All of us have tried learning something new: a photo editing software, a foreign language, or a brand new industry that you’re about to enter into.
If you’re like most people, then you’ve probably given up learning this skill before you reached mastery. For whatever reason, you weren’t picking up the skill as fast as you expected, got bored of the subject, or maybe you just didn’t have enough time.
There’s dozens of mistakes that all of us make when we’re learning something for the first time. In this post, we’re going to share with you the top 5 mistakes that you should avoid when learning something new.
1. No clear end goal
Put an average joe next to a person with impressive achievements, and it’s likely that the latter had clear, specific goals that they reviewed on a regular basis.
Without a clear end goal of what you want to achieve, it’s easy to lose motivation or give up when the difficult times inevitably arises.
Let’s review the difference between a bad goal, good goal, and a great goal.
Bad goal: I want to become learn a new language so I can travel to Europe by next year.
Good goal: I want to learn how to speak Spanish so I can travel to Spain by next summer.
Great goal: I will have a 15-minute conversation in Spanish with a native Spanish person over coffee in a cafe in Madrid on July 2016.
Notice the difference between the first and last goal? The great goal had certainty, specificity, and a measurable deadline for when the goal will be completed. Too many of us set general, broad goals which makes it impossible for us to visualize and focus on.
2. Putting the cart before the horse
This is a mistake that I’m sure we can all admit to. When we’re not aware of all the steps involved in learning a new skill, it’s easy to underestimate the complexity of the process involved. How many times have you judged a skill or task from the outside, only to realize how difficult it is once you’ve tried it yourself?
While there are shortcuts and ways to shorten the learning curve in anything, there is a progression that we need to follow if we want to have lasting results. For example, you can’t go from knowing zero Spanish to becoming a fluent speaker, without reaching conversation fluency first. And you can’t reach conversation fluency without understanding the basics of grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structures. Nor can you build a $100M business, if you haven’t even built a $100K business yet.
3. Having unrealistic expectations
As an avid optimist, I’m certainly guilty of this. As Tony Robbins says, “Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year— and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!”
In the rapidly changing world we live in, it’s easy to be impatient. It seems like if we’re not making 10x progress all the time, then we’re going backwards. Everywhere we look, there are “5 steps to do X”, or “how to do X in 30 days” when the truth is, all great things take time.
While having big goals is important, such as I’m going to learn Spanish in 1 month, it can actually do us harm if we don’t truly believe that we can get there.
The rule of thumb is: the size of our goals should make us uncomfortable, and slightly out of reach.
4. Using the wrong strategy
The right strategy can save 100’s of hours of hard work.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln
Learning smart is just as important as the repetitions you put in, and we should make it a habit to take a step back to observe what the most effective strategy is moving forward.
You can also apply the Pareto’s Law to understand if you’re using the right strategy, by asking: “Is this the best 20% of my time, energy, and method I can use that will deliver 80% of my desired results?
For example, if you want to improve your public speaking skills, you may want to focus on just attending your local Toastmasters community and getting real-life practice. Or if you want to learn how to speak a foreign language, you may want to just work with a professional native speaking teacher online, instead of learning from Duolingo or books.
5. Trying to do it alone
When we’re learning something new, all of us experience what’s called a training curve.
The training curve is the upward and downward slope of emotions that we face, from excitement to depression. When we decide to learn everything alone, without seeking outside help of a professional, we’re making it that much harder on ourselves. People that don’t have an accountability partner, mentor, or coach, are much more likely to quit at moments of difficulty versus someone that has support and pathway to follow.
In almost any aspect of our lives, we should have a coach that we work with, whether it’s a fitness trainer, financial advisor, business mentor, or sports coach. This is the best kept secret amongst the best performers and the fastest learners in the world.
If you want to get your finances in shape, hire an accountant or financial advisor. If you want to get in shape, hire a personal trainer. If you want to learn a new language, find a professional language teacher.
Life is too short to go at it alone. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much help there is in the world, as long as you know where to look.
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: