Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Here's the self-delusion many of us adopt when speaking in front of an audience. It's the big body-cred lie we tell ourselves that makes public speaking so much more difficult than it needs to be: I lose credibility because I'm too ...........................................    Too what? Hairy? Bald? Fat? Skinny? Young? Old? Lumpy? Wrinkled? Saggy? Naff? Pigeon-toed?  Etc... etc... Look in the mirror and choose your own. 

No don't do that, because here's the point:

It's a lie to think that your size, shape, colour, age (or any other body state) has anything to do with your credibility in front of an audience - unless you believe that it does.

And there's the real problem - the self-fulfilling prophecy. The audience senses the fear behind the belief, and promptly lowers its opinion of us.  My job is to train people to speak confidently. I have seen many hundreds whose bodies will never strut on a catwalk fill their audiences with unreserved admiration and respect. Those audiences don't care about the presenter's body because he or she is not worried about it. 

Why do so many believe the big body-cred lie?

Because we're subconsciously seeking tangible explanations for why speaking in public makes us feel so nervous. But the enemy is not your physical imperfections, it's the feeling of fear. An ancient truth: fear is indeed the greatest enemy.

Not convinced yet? 

Then look at some jaw-dropping proof of what is possible. Follow this link to see one of my heroes - Australian Nick Vujicic. You'll see immediately why I chose him. If he can bypass the limitations of his body and astonish the crowd with his personal authority and credibility, then we all can. I wish I had seen this when I was a skinny teenager afraid to take my shirt off if any girl was closer than the horizon.

Seen it? Then you've got the point. Please, if you believe that your body is an obstacle to your personal authority and speaking credibility, it's time to be rid of that self-destructive belief. The obstacle is a mirage. Get through it. Get over it.  

One more thing. Nick Vujicic says, "It is a lie to think that you're not good enough."  And he's not just talking about speaking in public.

 

But wait.

Surely effective presentations are about what the audience can hear and see. You may be the presenter, but your private thoughts are private to you.

No they're not. That thinking assumes that an audience is only affected by what it can consciously hear and see.

Which is wrong.  Our feelings about your message are strongly influenced by subtle voice and body language cues that you may not intend to put out, but which we absorb subconsciously. No, of course we can't directly read your thoughts, but you cannot avoid expressing them indirectly. (In your case, I'll make an exception if you have won an Oscar recently.)

Let me put it more bluntly. Every person in your audience develops a feeling about you. Each feeling is unique. Partly that's because we see you through our own life-filter. But it's also because you are giving us subtle, oblique, glimpses of your underlying attitudes, beliefs and fears - such as fear of failure. Intuitively, all of us know that already - why do you think we often feel vulnerable when we speak? 

Our ability to get your message is strongly affected by our feelings about you. It's not logical, is it? But it's the way we humans operate.

So, you want to be really effective?  You want your audiences to sit up and pay respectful attention?  Take a close look at these core thought-habits of highly effective presenters. And - a quick heads-up - just repeating these thoughts to yourself won't be enough. Take every possible practical step towards making these thoughts true in your life.

Cultivate these core thought-habits:

  1. I am a strong person.
    This has nothing to do with my title, ethics or morals - just my inner strength.

  2. I am connected with you. 
    All of us in this room are connected. We're having a conversation, even when it's just me talking.

  3. I am open to you.
    I am open to your scrutiny. I know you can see through me - flaws and all - and that's okay. I'm comfortable with making small mistakes.

  4. I want to be here with you.
    At this moment, there is only you and my message. Nothing else. (In particular I'm not distracted by nervousness and self-consciousness.) 

  5. I want you to get my message.
    And I want that desire to be obvious.

Of course you don't say any of that to your audience. But if you were to start developing such thought-habits, how might they affect the way you speak? Cultivate them. Make them work for you. Start experiencing the deep satisfaction that comes from being a highly effective presenter.

This, from Buddhism, is right to the point: 

"The mind is everything. What we think, we become." 

Yes, it's a mind game. And what a game. What terrific rewards.