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Archive for the ‘Presentation Skills’ Category

How to handle Public Speaking Nerves

Friday, June 14th, 2013

 

Have you ever been asked to deliver a talk or presentation and found yourself spiralling into an abyss of nerves and uncertainty on the run up?

 

Perhaps it was the 10 minutes before, the hour or maybe even the whole day or week?!

 

It might have been a wedding speech, a meeting you had to take or a more formal presentation in your job. There really is nothing like a bit of public speaking to get the blood flowing for most people.

 

One of the most commonly asked questions we get regarding public speaking is how to handle the nerves. How to be more confident and comfortable….How to stop the million and one voices shouting in your head on the run up to starting speaking!?

 

While there are lots of NLP techniques and ways you can use your imagination to prepare your frame and state of mind that really help, the main thing for me is experience. The techniques really help let go of the deep seated fear to let your natural, confident self shine through and the experience cements all these changes in place.

 

Another aspect that a lot of people forget though is being able to speak calmly and confidently even while you are feeling nervous.

 

Of course, the end goal is to reach the place where you don’t feel the nerves or (what is more often the case) where they are at such a minimum they hardly affect you. At the same time it’s equally if not more important to be able to get up and deliver a confident, killer talk or presentation while you feel nervous.

 

Most people forget about this middle ground but it actually makes up most of your early experience as a speaker (and a lot of the time for more experienced ones even though they probably don’t want to admit it!)

 

About 3 years ago I was asked to be Best Man at one of my mates wedding. When he first asked I was more than a little cocky. I had a lot of experience delivering training and also, being a member of the public speaking organisation ‘Toastmasters’, I knew how to design and deliver short talks and presentations.

 

An  8- 10 minute best man speech would be a piece of cake right? Ehm, not really…

 

In actual fact it has to rank as one of the most terrifying talks I’ve ever given.

 

Well, that’s not strictly true. It ranks as one of the most terrifying and nervous ‘run ups’ to a talk I’ve ever had. The actual speech was easy but the build up was wobbly to say the least.

 

On the morning of the wedding I was very confident. I’d done all my preparation and I knew my speech inside out. I knew the content was good and was convinced it would get both some good laughs and, at the same time, touch a few emotional nerves.

 

During the ceremony everything was fine. I felt comfortable and relaxed and pretty certain things were going to go well. It wasn’t until just after that the nerves kicked in.

 

The problem I had strangely enough was that everyone knew I had a fair amount of public speaking experience. It’s amazing how as human beings we generalise and distort information (I think the drinks also had a fair amount to do with it).

 

What started as people saying to me “Hey I hear you run training courses so this should be a bit easier for you”  quickly changed after multiple drinks to “Hey I hear you’re an after dinner speaker! And do some stand comedy so this should be a breeze!”.

 

Where the heck did they get that from!

 

That’s when the nerves started…suddenly the pressure was on. Not only was the speech being filmed and all my friends were going to be there it seemed the audience were expecting a super polished, hilariously funny after dinner speaker!

 

It amazes me what nerves can do to you. The walk out to the top table was like some weird dream where I was dissociated from my body. As I sat down my legs had turned to jelly, my mouth was like sand paper and my mind was a blur. I don’t use any notes when I speak so i’d decided to do the full 10 minutes speech completely from memory. In that moment though I was cursing myself for not bringing a piece of paper to read from and, more importantly, hide behind.

 

The strange thing was, even though I felt as nervous as I’d been since I started public speaking and giving presentations at some deep level I knew I’d get through it. I think this is where the experience comes in. Once you’ve given a few talks and presentations irrespective of the nervous feelings you feel you start to realise that you will live actually through it! In fact, you can in fact still get the job done pretty damn well!

 

You learn how to feel solid and strong at the same time as feeling nervous.

 

A lot of people think you are either nervous or confident. That it’s like a digital switch that’s either on one side or the other when that’s simply not the case. You can actually feel confident, strong and comfortable at the same time as feeling nervous.

 

Obviously it’s much nicer when the nerves aren’t there but I think it’s a much more useful skill to maintain strength and balance while feeling nervous. Unless you speak a lot then this will make up a large part of your speaking experience.

 

So anyway, back to the speech. After the groom finished his speech and kindly told the audience that I had started taking acting lessons so they should expect an impressive showing (thanks Derek!) I stood up and started talking. The first line contained a joke and, when I spoke it, the audience burst into laughter. I knew right then that, despite my anxious fretting, it was going to go well. It was such a friendly vibe and you could tell everyone was willing me to be funny and entertaining.

 

What I had convinced myself was going to be one my toughest audiences actually turned out to be one of the easiest and most compliant ones I’ve ever spoken to.

