Let’s be honest. Getting over a fear of public speaking takes small steps. It’s almost like a diet or a fitness program. If you take on too much too fast, you’ll be overwhelmed. It just won’t work – not in the long term.
When I first went out on my own and started this business, building the self-confidence to promote myself as a business owner was incredibly challenging. Speaking in public about myself, my ideas and my own creation to strangers was about as uncomfortable as listening to someone running their fingernails down a chalkboard. But I could easily quiet down a room full of rambunctious kids with one word. Commenting during conferences and meetings was a breeze! What was the matter with me? I was completely out of my comfort zone.
Suddenly I felt like I was transported back in time and back to the super shy, awkward and unpopular middle-school kid I once was long ago. Some kids used to yell “Ugly!” at me when I passed them in the hallway, probably due more to my awkwardness than my actual physical looks. I hated that time! I hated it so much that I decided I was going to watch and learn how to be a popular kid. After all, what did they have that I didn’t have? Nothing. So over the next few years, I slowly learned how to dress, make conversation and basically network my way into the popular crowd. By my second year of high school, I succeeded. I made the competitive varsity cheerleading squad, was later elected to be a homecoming princess and so on. I enjoyed it, but by the time I graduated, I was happy to leave that all behind me.
In retrospect, high school would have been a lot more fun if I had the self-confidence not to be affected by all those social groupings, be myself and develop real friendships. But that’s not the point I’m making here.
My point in telling that story is in making a decision to take on a challenge and then putting in the daily effort to meet that challenge, even if it takes years to do so.
Being comfortable with who you are.
When you get out there to speak about your business, your idea, or your expertise, it’s important to have a basic self-confidence in who you are. Are you comfortable with yourself? Is your product or service compatible with you who are and your values? That’s important for long-term success.
Stop the downward spiral of negative self-talk in its tracks.
First, recognize those negative nagging thoughts that undermine your confidence. Then, identify them for what they are: fear. Replace them with positive thoughts, affirmations or images in your mind. Yes, for some, this can be challenging to do on your own, and I do help my clients work to overcome their negative self-talk.
Build self-confidence with small steps.
With my coaching clients, we break the steps down according to their fear. In other words, the bigger the fear, the smaller and easier the steps should be. We’re looking for long-term solutions. I’ve seen medications recommended and sometimes even prescribed by doctors to people who are nervous before a public speaking event. But those aren’t a good long-term substitute for self-confidence.
Here’s an example of a small step I may assign to a client: tell one new person a version of your elevator pitch every day for a week. Simple and easily attainable.
Take note of your public speaking accomplishments.
It’s so easy not to give yourself proper credit when you do get out there and speak. That’s when many people really let the negative self-talk undermine their efforts. Watch out for that! Remember the challenges you’re working to overcome.
What do you do when a “wrecking ball” comes in and shoots you down?
Sometimes it’s a person you trust – a mentor (unfortunately), family member or “friend” who tells you that you’ll fail, or they’ll say something revealing that they don’t believe in you. We all have people like that in our lives, and sometimes, we’re just stuck with them, at least to some degree.
What you can do is set boundaries. You can change the subject. You can politely refuse to answer prying questions. For example, I’ve been running my business for four years, and one of my siblings just can’t ever seem to remember what my business is about. So, whenever he asks me to explain it again, I just hand him my business card with a smile and invite him to visit my website. Another relative always asks me, “So are you making any money yet? Really? How much?” (I don’t tell them.)
Building self-confidence in any area of life can feel like you’re building a house one brick at a time. But if you have a purpose in life, and you’re ready to get out there and realize it, you’re going to need to do a lot of public speaking!