body language sends a message to your brain, then let’s finish the conversation – the internal conversation, that is. That’s where I want to focus: what you say to yourself, what your “self-talk” sounds like.
Self-talk. Think about the various ways you employ self-talk and the various words and phrases you use. Yes, you talk to yourself in your head.
For example: I knock over my coffee mug and now my pile of bills that I sat down to pay are stained with a lovely sepia tone. As I mop it up with a paper towel, I say, “Arrggh, Beth, what is wrong with you? Expletive, expletive.”
Or this example: I am on the phone with a potential client, and in my answer to his question about executive communications coaching, I find myself exuberantly explaining the full range of my services. I hang up the phone and say to myself, “Beth, you really go overboard sometimes, get a grip on yourself. Of all people, you should know better, ugh!”
Or worse yet (and this is a true story from 10 years ago): It’s moments before a large presentation in front of a new client and I say to myself, “Beth, of all the hare-brained ideas you’ve ever had, this one takes the cake! Why on earth would anyone pay to hear what you have to say?”
Big red flags. Bad self-talk. Surely I – and you – can do better. We can be more aware of how we talk to ourselves, change the tape, and develop the words and the ways to be encouraging, positive, or even playful instead.
When you’re approaching the front of the room, I want you to say some version of “Go git ‘em!” to yourself. It might be, “This will be a win, I know it!” or “I am as prepared as I need to be, and I am the best person to do this presentation!” or “I am here to engage, it’s time for me to be present with the audience!”
A new era, a new day, and a new tape playing in your head. Tell your mind what you want, and I bet you’ll start to manifest your success at the front of the room.
Since we started in junior high, let me give you some homework: Beginning right now, jot down everything you “say” to yourself along with the time of day for each one. Keep track for 24 hours, and then look at the list, the frequency and the types of “comments.” If there are any particular patterns, take note. Then, looking at the list, ask yourself, “What if I had said something positive to myself instead? What would that have been, what could it have been?” Write down the alternatives and hold onto them.
You’re already on your way to a more positive dialogue with yourself!