 

The speech went down a storm. I like to think I did my duty well and suitably humiliated the groom in a respectful manner while complimenting the bride and touching a few emotional nerves along the way.

 

When I think back it certainly stands out as one of the biggest buzzes I’ve had from public speaking but the main learning was how important it is to get experience standing firm irrespective of the nerves.

 

So if you’re asked to give a talk or presentation and find yourself slipping into the nervous abyss, realise that no chasm is bottomless. An ‘Abyss’ doesn’t really exist, it’s just a word created for fantasy novels. Every hole or pit has solid grounding within it and around it. Go ahead, look around and reach out…You’ll catch a hold of something solid and regain your balance soon enough.

 

Take Care

 

Steve

 

Public Speaking – The wonderful place where Creativity, Freedom & Bliss exists

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

 

I remember reading a book on Creative Public Speaking a few years ago and a comment the author made jumped out at me. She said that there’s a wonderful and natural place where creativity exists that massively improves your Public Speaking skills yet most people have almost completely forgotten about it. She said that this wonderful natural place is not just about creativity or becoming better at Public speaking, it’s about freedom, bliss & being and that people would be a lot happier and content if they allowed themselves to go there more often.

 

She also said that it’s not somewhere you can go by forcing or doing, it’s a place you get to by letting go and allowing. That when you reach that place of trust it ‘just kind of happens’ without you trying to consciously make it so.

 

At the time I was utterly confused by it. What the heck was she talking about!

 

At that time I was very much a ‘get out there and make it happen’ type person. If things weren’t working then it must mean I’m not trying hard enough. Clearly I wasn’t putting in enough effort. I operated very much from the mindset that the more force you put into something the more you get back out.

 

If you think about it though, the more force you inject into something the more you run the risk of pushing it away or even worse causing it to spiral wildly out of control.

 

Now obviously things don’t simply materialise by reading ‘The Secret’ then spending all your time in a dark room asking the universe for better health, happiness, wealth and opportunity. Contrary to what some people think you do actually have to get off your butt and physically DO something!

 

There comes a point though where effort starts to seriously counter act the good work you’re putting in. If you’ve ever heard someone tell you that you ‘just try too dammn hard!’ then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Everyone has their own ‘effort threshold’ that, when they go over it, creates a tension and neediness that actually prevents them from getting closer to the goal.

 

Obviously you have to put the effort in but you also need to let it go.

 

It’s like working out in the gym. You don’t build a bicep by working it every day for several hours. Your body needs time to repair and it’s this ‘repair time’ that causes your muscles to grow bigger. The amazing thing is you don’t have to consciously do anything during this period (other than eat!)…your body does it for you.

 

I used to be soooo guilty of this in the early days when I was giving presentations.

 

I would plan everything out to the nth degree. Almost every minute was scripted, every pause and joke planned ahead of time and I used to practice out loud for hours on end before a training. It was a heck of a lot of work and pretty stressful, especially if I was asked to deliver something with little preparation time.

 

When I look back it seems almost ludicrous because, as soon as I started to speak, changes in the environment meant I had to go ‘off script’ anyway.

 

Then I did an improvisation class and it opened me up to a space I hadn’t considered for a long time, probably since I was a kid. It opened me up to place that massively improved my public speaking and my sense of happiness (and sanity!). It opened me up to this wonderful place where creativity, freedom and bliss naturally exist.

 

You see, the main purpose of improvisation is to take you to a place where you feel comfortable not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s a place of trust that often produces a level of effectiveness and results that simply can’t be matched by trying to consciously force it. Some of the stuff we produced in that improvisation class was pure comedy gold. The kind of standard I could never have matched if I was trying to force it out consciously.

 

In NLP we make the distinction between ‘Proactive’ and ‘Reactive’ thinking styles. Proactive thinking is where you like to plan ahead of schedule. Reactive is where you say “To heck with planning, I’ll just figure it out at the time”. Proactive is where you like to know and plan step by step how an event is going to pan out and then prepare for it. Reactive is where you allow yourself to respond in the moment to whatever comes your way.

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both and everyone has the capacity to do both. The problems arise when you become ‘stuck’ in your preferred style and forget how to do the opposite.

 

Public speaking is a great example. Imagine you were someone who felt they had to plan everything to an almost obsessive degree and you were asked to do an impromptu presentation…There’s a good chance you’d be freaking out right now!

 

On the flip side, a lack of planning can also create problems. If you don’t have some kind of plan and know your content ahead of time you run the risk of being seriously caught out even if you’re skilled at ‘figuring it out in the moment’.

 

This is actually one of the fundamental skills of Public Speaking…being able to balance proactive and reactive thinking styles. Being able to plan ahead of schedule and have a structure but then also being able to let it go and go to a place where you’re in ‘the now’, responding to feedback from the audience. You master those two then you can pretty much deliver presentations anywhere to any audience with confidence.

