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The Power And Pitfalls Of Complete Vulnerability

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The Power And Pitfalls Of Complete Vulnerability

The first time I remember being vulnerable was in the fourth grade. It was Valentine’s Day and I was in love – or so I thought.

While waiting for my mom to pick me up from after school daycare (I distinctly recall this memory to this day), my best friend and crush at the time, his friend, and I all sat in a circle playing Jenga by the child-sized lockers. In the middle of our game, he looked up at me, and asked, “So who do you have a crush on?”

My heart stopped. He continued staring as though he already knew the answer, as though my eyes must have given it away, but said nothing and waited for me to respond.

With a bit of hesitation, I raised my finger, pointed at him, and said, “You.”

He smiled, and for a moment, I thought that he would say the same. I assumed his smile meant the feeling was mutual and he liked me too. But, of course, I thought wrong.

The next words out his mouth nearly ruined Valentine’s Day forever for me. He said, “That’s cute…well I have a crush on Natasha [who was my other best friend at the time].”

Looking back, it’s almost comical how quickly my emotions changed within the instant. I went from blissful, hopeful, excited, and nervous to confused, angry, mortified, and ashamed.

How could he? I thought. How could she? (Even though she wouldn’t even found out until middle school).

I was hurt, yes, but even more so I was upset at myself for allowing him to make me feel such a way – a way which made me feel as if my whole world was collapsing all around me and I had no control in the matter.

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I didn’t understand it at the time, but this was the first time I’d ever felt truly vulnerable. And it was one of the worst vulnerable moments in my life, but arguably amongst the most important too.

Earlier this year, I experienced a situation similar to my Valentine’s Day catastrophe. Instead of crying into my parents’ arms for five straight hours, I decided to do some self-therapy and seek out advice from others going through the same thing.

So I read The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, wrote some admittedly melodramatic songs, and cried a little, of course, but I also discovered a Ted Talk called The Power of Vulnerability.

By this time, I’d grown up enough to realize what I was going through was a result of my inherently vulnerable nature. I had put myself out there, without my initial hesitation, and fallen flat on my face in the midst of great expectation.

However, when I watched Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” talk, I felt the puzzle pieces start to come together in my head. It was as if she was speaking directly to me, but indirectly, by speaking about vulnerability.

In her research, Brown started off by talking about the idea of connection and how humans have this ingrained desire and need to connect with others saying, “In order to allow for connection, we have to be seen, really seen.”

She went on to say that she’d discovered this factor hindering us from connecting with those around us that stemmed from a sense of fear and insecurity. What she’d found was shame.

And underlying that shame and sense of unworthiness was excruciating vulnerability.

When reading The Year of Magical Thinking, I thought what I was going through was a subset of grief – an unnamed, but universal feeling of loss that we have all experienced at the signs of an end. But when I watched Brown’s video, I realized it was the all-too-familiar emotion of shame.

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It was the fear that maybe I wasn’t good enough, maybe there was something wrong with me that made it impossible to continue this connection I’d established. In hindsight, I didn’t need the validation of my worthiness, but I wanted it. I wanted to know I wasn’t still that little girl who wasn’t enough for her first valentine.

I needed to know I was wanted for me.

“When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak…when you ask people about connection, they’ll tell you about disconnection,” Brown pointed out. I realized I was no different then, and admittedly I’m still not.

In being vulnerable and revealing an unseen layer to someone else, I had lost something of myself. I had lost that part of me that feared the unknown, but in doing so, opened myself up to the possibility of rejection. And rejected was exactly how I felt.

But as the video went on and Brown delved further into shame and vulnerability and connection, I realized it was not my vulnerability that had made me feel weakened in the circumstance. Rather, it was my willingness to be vulnerable that made me stronger, and my feeling of shame and rejection that instead belittled me.

Brown’s research then switched to focusing on this idea of “the wholehearted” who are “people who had a strong sense of love and belonging because they believed they were worthy of love and belonging.” She explained that these people had three factors in common: courage, compassion, and connection.

“They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be what they were,” Brown said.

And even though I had gone through a whirlwind of negative emotions following periods of vulnerability in my life, it occurred to me then and there that I was a wholehearted person. The only difference being that I thought I should be the opposite.

One thing that my best friend has said to me time and time again, which is now lodged in my brain forever, is that she sees me as someone who gives their full 100% when it comes to what I love.

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I love to write so when I do, I put my whole self into my writing. I love music so when I produce songs, I practice them until they’re perfect. And when I love someone, I give everything of myself to that person, even if the future looks unclear or unfruitful.

But when it comes to whom I choose to be with, I expect that same effort. I expect it because I was given that overabundance of love from my parents. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it definitely raised my expectations for relationships beyond the average idealist.

For a long time though, I thought it was a bad thing. I believed myself to be too loving, too caring, and too emotional, which translated into needy, dependent, and irrational for most people.

However, in watching “The Power of Vulnerability,” I started to see that it wasn’t that I was these things. I was anything but needy, having chosen to balance my friends and my relationships equally ever since I could date. My dedication to all aspects of my life reflected a stronger sense of independence than any Beyoncé song could convey.

And irrational could only begin to describe the list of words loosely tossed at me in a feeble attempt to diminish my sense of intuitive knowledge and self.

It was that I was willing to be vulnerable, and thus willing to feel such a way I had.

After the video ended, I spent a great deal of time thinking, really thinking, about who I was. And by the end of it, a whole two hours later of list-making and songwriting, I came to the obvious, but not as understood realization that I was human.

I made mistakes. I wasn’t perfect, and I certainly didn’t try to pretend I was. But above all, I was open enough with myself in order to be vulnerable. And that was arguably what was most beautiful about me.

All of us fear the idea of vulnerability, whether we like to admit it or not. We build walls around us to keep out what scares us most like heartbreak, pain, jealousy, rejection and endings. We distract ourselves with things, places, and people that may not give us much joy, but certainly help us avoid the thoughts that torture us.

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But as Brown states in her video, “When we numb the bad, we numb the good too.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m terrified of change. I’m terrified of what will happen, or what won’t. To be honest, most of the time I’m crossing my fingers behind my back and hoping to God that a miracle in the shape of a comfortable reality will lend itself my way. But I know that’s not the way it goes.

And ultimately I don’t think I’d accept such a fate.

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, even if there’s no guarantee, we must love with our whole hearts…practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror…and to believe we are enough.”

In life, there’s no sticker of guarantee. There’s no promise you’re going to make the varsity team, get straight A’s, graduate from college, find the job of your dreams or settle down with the person of your dreams. But if we never try, then there’s a positive guarantee we’ll only be disappointing ourselves.

At the end of the day, I know I’m not perfect. I know I have a lifetime of learning left to go and a list of lessons I have yet to fill. I know I’m still that same little girl who cries to her parents, gives her whole heart and loves even with a question mark hanging in the balance.

But I am enough, whether or not I have a valentine to call my own.

And in looking back, I’m so grateful for those moments of vulnerability and heartbreak and pain because it gave me the courage I needed to continue on, become stronger, and to never give up, even in the face of uncertainty.

It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but who says it has to be a bad thing? I know I wouldn’t have it any other way, and deep down, neither would Brene Brown.

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Featured photo credit: vulnerability/rebecca nicole montana via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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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:

Warming up

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:

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Stay hydrated

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.

Meditate

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.

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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.[1]

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.

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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.[2]

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.

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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:

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  • 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:

Reference

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