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Tremble, Sweat and Freeze: 5 Ways to Speak Without Fear

I'd like to share five strategies to help you use fear in a productive way, get calm and grounded, and make a powerful impression when you're speaking to an audience during workshop, seminar, retreat, or live event.
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You're working hard to make a lucrative living transforming other people's lives with workshops, retreats and seminars. But it's often just not happening on a big enough scale.

You may feel held back by fear -- or the inability to fill seats and sell out your seminars. I'm going to address the fear factor first. Then give you a resource to pack your events with the right people who are devoted to learning from you. So you can get your words and wisdom out in the world to the people who want it.

Jerry Seinfeld once said:

"Speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. Number two, was death... This means, to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy."

He's cracking a joke, of course, but for many people... that joke hits awfully close to home.

Speaking to an audience -- whether it's on stage at a conference, behind the microphone at an event, on the radio, or on live TV -- can trigger feelings of dread and anxiety for so many people, and what it really boils down to is a fear of public humiliation and shame.

Many people, especially business owners, experts, teachers and speakers with a reputation to protect, would rather DIE than be perceived as an idiot, a fraud, or worst of all, accidentally HARM someone by providing the wrong information.

There's no doubt about it:

Fear is an intense emotion.

It can either motivate you to do your absolute best, or harm your performance, depending on what you DO with it.

Today, I'd like to share five strategies to help you use fear in a productive way, get calm and grounded, and make a powerful impression when you're speaking to an audience during workshop, seminar, retreat, or live event.

Here we go...

1. Role-play in real life situations.

If you're nervous about doing a presentation, you've got to PRACTICE. But not in a hypothetical scenario. In a REAL LIFE situation.

When young Mormons are getting trained for missionary work, they don't practice converting people in an online classroom. They practice in an actual living room -- which feels like the living rooms they'll be inside, once they are out in the world.

Flight attendants for Delta have to complete their training in a model airplane, complete with an inflatable emergency exit slide, simulating the exact experiences that they'll have to contend with in the air.

There's no substitute for role-playing and practicing in real life scenarios.

So, practice in the venue where you'll be speaking (or a close model of it). Bring all the appropriate props and equipment you'll be using (And don't forget a bottle of water and your reading glasses if you need them!). You'll want to know if you have a podium, how the chairs will be arranged, the acoustics in the room, the type of mic, video screen, shape of the stage. You'll want to know how to move to use the space with your body and voice given the confines of the setting.

And film yourself so you can smooth out any snafus, distracting quirks or nervous habits.

It can be uncomfortable to practice like this, especially if you're inexperienced. You may discover that you have a LOT of work to do! But it's far better to discover that BEFORE your big moment, NOT during it!

Don't deny yourself the invaluable experience of role-playing in real life situations.

The more you practice, the more confident you will become.

2. Refine, and yet again, refine.

You've probably heard of The 10,000 Hour Rule. It's the idea that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you will become a master at your craft.

That's true, but not completely true.

As Daniel Goleman writes in his book Emotional Intelligence, it's not just about practicing, but reviewing, refining, tweaking and THEN practicing.

He says:

If you are a duffer at golf, say, and make the same mistakes every time you try a certain swing or putt, 10,000 hours of practicing that error will not improve your game. You'll still be a duffer, albeit an older one.

(A duffer, by the way, is "an incompetent or stupid person.")

So, don't just practice the same mistakes, over and over again.

And don't practice in isolation, without any feedback.

Practice with a partner. Like in my sound bite course we assign everyone a buddy. Course participants consistently say it's invaluable and they often have their buddies for years and even for life. One participant's sound bite buddy became her best friend. Your sound bite buddy will give you positive feedback. He will tell you what stood out and where his attention lapsed. Ask him specifically to write down what he remembers most while listening to your talk. Then, the not so easy part, ask, "Where did I lose you, where were you bored?"

Also, get feedback from professionals, from peers, and from people in your audience. When I taught regularly at The Learning Annex, I gave out a questionnaire at the end and asked people simply: What was most valuable? What was least valuable? I read every response after each workshop to discover the gold and the dross. Then at home I tweaked my talk--over and over again. Real mastery comes from reflecting on what you did right so you can keep it, and what's still not working, so that you can refine and get better.

This is SO important. In fact, when someone signs up for my communication training program, Your Signature Sound Bites, the very first thing I do is have them buddy up with a partner to practice their communication skills TOGETHER.

Getting partner feedback is part of the refinement process.

And the more you refine, the more your nerves will melt away...

3. Handle the logistics.

Often, when I ask my clients why they're so afraid of appearing in the media or public speaking, it's not the actual media appearance they're afraid of... it's all the little details and logistics that could go wrong, leading up to the experience. The same is true for speaking on stage, speaking at seminars, workshops, retreats and live events.

If you're afraid of oversleeping and missing your train... or having your skirt tucked up in your nylons, ... or having Siri misdirect you... or getting locked out of your venue... or leaving your laptop with all your notes at home... do whatever you need to do to handle those logistics, well ahead of time.

My second speech ever was to the National Speakers Association huge national conference and I was petrified. Here I was, a total newbie talking to all of these experienced public speakers at their biggest convention. The room was packed. And hot--because the air conditioning wasn't working. And neither was my microphone. I had to shout at hundreds of people staring up at me while walking up and down a narrow aisle. Also, I dropped all my note cards at the podium and had to put them back in order. (Always number them front an back!) Someone rushed to help. In the end we all had a great time (and I got several clients from it) because I made light about my inexperience and the situation.

The two great things about logistics going haywire are - you give your audience a chance to help you -- which they love. And you get the opportunity to create a real connection through your vulnerability. No one loves a perfectorama person. They much prefer you to be real and not hide your inevitable flaws.

Of course you want your event to go smoothly and to incorporate vulnerability and connection into your talk so you can relax and enjoy your audience. So, to minimize the angst make a pre-speech checklist with absolutely everything you're worried about. Write down every possible worst-case scenario... and handle them. Thinking about this and running through solutions in advance is actually a key skill that people who excel at making decisions have. So this practice will serve you will in future different mishaps.

It'll probably only take you an hour, tops, to get fully prepared... and your shoulders will finally sink down, at long last.

4. Inhale. Exhale.

Robert Heller once said: "Fear is excitement without breath."

That's quite true. There's a very fine line between feeling fearful and feeling excited.

Remembering to BREATHE can keep you on the right side of that line.

If you find that you struggle to breathe, or run out of breath, or feel like your words are getting choked up in your throat, there are many practices that can help you.

5. Use Calming Resources.

  • HA breathing comes from the ancient Hawaiian Huna tradition of wisdom and empowerment and is a form of deep breathing that calms the autonomic nervous system.
  • Eidetics, which is a combination of an ancient art with 21st century science is the fastest, most effective way to create long-lasting results. Eidetics pinpoints your key stuckpoints and leverages them to create rapid, deep breakthroughs.
  • EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a practice of tapping your body at certain pressure points to relieve tension.
  • EMDR, which is short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a technique that has used been used with war veterans to heal trauma, and that many professionals and business people use for peak performance.
  • NeuroMastery, is another profound technique that can relieve fear and anxiety on the spot, allowing you to breathe deeply and speak powerfully.

And now that you're a little more relaxed about your presentation, here is the one (free) resource to fill your workshops, seminars and retreats.

For more from Susan Harrow go here.