Eliminating a Fear of Public Speaking doesn’t require Trials by Fire.

Nov 20, 2015 | High Performance, Public Speaking | 0 comments

There is and will always be a wide range of approaches, to learning any skill you want to acquire.  In the case of speaker training, it could be easier than you think to get over a fear of public speaking.  I don’t care what skill you want to learn, or what fears or concerns, or hesitation you may have.  It’s important to keep that in mind when making learning choices.  So, to help you pick the easier roads, moving forward, let us compare and contrast trial-by-fire with far better approaches!

Let go of your fear of public speaking! Audiences are on our side!

Today, I’m a trainer, consultant, and coach, primarily.  I don’t think of myself as primarily a speaker or presenter, though I certainly speak both in public and at corporate events.  I view myself as a behavioral change agent who uses communication and structured experiences, to enable learning, among groups sized from one to thousands.

Perhaps because of an outrageous trial by fire at the age of 14, I was never really able to develop a fear of public speaking!

Yes, with all new events, new challenges and logistical questions arise.  But I don’t have a fear response either to approaching such events, or stepping onto the platform, or actually being on stage and speaking.  Or even getting briefly stuck and having to find my way again.   It might surprise you that my comfort with all those things cannot be attributed to NLP!  Though I certainly would have wished for an NLP solution when I was younger, if I’d known it was available!

My first big public speaking experience involved roughly 8,000 people.  I didn’t have to be seen by the audience; I had about 20 seconds of prior knowledge that I would be speaking, while massively amplified (& voice-delayed).  I didn’t even have to choose what to say.  Before that, my experience had been limited to giving speeches in school classes, performing in plays, and reading my heavily practiced Torah portion at my Bar Mitzvah at 13.  These were useful experiences, but not grand or large-scale, until…

I was working a Summer job at a concert series.

I worked in New York City at an annual concert series.  It was titled differently over the years, either as the “Miller Time Music Festival” or the “Dr. Pepper Music Festival.”  Each Summer, I’d work for about 30 concerts.  And each event night, one major band would play along with a popular opening act.  Most of these concerts were held at Pier 84, right next to the USS Intrepid museum.   At the age of 14, I managed a group of five other teenagers, and all of us sold concert programs (magazines) to the entire audience.  We were called hawkers.  We would walk around the venue, climb through the seating stands with stacks of programs, and sell to whoever was buying.

As the manager, I enjoyed the biggest benefit of all:  Backstage access as desired or needed.  That’s where I could access stocks of concert magazines for my employees.  And yes, as a teenager, I met and got to chat with lots of famous musicians and bands (ask me in person sometime).

My world changed one early evening when the Ramones were going to perform.  Their audience had arrived, and it happened maybe 45 minutes before their opening act was scheduled to play.  I was counting out a few replacement stacks of concert programs for my hawkers, when the stage manager ran past me.  He almost knocked me over before stopping, then he looked at me strangely, and said:

“You.  You have a good voice.  Come with me.”

That was all he’d said.  No further explanation at the time. Then he grabbed my t-shirt sleeve and started pulling me.  We went around a corner, up a few stairs, around another corner, then another.  Then, finally, just as we approached the corner of the stage, I caught a glimpse of 8,000 people through the scaffolding.  I could feel my spleen rising into my throat!  He pulled me quickly into a white wooden booth with a huge audio board and microphone, and positioned me in front of the mic.

I could no longer see the audience, and they couldn’t see me.  But they were about to hear me.

He simply handed me a pre-printed white index card, and said, “Read this.”

Then he reached in front of me, and switched the mic from Off to On, so that 8,000 people could hear me.

I had no time to panic.  No time to evaluate my emotional response, or wind it up further.  The circumstance unraveled too quickly for me to become aware of feeling anything.  And it’s not as though I wasn’t actually feeling my nerves, adrenaline, fear, excitement, curiosity, and more — all at the same time.  I was.  I definitely felt all that, in retrospect.  But he didn’t give me enough time to evaluate it, or allow it to control me.  There was no time whatsoever to have a fear of public speaking.

So, I went ahead, took a deep breath, and read the first sentence out loud with enthusiasm:  “Welcome to the Dr. Pepper Music Festival!”

Initially, I heard nothing, real time.  As I was finishing the sentence, I thought, “something must have gone wrong.”

And then, long after I expected it to, and thanks to ~5-meter-tall stacks of speakers, and many kilowatts of power behind them, I was almost knocked backwards.  I heard my own delayed booming deep voice roll out across the audience and then echo back.  I was overwhelmed by the subsequent applause and audience noise.  And it didn’t matter that none of it was meant for me personally —

I received immediate and massive positive feedback for powerful lessons delivered experientially within seconds…

  1. I had a voice (that at least some) people would enjoy listening to.  Your voice has value.
  2. I was not going to be able to speak at my normal rate, or words would blend together too closely and sound like mud.  So I was going to have to enunciate, and speak more slowly than I would normally, and stretch vowels out.
  3. After hearing the duration of the electronic delay, I was not going to be able to wait between clauses or sentences, to hear the end of what I’d just finished saying, before continuing on.  That would be waiting too long.  To speak well with electronic delays, I was going to have to temporarily block out the external feedback of the timing of whats being said.  I’d have to choose pacing and pauses based on what’s said, real-time, not what my ears were hearing externally more than a full second later.

Those valuable lessons were almost instantly integrated, thanks to the intensity of the experience.