 

In fact I’ll go one step further…when you pan the camera back, balancing these two thinking styles is actually a vital skill in life!

 

Sure, it’s incredibly useful to set goals and create step by step plans to achieve them but it’s equally if not more important to let them go and be ‘in the now’. How else will you spot and take advantage of the opportunities that’ll get you there in the quickest possible time?

 

We often forget that life is mostly reactive by nature. Things change every minute of every day and it’s probably a more important skill to be able to respond and react to the changing conditions rather than attempt to control and dictate them ahead of time. There are few things that will help your levels of confidence and well being more than trusting that, no matter what happens, you’ll manage to figure out a way to make it work. When you really get that the future becomes a much friendlier place.

 

So if you are frequently attempting to control and plan things ahead of time then perhaps it’s time to let go a bit more and see where the tide of life takes you. You can still have your plans, just allow them to loosen a little bit and improvise as you go along. If you’re the kind of person that never plans and just blissfully floats from moment to moment then maybe it’s time to start planning. Again it doesn’t mean you can’t be ‘in the moment’. It’s not about swinging entirely the other way, it’s about finding the balance that works for you. At the end of the day there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve put plans in place to allow you the time to enter that wonderful place where creativity, freedom and bliss naturally exists.

 

Take care

Steven

 

Do you dare to be vulnerable?

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

What’s it like to be naked while everybody else is clothed?

A friend text me the other day to tell me they hated my blog post on forgiveness. She said it was patronizing and simplistic and that politics shouldn’t be used as a springboard to discuss forgiveness. Ouch!

It was probably quite a big leap to go from politics to forgiveness and she did have a point with the simplicity thing.

It was a very simple concept I wanted to get across about the tendency for people to hold onto resentment rather than learn from experience and move on.

In truth the post wasn’t really about politics or even Margaret Thatcher, it was about not letting harmful emotions do you damage and instead using them to fuel more productive behaviours and ways of being in the world.

It was a strange feeling though to get that kind of *cough* constructive feedback :-) and it got me thinking about a book I’m reading at the moment. It’s called ‘Dare to be Great’ by Brene Brown.

Her main argument is that anything worth getting or doing in life requires an element of vulnerability.

At some point you’re going to have to put yourself in a place where the quality of what you’re doing is judged or assessed and sometimes that judgement won’t be entirely complimentary.

How true is that?!

She also makes the really interesting statement that ‘vulnerability is the cradle that holds all of our worthwhile emotions’.

At first I thought this was a bit of a sweeping generalisation but as I analysed the things I considered ‘worthwhile’ I struggled to find any examples to the contrary…this idea returned to my thoughts as I read the text.

When you really think about it, any sort of challenge you undertake that’s important to you requires you to be vulnerable.

It requires you to step out of the shadows and risk judgement…possibly even condemnation and consequences. If not then perhaps it’s not really a challenge and not as important as you think?

There’s a wonderful NLP type book called ‘The Heroes Journey’ by Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan. It’s based on the work of famous mythologist Joseph Campbell and describes the different stages a hero or heroine has to go through when they embark on a quest.

One of the stages of the journey is called ‘Crossing the threshold’.
This is where the hero or heroine leaves the comfort of their home and sets off into the unknown to explore a new adventure.

One of the things they have to accept when they cross the threshold is that their current skill or knowledge WILL be seriously tested and may even fail them and it’s only at this point that they start to develop and transform.

In other words, if they want to progress through their journey and claim the golden elixir, they have to accept a certain element of vulnerability and there really isn’t any way to avoid it other than trot back home with your tail between your legs.

When you think about the different elements of your life, how is your own level of risk taking?

Could you increase it a little? A lot?

What would happen if you did?

How are you with vulnerability? Does is spook you out or do you see it as inevitable when pursuing the things you want?

Everybody has their own threshold before they start totally freaking out and you don’t have to go all out and do the scariest thing in the world.

It can be something as simple as pushing yourself into the limelight just that little bit more than you have been.

So…what do you think…Do you dare to vulnerable?

There’s a good chance you’ll be judged and assessed and it can sometimes feel like you’re naked while everyone else is clothed but it does provides a huge springboard for you to transform and grow.

Take Care

Steve

 

Your Confidence plays hide and seek with you…

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Hide-and-Seek-521x265Are you aware that your Confidence has been playing hide and seek with you? A lot of people also don’t realize that we aren’t born anxious, nervous or shy. It’s something we learn to do and practice over the years. As a very young child you didn’t nervously tippy toe over to your Mum and go “Ehm…excuse me…c..c..c…can I have some s..s…s…upper p…p…please? There is no gene that stipulates you have to be anxious, nervous, shy or lacking in confidence.

