This week, I attended a Toastmasters club for the second time in a row. It’s a speaking club where you practice impromptu and rehearsed speeches!
Here’s the format – at the beginning of the meeting, following introductions, we dive straight into ‘table topics’ – an opportunity to practise impromptu public speaking based on an unknown topic or question. It’s daunting. It’s scary. But it’s exhilarating. The talk only requires between 1-2 minutes of speaking, but when standing in front of the ten or so people there – to me, unknown faces – time moves slowly.
I know this because I dared to stand up for an impromptu talk on my first visit to the club. And guys – I WON! Wahoo!
But not without difficulty.
When I eventually finished, I was shaking. Apparently not visibly, but my heart was beating a mile a minute. I felt like I’d just ran 5km. And it genuinely took me several minutes, probably longer to resettle myself and my heartbeat.
Even though I’ve done public speaking (motivational talks, mainly) since my university days (circa 2011 onwards) that stress response is the new normal for me. And it’s actually the stress response I’m trying to alleviate for myself – when I stand on stage, or even speak in general these days.
Did anybody else enter the pandemic as an extrovert – or perhaps more on the extroverted side of the ambivert spectrum and leave the pandemic a complete introvert?
Does anybody else feel as though they stumble over their words every time they speak in conversation?
Social anxiety. Mild. But it still sucks.
However, as much as I still feel all these things, here’s my trick to still living life fully, speaking with confidence and overcoming anxiety.
 Feel the fear and do it anyway
Honestly, it works. Like I said, when I left the stage, my heart was pounding so intensely that I had to practise box-breath work as I sat back awkwardly in my chair following my 2 minute (1 minute 59 seconds, according to the official timekeeper) impromptu speech. But I still stood up and spoke.
As I spoke, I paced the stage like an anxious child, but apparently that looked like I was ‘maximising the stage…making full use of the space.’
And as each word poured out of my mouth (with only one ‘erm’, according to the ‘ah counter’ who takes note of every unnecessary or filler word), I gave everyone eye contact, even though all I really wanted to do was hold my eyes skywards (my reflexive thinking face).
So despite the fear not just causing a mental and emotional drain, but a very real physical drain also, I did it anyway.
And I will keep doing it until the fear dissipates and is replaced with enjoyment and real, true, authentic excitement again!
Why? Because I am driven by purpose – to motivate, inspire and transform lives by equipping people with tools for resilience, wellness and peak performance!
 Focus on the process.
I frequently mention process-driven actions as key to success in all walks of life, not just in relation to jumping into a sand pit or speaking in public on a stage.
My jumping process, on the most simple level, is simply run and jump. Breaking it down further, let’s start with the run. The running process is to have a solid first four step drive- ‘push’ – then to slowly transition into upright running over the next four steps in the drive – ‘rise’ – and then once I’m in my upright running to stay tall – hips, knees – ‘bounce’ – and in the final few steps to maintain that optimal pace and attack the board.
The process has a similar breakdown for the jump itself – from take-off to landing. But I won’t dive into that right now because I’m sure you get the picture!
Essentially, there’s a process to everything, speaking too.
Whether you follow the ‘ABCDE’ format or one I’ve recently learned at the Public Speaking Academy – ‘HMRC’ framework – you’ll immediately be able to nail the structural processes or framework of public speaking – in formal or informal settings.
But what about your speech delivery?
- Eye contact.
- Use of the stage.
- Slowing down your speech.
- Use of hands and gestures.
These are all key processes for good delivery.
Action vs Inaction
If you’re struggling with fear or anxiety in a particular area of your life, like me, how can you break down that challenging scenario into a couple of different process points?
The beauty of a process is you’re so enveloped in thought around the process, you can then lose yourself in flow so that you become unaware of your fear, all without realising that’s even happened.
Often, inaction magnifies fear and anxiety. Inaction causes you to stay in your brain and keep thinking about how you can’t do something, narrating worst-case scenarios to the point where these catastrophic thoughts become bigger and more concrete than your reality.
Action does the opposite.
Action, precipitated by a process (a simple process), alleviates anxiety and fear.
Alleviation doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone completely; it simply means it’s gone enough for you to move. And until that happens, you can still choose to move despite the fear. I‘ve already said that I feel the fear and do it anyway. And you can too.
So, find your simple process. And give it a go next time you’re in a difficult situation.
For example, if you’re nervous about networking, your process could be to arrive 15 minutes early for easier introductions with fewer attendees around or you could dare yourself to walk up to a group and say ‘hello’. Have a process and just do it.
Another example – Want to reduce spending and stick to a financial budget plan? Decide on what you’re going to the grocery store for. Take out the exact amount of cash you’ll need for that transaction. Head to the store without your phone or wallet. Then, even if you see something you ‘really need’, you won’t have the money – on your bank cards or in your phone wallet – to buy it anyway.
 Make friends with failure.
There’s definitely a better way for me to articulate this because that’s not what I really want to say. I don’t want anybody to fall in love with failure, but just be comfortable with the fact you’ll make mistakes. We are so caught up in not wanting to um or ah – an example of Toastmasters – or wanting to retain an inconsequential ‘crown’ from a previous victory – that we let these things hold us back from trying again…and, likely if you’re early on in a particular career or hobby, failing or making mistakes.
Have a bigger forgettery than memory.
Forget your successes as well as your failures. Don’t let either hold you back from your next thing. Treat every day as a new day. Just because you failed or succeeded yesterday, doesn’t mean you will tomorrow.
Side-note: It may not be good for you to have that perspective all the time, but it’s good to have this one in the arsenal if it will help.
Because even though I won the Table Topics portion of the day in the first club meeting, I didn’t even dare to stand up this time round – I didn’t even put myself in for the running. Yet, I know that if I’d remembered to forget last week’s unexpected victory, yes – I would have been nervous and afraid, but I would have still stood up and spoken.
Instead, overwhelmed by performance pressure – carrying my success from TWO WHOLE WEEKS BEFOREHAND, I allowed my success to hold me back.
There’s definitely a term for that.
I don’t care to articulate what it is right now because here’s what I care more about – overcoming performance anxiety. Overcoming social anxiety. Overcoming perfectionism. Just…simply…overcoming.
So, to recap:
- Feel the fear and do it anyway
- Focus on the process
- Make friends with failure.
In the comments below, please let me know how you plan to apply these three tips or if you have any of your own to add, feel free!
~ Abs x