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Public Speaking Know How
Public Speaking Know How
If you’re a person that’s interested in animation or has watched any of the Looney Tunes cartoons, you may recall a phenomenon known as the ‘silhouette of passage.' In classic cartoons like Road Runner, Daffy Duck, or Tom and Jerry, sometimes you’ll see one of the characters run directly through a wall, a rock, or any solid surface leaving behind a silhouette. The cookie-cutter replica of the cartoon character is suspended in time and space. The sole purpose of the extreme act is to escape or exit as quickly as possible from a situation initiated by cowardice or fear.
We have a choice to make when it comes to facing our fears. Do we want to emulate a cartoon character that runs through walls to escape our fears or do we want to face our fears and walk through an open door, a door that leads to opportunity and advancement? If we make the choice to let fear ‘rule the day,’ it can take away our joy, our voice, and our meaningful moments. If we choose to ‘rule the fear’, we find our voice for the voiceless and our moments in time.
“If you become frightened, instead become inspired” is a way to take the power back. The power to change the world or at the very least, have our voices heard. The potential to change or alter the course of history may not come to fruition because of our deep-rooted fears. Be the one that takes action instead of the one that ‘door dashes’ relying on someone else to make the move.
Performance anxiety is real, there’s no denying it. There are politicians, performing artists, celebrities, and ordinary people that admittedly have extreme stage fright. Not the kind of fear that’s experienced a few minutes prior to performing but the debilitating terror that causes a person to leave the funny cartoon imprint in the wall .
Adele is one such artist that admits to being so terrified of performing in front of an audience while at her own concert, she once bolted for the nearest fire exit leaving her audience in the dust. She said she’s never at ease on stage and doesn’t feel relief until after the curtain has dropped.
Your body has physical reactions to fear. Emotions associated with intense fear can be paralyzing, numbing, and harmful. The crippling effects of a person with uncontrolled fear, can be felt throughout the entire body. What Adele experienced was the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome. She could either stay and face the fear or she could escape it. No performer can continue under such conditions. Soon, it becomes necessary to find solutions or stop doing what you’re doing.
On the upside, small amounts of nervousness can energize a performance. Normal physiological reactions to fear include: queasy stomach, rapid pulse, sweaty palms, shaky voice, and tense muscles. The audience doesn't know you’re nervous unless you tell them. Sometimes, these types of physical reactions enhance our speaking experience. We can turn negative energy into positive energy. A little nervousness shows you care about the outcome, that you’re vested.
Barbra Streisand is an entertainer that didn’t perform in front of an audience for 27 years because of fear. She attributes her stage fright to a performance in 1967 when she forgot the words to a song. The experience was too embarrassing to overcome so she just quit. That one show kept her from doing the one thing she did best for almost three decades.
When teaching students ‘the art of public speaking’, I share personal stories about performance anxiety. I don’t remember having much fear when I was younger. I held lead roles in school plays and sang solos in the church choir and really enjoyed the audience’ reaction. It wasn’t until I got older, that the fear started to creep into my performances.
Participating in piano competitions might have been the beginning of the end. Being judged on one’s piano skills can be very hard on young musicians. The pomp and circumstance is quite different from many judging contests. In Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice.’ young women were admired for their ability to play Piano Forte. By playing well, a woman was viewed as more valuable and desirable by society and potential suitors. Being your best at this particular skill dates back to the 1800's.
The visualization of the piano competition is as clear to me today as it was many years ago. The image of gliding onto the stage while approaching the ominous Steinway Baby Grand Piano was intimidating. All eyes were focused on me as I slid into position on the piano bench. After taking a deep breath, I lifted my hands so they hovered over the keyboard. My palms remained rounded and my fingertips barely brushed the keys until it was time to play the first chord. The hope was for a superior rating. If achieved, a grand feat had been accomplished.
Slowly, the anxiety began to seep into my vocal performances. I remember having a rolling stomach and nausea before going on stage for a solo performance wondering which end was going to blow.
The nail in the coffin was the Miss MSU pageant at Murray State University. Somewhere in the middle of my talent, I forgot the words to my song. The humiliation of that experience remained imprinted in my mind for a while. After that, performances were few and far between and eventually stopped.
In the business world, formal presentations play a big role in career success. If you’re ambitious and have plans to climb the corporate ladder, being a polished communicator is essential. Small group presentations were palpable, it was the large groups that gave me an out-of-body experience. To conquer my fear, I decided to become a public speaking instructor. I jumped right out of the fire into the frying pan.
It was an exercise in dedication and commitment. I knew that by learning the tricks of the trade and becoming more knowledgeable on the science of public speaking, the art of public speaking would soon follow.
I was inspired to do something positive about my fears. I wanted ‘the joy’ and limitless career potential associated with overcoming performance anxiety. By learning strategies and techniques, I was able not only to conquer my fears but thrive.
Any person wanting to overcome the fear of public speaking, should turn fear on its ear. Inspire instead of perspire. Embrace the ‘new-found’ freedom of the power of the spoken word. There’s so much to teach and so little time. My goal is to share all that I know with those that want to learn and achieve their dreams. Practice, prepare, and polish (the three p’s) the art of public speaking and be ready for whatever life throws your way.