I then read off the rest of the printed announcements on the index card, smoothly through to the finish.

The stage manager then shushed me, reached over to turn the mic off, and said to me…

“That wasn’t bad.  You’ll be doing this from now on…”  Potential Fear of Speaking be damned…

“…so make yourself available about an hour before showtime from here on.”

So how did I accidentally get picked for that opportunity?  A backstage equipment handler who normally did the announcements had quit that day, and word hadn’t gotten around sufficiently.  The stage manager found out about the handler’s having quit, five minutes before the announcements needed to be read.  So in a panic, he grabbed the first guy he found, who had a reasonably nice voice.  And it worked, so I was expected to continue doing it.  I had no idea I was indirectly conditioning myself to become unable to develop a fear of public speaking.

So all in all, including all the years I managed the program hawkers, I probably read the announcements there at a total of ~120 concerts.  Maybe more.  Nearly a million people heard my voice through those speakers (if every concert audience was fully unique).

Great Trial-By-Fire, right?  Powerful Learning, right?  Well, it got better (or worse!):

A year passed.  I had gotten used to doing the pre-show announcements in the booth.  I still found it very cool to look out at the audience while approaching the booth.  And, I was no longer a nervous wreck, preparing to speak on a live mic inside the booth.  Then, one night near the end of that season, I was visible backstage when I needed to be called up, and I headed up to the booth as usual.  But the booth door was closed, and that wasn’t expected.  The stage manager handed me the card for the night, pointed through the back corner of the stage towards the mic stand at the front of the stage.  He said:  “Do it from up there tonight.  Smile, wave after the welcome bit, then finish the rest.  And remember to turn the mic both ON first and OFF afterwards.  Go.”

Then I had to speak the announcement publicly from center stage!

I thought I’d gotten used to the applause after the greeting.  But I clearly wasn’t prepared for hearing the applause when I was speaking from center stage on a live mic, while connecting with the audience.  Announcing from the front of the stage to 8,000 people making thunderous noise in response, truly changed my life.  No, it didn’t cause me to feel any need to become a concert musician (though I am a guitarist).  But I knew that I could get comfortable with this, as I’d already become fully comfortable making announcements from the booth.  Thus there would be no point in being afraid of doing other things with a crowd that large, let alone smaller groups.  Other challenges just seem smaller.

Over the four Summers when I gave those pre-show announcements, I had to do them stage-front, a total of only three times.   For whatever reason, the booth microphone had failed on those nights, and they didn’t have another handy in the booth.  During that first experience at center stage, I felt overwhelmed by the experience, but comfortable with the vocal delivery (because that was a skill I’d honed already).  I was still nervous during the second such opportunity, and overwhelmed by it afterwards.  And then the third time was almost easy and I felt just great afterwards.

Fortunately, you don’t need Trials By Fire to get past a fear of public speaking!

If you have a fear of public speaking in front of audiences, that fear can take many forms.  Once you unpack and explore the specific mechanism behind how you ‘do’ your fear, then NLP can help you rewire around that.  Additionally, through certain interventions and training experiences, you can actually have fun while building in resources that help you free yourself of those old concerns.  And we could help you do it, without ever having to face your old fear of public speaking anymore.  I know because I’ve helped so many before you, and I’ve always been successful doing so.

Sometimes a fear of public speaking can be interrupted through “pattern interrupts,” leaving you feeling neutral or inspired, instead of fearful.

People can replace negative emotional responses with positive emotional responses (anchoring).  You can also change your inner voice, or your inner visualizations, that are leading to old fear responses, and get completely different results.  Sometimes, you can choose completely different desired outcomes for speaking, which changes your own expectations, and frees you to become more extraordinary.  Everyone is different.  I encourage you to consult with someone who understands alternative approaches to learning.  Find someone who is good at behavioral and emotional modeling, and who knows how easy it is to achieve comfort with the larger-than-life.

Find brilliant short cuts or great coaches!

I certainly wish I’d known NLP at the age of 14; I’d have gotten the same result, but faster.  I would have had less shock and greater comfort, had I known NLP then.  And, I’d have significantly sped up my learning curve, for experiences like those in the stage booth, or on stage.

I invite you to apply this story to any circumstance in your life. Where have you been thinking about stepping things up to another level beyond where you currently find yourself?  Why fear it?  Then put yourself in my shoes.  Pretend you’d been given the opportunity years ago, to become comfortable with something far beyond the level you actually want to reach!  Then, you’ll discover that any situation you’re currently facing would pale by comparison!  If you’d had a successful trial by fire when you were a teen, then the current goal would seem easy by contrast!

Then you’ll find yourself making your future leap seem, sound, and feel incredibly easy!  Send me an email sometime to let me know this blog post helped you do it!

How can I help you further with a fear of public speaking?

Do you want to develop your spoken voice so that you’ll likely start getting more compliments?  Would you like people to make a stronger effort to hear more of what you have to say?  I encourage you to consider my “Finding Your Irresistible Voice” audio program.  Check it out, and explore how it will help you eliminate any fear of public speaking!

Would you like to become a more compelling speaker?  Do you want to get over a fear of public speaking?  Could you improve how you package and communicate your message, for greater impact?   Join me at one of my next 5-day Speaker training courses.  I limit these group sizes to 15 people maximum, to guarantee personal attention and coaching, daily.

You’ll be thanking yourself years into the future — and I make it my business to ensure it!