There are certain genetic make ups that allegedly make people more pre-disposed to have these feelings but its by no means clear cut.

They still have to have experiences and interpret the world in a certain way and then consistently do that to develop and maintain those feelings.

As children, when we decided to do something we just did it!…without fear of recrimination or failure.
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Are you an overweight Fitness Coach teaching Zumba who can’t dance?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

 

There’s a terrific book written by Daniel Goleman that you may have heard of called Emotional Intelligence – why it can matter more than IQ. In his book he argues that our emotions play a far greater role in thought, decision making and individual success than is commonly acknowledged.

 
Daniel tells of a powerful experience he had whilst travelling on a bus up Madison Avenue. As he stepped onto the bus he was startled by the driver, a middle-aged black man with an enthusiastic smile, who welcomed him with a friendly, “Hi! How you doing?”

 
As he walked further down the bus he noticed that the driver welcomed each of the passengers with a similar enthusiastic greeting. The passengers appeared to be just as startled as Daniel but, as they were so locked into the morose of the day, didn’t return the greeting.

 
As the bus began its journey up Madison Avenue a slow, magical transformation started to happen. The driver started to give a running monologue for the passenger’s benefit…A lively and entertaining commentary on the passing scene around them. His enthusiasm and delight for the cities attractions started to become infectious. By the time the people got off the bus they had shaken off their solemn demeanour and when the driver shouted “So long, have a great day!” they all, one by one, gave him an enthusiastic, smiling response.
You see the driver knew a thing or two about influence. He knew that if you want to influence someone you have to go out of your way to make them feel good.

He knew that if you want people to change and transform it’s no good just telling them…you have to make an impact on the way they feel. Above all though, he knew that this process starts with yourself.

If you want someone to go somewhere you have to go there first.

 

If you want someone to experience happiness, you’re going to struggle if most days you can’t even raise a smile…If you want someone to get off their but and do something it’s going to be pretty difficult if there’s no energy or enthusiasm about you. At the end of the day no-one wants to hire a depressed happiness coach…

 

No one wants an overweight fitness instructor who teaches Zumba and can’t dance.

 
You don’t have to be perfect but you do have to possess a certain amount of the thing you want to influence.

 
When I was 18 I went on an outward bound course in the North of Scotland and we were ‘encouraged’ to get up at 05:30 in the morning and go for a run and a dip in a nearby river before breakfast. Apparently (or so they said) this was one of the most refreshing and invigorating ways to start the day. The fact it was the middle of November and the temperature was a lovely comfortable 2 degrees though, meant that most of us weren’t exactly convinced.

 
The one thing our instructor didn’t do though was come out in the same emotional place as us.

 
He came striding out looking as if he was ready to climb Mount Everest! You could literally see the enthusiasm and motivation emanating from him.
Now I’ve got to be honest and say that, at first, I found this a bit irritating. Then, bit by bit, his enthusiasm began to wear off on me until eventually I was finding it very difficult to protest.
He knew that if you want someone to go somewhere you have to go there first.

 
A more dramatic example of this happened during the Vietnam War. An American platoon was situated down in some rice paddies in the heat of a fire fight with the Vietcong when, All of a sudden, a line of six monks started walking in between the gun fire. They didn’t look right or left towards either of the soldiers they just walked calmly and peacefully across the battle field. One of the American soldiers recalled the incident as “incredibly strange, because nobody shot at them. And after they walked past suddenly all the fight was out of me. It didn’t feel like I wanted to do this any more, at least not that day. It must have been that way for everyone, because everybody quit. We just stopped fighting”

 
The monks ability to be able to pacify the soldiers in the heat of the battle is probably one of the more dramatic and courageous examples of how contagious emotions can be. On a more subtle level, though, emotional exchange occurs in practically every conversation we engage.

 
Think for a moment about a person in your life that generally has a happy, upbeat, positive attitude. How do you feel when you’re with that person? Do they lift your mood? Do you like being around them?

 
Now think of someone who complains constantly about life…Someone who bitches, moans and constantly brings people down. How do you feel around them? Do they affect you negatively?

 
The real question though is this – Which part do you play in this emotional exchange? Are you the emotional vampire that sucks the life out of people or are you a shining ray of light that makes others feel good in a way that they can’t quite explain?

 
What are you projecting? How are you influencing without even realising it?.

 

It’s true that if you want someone to go somewhere you have to go there first but it’s also true that you are always ‘somewhere’ and that ‘somewhere’ doesn’t just stay in you…it affects the people around you…it changes how they feel, how they think. It’s a big responsibility I know but it’s yours whether you like it or not…you have it by default.

 


Like I say, you don’t have to be perfect…not by a long shot. Just don’t be an overweight fitness coach teaching Zumba who can’t dance…

 

 

All the best

Steve