Thursday, October 22, 2009

Prepare for Your Fallibility: Mind Blank Recovery Tips from Olivia Mitchell

It happens to each of us. No matter how prepared you are, there will come a time in your speaking career when you have a mind blank.

The question to ask yourself is not "Will this happen to me?"

The question you should be asking is "When this happens to me, will I know what to do?"

Olivia Mitchell, author of the Speaking about Presenting blog offers some excellent tips for both preventing and recovering from mind blanks.

I especially appreciate her advice to practice remembering and to develop a recovery routine:

Practice remembering

If you can’t think of what you want to say during a rehearsal, don’t jump straight to your notes. Try and remember what you want to say. This will strengthen your memory for the flow of the presentation and will train your brain to remember – rather than panic.

Develop a recovery routine

Work out how you’ll recover from a mind blank. Here’s my suggested recovery routine:

  1. Stop talking
  2. Look at your notes and find your place
  3. Look ahead in your notes to see what comes next
  4. Decide what you will say next
  5. Look up again
  6. Find someone to talk to
  7. Start talking.
What I like about this advice is that it shows the importance not just of preparing your content and delivery - but also of preparing for your fallibility.

By accepting that you can and will make mistakes - and that this is just fine - you can better prepare for and even embrace the unexpected.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

When the Speech Trainer Has Stagefright

Yesterday, I learned an important lesson about a major pitfall of public speaking - not from watching someone else, but from my own mistake.

I was teaching a class (not about speaking) and realized about 20 minutes beforehand that I was unprepared. I thought I had done enough work. I thought I knew what I was doing.

What I realized was that I had not taken ownership over my content. And it was too late to do anything about it.

I tell my clients that if you are crystal clear about your message - if you really know what you want the audience to understand, then the delivery just flows.

And if you don't? It's much harder to overcome anxiety - especially if you are asked to convey real information.

This is what happened to me yesterday.

My heart raced. My palms got sweaty. I panicked.

I made it through the class, but I felt pretty miserable afterward.

I am grateful to have had this experience, as it reinforced for me the absolute importance not just of knowing your material, but of distilling it into a clear and focused message.

I was reminded of an earlier post on this blog - Be A Starfish Speaker. I wrote:

Visualize your presentation as a starfish. Your central message is the middle and your main points radiate our from there. If you get off track, just return back to the center.

I was unable to return to the center, because I hadn't yet solidified my core message.

Yesterday I broke my own rule and I paid the price.

From the Green Room: There is simply no substitute for preparation. Even if you are a speech trainer.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting to the Root Cause of Stagefright

Lisa Braithwaite, speech coach and author of the Speak Schmeak public speaking blog commented on my last post and referenced a terrific letter to the editor, which she posted in her blog back in 2007:

The letter, written by Ed Barks, discussed some potential pitfalls of the speaking advice offered in the Post's article about the Stagefright Survival School. Ed offered this alternative:

Those who hope to overcome their fears must attack them at the root. The cause may be stage fright. Or it may be something altogether different, such as shyness, insecurity, uncertainty about one's topic, fear of being judged, lack of passion or another cause.

In other words, having a speaker hold on to a microphone, prescribing beta-blockers, etc treats the symptoms of stagefright - but not the cause. By just treating the symptoms, speakers may learn how to cope with stagefright, but they will never overcome it.

For many people, stagefright is a learned response that comes from a traumatic performance experience in childhood. (e.g. piano recital, school play, class presentation...) Every time the person is asked to speak, he returns to the childhood trauma.

At Green Room Speakers, clients learn how to overcome stagefright first by identifying the root causes. Then we help clients break the pattern of negative association, by helping them connect speaking in public with past experiences of strength, calm, and presence.

From the Green Room: Have Stagefright? Don't fear. You can do more than just learn to cope with it. By getting the root of the anxiety, you can learn to overcome - and actually begin to enjoy speaking in public.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Got Stagefright? Try This.

Many of my clients prefer to speak with a podium because "it gives me something to hold on to."

The impulse to hold onto something is sound. It makes you feel grounded - which is a very good thing when you're nervous.

I remembered that in February 2007, the Washington Post published an article about stagefright in which they highlighted techniques used at the Stagefright Survival School in Alexandria, VA:

"We also use grounding techniques," Charney says. "You grab hold of the podium and with your hands squeeze as hard as you can. You move the locus of attention away from your bad thoughts to your hand. Pain in your hand is better than craziness in your mind at the moment."

The problem is that there really is no way to hold onto the podium gracefully. You always look as though you're clinging to it for dear life - which perhaps you are.

Here is a technique I learned from the Ron Hoff's public speaking handbook, I Can See You Naked:

As you speak, keep your arms loosely by your sides and on each hand, press your thumb and forefinger together. You will feel as though you are holding on to something - and the best part is that the audience will never know.

It's a grounding technique that helps control stagefright, while keeping the speaker looking strong.