As I near what I hope is just the middle part of my life, I find myself intrigued by a simple article in our community’s newspaper. Each week, a group of kids is selected at one elementary school to answer one question.
The most recent question posed to these kids was, “What is the hardest thing about being a kid” and as I read through each answer, I found myself giggling at the things kids view as “hard.” For example, one young boy said it’s too hard to “go on the monkey bars, but he could go on the swings.” I could more closely relate to some of the answers more than others. “It’s hard to draw inside the lines” and “Trying to sit still is hard” were two answers given by the children. I secretly wanted to whisper to them, “This doesn’t get easier — at least in my case.”
The first thing I thought of when I was skimming over the pictures of the smiling kids was how easy these kids have it. I mean, seriously? It’s hard to sit “criss cross applesauce?” Anyone can do that, right? What about the girl that said “being good is hard” — is it really that hard to be good?
That’s when it hit me…I forgot what it was like to be a kid. Because as an adult, I have much bigger things to process.
So here are 5 things most adults have forgotten about kids:
Kids love their birthdays
Who wouldn’t when you are no longer 7 — because now you are 8!!! They even know when their half-birthdays are and make sure to announce it to the world! On their special day, that is exactly how they feel. They feel loved and love the attention. Sometimes, it’s about the cake and presents, but one day, they will love that someone cared enough to be there for them…to help them celebrate. Never downplay the importance of a child’s birthday…that day is right up there with the other big holidays. But they know that day is theirs.
Kids aren’t fake
They don’t know how to be. We teach them to be honest and to say what they think and feel. How many times have we told them, “Use your words” and yet we are surprised when they are brutally honest with us? There is a cereal commercial highlighting this same point — kids may not be shy about telling you that your stomach is hairy or asking why your legs make noises when you walk. We want to pretend that they only notice what we teach them, but believe me, they are paying way more attention than we give them credit for…and they remind us ever so often too.
Kids need their friends
In a world when adults have learned to rely more on themselves or a smaller group of close confidants, kids want to be liked by lots of people. They want to be included in the games you play at recess and to be invited to their classmates birthday party. They want to matter and friendships remind them that they do. Sitting alone at a lunch table is heartbreaking for any adult to see…imagine what it is like for that kid.
Kids are watching us
As I mentioned earlier, we might believe that kids are only learning things in school or when we make a point to teach them something, but in reality, they are watching, processing, and chances are, they are mimicking us more than we even think. They pick up on the words we say (yes, even the bad ones), our mannerisms, and our values. If they see us being kind to strangers or yelling at our spouse, they will keep that as an experience to use later on in their own lives. We can never really know how much they get from us until we hear our 5 year old yell from the back seat, “Crap!” because they dropped their juice box down the side of their seat. Not one of those proud mama moments for me, that’s for sure.
Kids aren’t afraid to dream
Let’s face it. Kids dream and they dream BIG. They don’t just want to be a nurse or a mom, they want to protect the most endangered species on the earth, climb Mt. Everest, and run 5 marathons…all before they are 30. They hit the gate running and before we can explain to them how the real life works, they are already on their way. As we get older, we put our dreams aside and instead, succumb to the life of responsibility and societal norm. Kids always believe in the magic of their dreams and the hopes for their future.
Kids remind us to be authentic with one another — there is a difference between being truthful and being hurtful. Because of them, we can look back at the years and feel truly blessed by the journey we have taken…with the places we have been, the people we met along the way, and the memories we have made along the way. Having the right kind of people around us — whether they be family or friend — makes life that much more enjoyable. Be grateful for those people who make our lives better because we still need our friends too.
Kids teach us to be the kind of people we want to be. Without knowing it, they help us correct our mistakes as we strive to be better because of them. No adult wants to be known as the grouch at the end of the block or the man who yells at everyone at the local ballpark. Seriously? That’s not our legacy. Nothing is more exciting than watching a dream come to fruition. Kids remind us to give a chance to something that might never be, but to ignore it is a much worse fate.
We may be older, but sometimes, it’s hard being an adult. Because we forget things.
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: