Using NLP to help conquer your fear of public speaking.
If your mouth goes dry and your knees start to knock at the very thought of standing up and speaking in front of a group, then you are not alone. According to research, fear of public speaking is the number one adversary in both the UK and the US, topping even fear of death, which came 3rd. As Jerry Seinfeld wittily pointed out, that means at any funeral the average person would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy! This article, written by Rachel Coffey, will show you how she deals with fear of public speaking using a combination of NLP and her vocational experience with this ailment.
The great news is, that by using NLP and being mindfully aware of how you approach the fear of public speaking, both mentally and physically, you can change the perception for good. Presentation skills, after all, is about being present!
Let’s first dispel a couple of myths. I often hear people saying that they think they need to ‘control’ their voice when they are nervous. This often results in an already tense person becoming even tenser which in turn makes it harder to sound at ease and natural. What we are aiming for is our voice to be free and expressive, so instead of ‘control’, think of ‘releasing’ the tension. This will free up the vocal mechanisms making your job easier.
The second misconception is the idea of ‘projecting’ one’s voice. Often what people really mean is speaking loudly. There is nothing wrong with upping the volume in the right way, but unless it is done mindfully, it can do more harm than good. If you ever feel your throat ache the day after speaking up, it probably means you are pushing too hard. This drives air through the vocal folds in your throat, creating friction and drying your throat out, which can cause damage resulting in a croaky voice – many teachers end up with this condition for obvious reasons. Instead we should think about mentally projecting the voice to the furthest points in the room. In NLP terms, it is almost like building rapport with the space itself. By doing this you are far more likely to be working in harmony with your body, rather than fighting against it.
So how can Neuro linguistic Programming help you forget the fear and enjoy your public speaking? Here are my top three tips and NLP based exercises to get the results you want;
1. Breathe! Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? However, most of us will recognise that awful moment when you are standing in front of a group of people and your mind just goes blank. The chances are, if you took a moment to notice, you are probably holding your breath. In fact if you hold your breath right now and try and think, you may find not much comes in! By starving our brain of oxygen, we are effectively preventing ourselves from thinking. If you think of the concept that a new thought = a new breath, thoughts will flood in and the deeper the breath the clearer the message to our subconscious that we are relaxed and confident.
Working along the lines of the NLP technique of being able to ‘swish’ from an unwanted behaviour into a state you want, a good exercise is to think back to a time when your mind went blank. Really remember how you felt, what you were seeing, what were you hearing. Rewind to just before the moment that your mind went blank. What were you doing? Identify the trigger point which causes you to hold your breath (it may have been that you started worrying you might forget what to say, you became aware of the sound of your own voice or you noticed that everyone was staring at you). Rewind to a couple of moments before your trigger point now replay the situation in your mind. As you hit the trigger point think, see in words or make a movement that says ‘relieve’ and breathe instead and imagine yourself to successfully complete what you are saying. Repeat this several times. When you feel, at the back of your mind that you’ve got it, imagine yourself at some point in the future, where before you might have had this problem and see what happens now. So remember, breathe and relieve!
2. Relax. The more relaxed you are physically, the more freedom you’ll have to use your voice to express what you are saying and so fully engage your audience. Being relaxed means you will breath naturally, create space in your resonators (giving your voice depth and volume) and your larynx will be able to move freely (if you put your hand gently on your throat and swallow, you will feel your larynx move up and down). We are seeking a mindful, active kind of relaxation which allows us to be alert, at ease and focussed.
As an exercise think of a time when you felt active and yet relaxed, think of an activity where you would be able to speak at the same time. So, having a BBQ, playing a game or having a conversation over dinner with friends would all be good examples. Play this through in your mind, remember what were wearing, whether it’s warm or cool, hear the conversation. As with any NLP technique it’s important that you are really specific. See all the colours, notice the volume people are speaking at, really feel the temperature. As you play it through when, you feel engaged and positive press your thumb against your ring finger* to anchor in the feeling.
This is now, what is known in NLP terms as your ‘anchor’. Release it as soon as the feelings begin to fade. Repeat and this time really notice your physicality and the lack of tension. Repeat again and this time notice the range and tone of your voice. Repeat again and this time notice the ease of your breathing. Repeat once more and feel the full positive experience. Each time remember to engage your anchor. Now test your anchor. Squeeze your thumb and finger together and see what happens. Now imagine yourself in the future about to go on to publicly speak, set off your anchor and notice how actively relaxed you feel.
*You can choose another anchor that suits you better, in fact NLP works with your model of the world, so the more natural your anchor feels, the better. It may be a picture, a movement, a sound or even a smell. Whatever works for you. Just remember, you need to be able to replicate it exactly in a public speaking environment.
3. Turn fear into focus. We’ve all felt the nerves kick in. The butterflies, the wobbly knees, the cold sweat. It is simply a natural surge of adrenaline, preparing you for action. What’s interesting though is that it is the same chemical reaction that we get when we are really looking forward to something, when we are excited and get a buzz. If we let it, we can use that surge in energy to help us focus, be ready for action and go out connect and shine!
An exercise using this is to think of a situation where you feel a sense of expectation, when you are really focussed on something, a situation that gives you a bit of a buzz. It could be anything from the night before Christmas thinking about opening all of your presents, if you were a sky diver, when you are about to jump out of the plane or even the feeling of focussing on your horse to win as he’s heading toward the finish line. Whatever works for you. As above, play this through in your mind and really engage with it. Once more when you are feeling at the height of focus and expectation, repeat the anchor that you used in exercise two. Repeat this a couple of times. In NLP terms, this is known as stacking an anchor, as you are effectively stacking it on top of the one you created earlier.
Once you feel you have it, wipe the screen clear. Now imagine yourself at a point in the future where you are about to go on and speak publicly. Imagine yourself taking a moment, taking deep breaths. It is essential that you take this moment to yourself to prepare. First focus on the breath (with your eyes closed if you wish). This is about relaxing and harnessing your inner power. Next, with open eyes, focus on a particular spot. As you focus, set off your anchor. Once you feel centred and focused, expand your awareness, keep the focus, keep firing your anchor whilst you invite in your surroundings into your awareness. Hear the sounds, see your surroundings, use the energy of the space. Breathe in and draw in the expectation, breathe out and feel yourself connecting to your surroundings. You are now in the perfect state to go on and shine! Imagine yourself going on to speak with energy and connection.
If you use the NLP inspired exercises above you may find that soon public speaking becomes a conversation between you and your audience. A place where you can express yourself, share ideas and really connect to your listeners. Your voice will be more natural and free.
My experience as an NLP Master Practitioner has revolutionised the way I approach my work as a voice coach. By combining up to the minute best practice in public speaking with Neuro linguistic Programming, you may find the fears you used to have fade away allowing you to take the first steps to stepping out onto a new stage in your life!
Rachel Coffey (BA, MA) is a fully qualified vocal coach, trained actor & NLP Master Practitioner. If you like to know more about how you could use NLP to help you with your fear of public speaking you can contact Rachel through her website, www.rachelcoffeycoaching.com