And our next speaker will be telling us the exciting news about [insert your specialty here], please show a warm welcome for [YOU]!
You stride up to the podium, completely calm, right? Not a worry at all, right? No probably don’t even need note cards, since when you speak in front of a large crowd you feel the same as though you are speaking to an old friend over a couple of beers, right?
How about this. You are meeting a friend for a drink, you think it’s going to be just the two of you. You show up, and there are about six people that you don’t know. You slowly walk up to the table, and your buddy says “Hey! He’s here! I’ve been telling these guys all about you!” They allÂ beamÂ looks ofÂ expectation you’d normally see just before the curtain opens at Cirque du Soleil. Of course, since you are completely at ease and outgoing without need for any preparation going into any social situation, you can handle this situation flawlessly, right?
Or how about this. You see a fantastically attractive member of the opposite sex standing across the room. You flirt with your eyes a few times, and you’reÂ pretty sure you see a briefÂ flash ofÂ something that could be a smile. Of course, being theÂ socially at ease personÂ you are, you naturally stroll over, confident that your social and conversation skillsÂ areÂ sufficient toÂ easily decideÂ within a few minutesÂ of conversationÂ whether thisÂ person is a match for you or not.Â Right?
Well, if you fall a bit short in the above situations, pleaseÂ raise your handÂ and join the human race. Social anxiety is one of the biggestÂ obstacles known to mankind. People consistently rankÂ the fear of public speakingÂ higher even thanÂ dying.Â There’s a reason atÂ high school dancesÂ boys stand on one side of the gym, and girls on the other.Â
Luckily, I have a couple tricks that can help you easily overcome this. One is a realization that you probably already know, and the other is some mental practice that you can do that will consistently give you an edgeÂ as you practice it.
First the realization. What are you thinking of in these situations? If you can, imagine now that you are in one of the above situations, and pay attention to your thoughts. What are you thinking of? Your faults? Your weaknesses? The worst thing that can happen (or more accurately about a billion worst things that can happen?) Well guess what, whenever you are in a social situation, everybody thinks those thoughts. People don’t have near enough brain energy to focus on their own worst fears AND be cognizant of what you might be afraid of at the time.
Of course, this is easy to forget when you are hit with the unexpected adrenalin shot of social pressure, but the more you practice remembering, the easier it will get.
This realization really sunk in for me when I was taking a public speaking class. During one of the speeches, I was the first to go. I don’t what it was, maybe because I was talking about a subject that I was really familiar with, or the teacher was really nice, I’m not sure. But I was really relaxed.Â And during the middle my speech, I paused and actually scanned the room and noticed the expressions on everybody’s faces. They were all terrified. They were all thinking “oh no i’m next!” IÂ probably couldÂ have been speaking Portuguese, and they wouldn’t have noticed.
Many times people will pretend they are not nervous, but trust me, they are doing their best to keep their game face while they think “oh no oh noÂ what do I say???”
The trick I spoke of earlierÂ is to focus outward as much as possible whenever you are inÂ those situations thatÂ can make you feel less than comfortable. The idea is to stay out of your head as much as possible. Focus on their eyes, their nose, how their lips move when they talk, their boobs (ok, maybe not the boobs,) their ears, earrings, mustache, haircut. Try to figure out from their breath what they ate last, the sounds in the room, their posture, how many different colors they are wearing. Anything to keep the focus OUT side your head.
Of course, they key is to remember these two tricks when you get into those situations. If you know you are going to be in a situation, like a speech or a first or second date, no problem. Just make sure to rehearse doing this in your mind beforehand.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are suddenly on the spot unexpected, it’s good to set up a signal system to help youÂ remember the two keys:
They are just as afraid as you.
Focus on physical things to reduce your own fear.
One thing you might do is use the pegging technique, and attach one to each thumb. Of course, like any new mind technique, it will take some practice.Â Another way to do this is to purposely go into situations thatÂ make you feel a little anxious and then just practice theseÂ techniques untilÂ you become natural.
While you might not become incredibly charismatic overnight, the more you practice theseÂ techniques, the easier it will be for you to be at ease in all situations, so you can feel relaxed enough to share your true self with the world. You owe the rest of us that much.