He who does not know how to be silent will not know how to speak. – Ausonius
Talking less has always been a struggle for me. As a child, those close to me constantly chastised me for my need to stir the air with incessant chatter. As I grew older, their comments made me feel as though none of my words were worthy of being heard. Ironically, one of the people who made those comments the most is someone who, to this day, is incapable of sitting in silence with others. That individual must fill the void of silence with the most arbitrary (and oftentimes, annoying) nervous banter. To the point where I would wince with each word.
Talking less can bring you closer to those you love
When my daughter was very small, I was a single mother and worked multiple jobs to support us. Some days, my daily responsibilities left me both emotionally and physically exhausted, and I just wanted to sit in silence. (Two decades later, I still have those days.) My sweet little angel would sit beside me and chatter at a mile-a-minute pace, excitedly telling me about her day—or even what Barney The Dinosaur did to inspire her. Although I loved my alone time with her, and adored hearing her stories, there were some days that I was on overload. Since I knew how I was stung by people’s words when I was a child, I did not want to do the same to her; so instead of telling her to be quiet, I simply said, “Sweetheart, mommy’s ears are tired tonight.”
My vivacious little girl would then turn to me and say, “Okay mommy. We can just sit and ‘nuggle.” And with that, we sat in silence and cuddled on the couch or worked on a coloring book together. Even at a young age, my daughter was not intimidated by talking less.Advertising
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. – Max Ehrmann
Talking less is how leaders are made
I am certainly guilty of being a talker. I am also guilty of not being the best listener. I recognize those traits in me, and do my best, on a daily basis, to be better balanced in those areas. I was always the person who only half listened, as I waited for my chance to throw in my two cents. From time to time, I still catch myself doing it, but have learned to recognize my anxious inner voice and cast it away.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. – Bryant H. McGill
Parents and supervisors are some of the biggest offenders of not recognizing the strength of talking less. I’m sure everyone has either done this, or experienced it. The person asks a question and, if the reply does not occur almost immediately, they begin feeding the answer to the other. Here are a couple examples:Advertising
- Parent to child: “Billy, why did you cry when grandpa touched your teddy bear?” Insert momentary pause. “Is it because you thought he hurt Mr. Bear? Or because you don’t like sharing? Is it because grandpa smells funny?”
- Employer to staff: “I’d like to know why no one made contact with our supplier regarding the discrepancy in the order.” Insert five seconds of silence. “Did everyone think someone else was going to do it? Did you think that it was an insignificant loss? Do you just not care about this company’s success?”
In both of those examples, they should have asked the question and then sat silently, rather than feed their audience a selection of multiple-choice answers from which to choose.
A silent mind is a productive and healthy mind
Luminita Saviuc at Purpose Fairy wrote an article about the positive results that come with talking less. She confirms in The Wisdom of Silence: Learning to Talk Less and Say More that we have permission to just breathe. She reminds us that in the wake of our silence, we will not find ourselves in danger, but might actually experience clarity. When our mind is still, we can help our body purge itself of the stress of our day.
Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. – Plato
I want to be a wise woman. I am learning more and more how to be that wise woman.Advertising
Fear not the silence around you
As technology takes a stronghold on us, we now replace our silence with the “noise” of turning to our mobile devices. I have witnessed many couples or groups in public, whose devices appear the moment there is a pause in conversation. The only sounds you hear are their fingers tapping on tiny keyboards. Why are we so afraid to be still?
Let’s not misunderstand this focus on talking less though—excited chatter, banter, and conversation have a place in all of our lives.
Talking less does not mean that there is nothing left to say
My husband and I carpool to work each day, and a couple years ago, the silence in the car was almost deafening for me after we had finished exchanging our anecdotes of our workday. I thought, “Have we run out of things to talk about? Do we know everything we know need to know about each other?”
I was panicking as I thought of all the years we talked endlessly about anything and everything while on our path of getting to know one another. Instead of sounding my emotional alarms, I should have been appreciative to simply share that space with him, and realize how comfortable we both are just being together—even in silence.Advertising
Although, my genetic circuitry still pushes me to the chatter zone, as I grow, and learn, I do my best to circumvent those urges and let my mind and soul be still.
Featured photo credit: Shh/Amickman via flickr.com
Last Updated on July 20, 2021
How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.
Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:
1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically
According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.
“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor
Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:
If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.
If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.
Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:
- Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
- Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
- Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.
Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.
To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.
Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.
Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.
Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.
Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:
2. Focus on your goal
One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.
Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’
Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.
Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.
If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.
3. Convert negativity to positivity
There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?
‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’
It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.
Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”
Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.
Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:
4. Understand your content
Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.
However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.
“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.
Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.
One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.
5. Practice makes perfect
Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.
In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.
Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
6. Be authentic
There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.
Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.
Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.
To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.
With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.
Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:
7. Post speech evaluation
Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.
Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation
We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.
You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.
Improve your next speech
As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:
- How did I do?
- Are there any areas for improvement?
- Did I sound or look stressed?
- Did I stumble on my words? Why?
- Was I saying “um” too often?
- How was the flow of the speech?
Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.
If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:
- How to Give a Presentation Like a Pro
- 10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations
- Tricks to Deliver an Impressive Presentation Every Time
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