Fight or flight
Confessions of a public speaker
Yksilöessee Aaron Taivalsalmi 15.5.2019
Lähde: Scott Berkun: Confessions of a Public Speaker
Fight or flight
We all know what it might feel like. You get tense, hands are shaking, your pulse is through the roof, you wander around like a restless maniac, and you basically feel like running and hiding under your bed from the cruel world. These are some common symptoms that might occur when you are about to face a upcoming battle – or just a simple speech or presentation to some fellow human beings. (Not to say that you cannot give your speech to something not as intelligent, say a rock for instance)
It is perfectly normal to feel these things, despite the fact that they probably don´t feel all that pleasant to you. I mean, why on Earth would you enjoy the feeling of blood and adrenaline rushing through your body like a skyrocket, stomach full of non-existent (hopefully) butterflies; your sympathetic nervous system activating; in a situation where you are supposed to be fairly calm and assertive. In fact, The Book of Lists (1977) by David Wallechinksy included a list of things people are most afraid of and belive or not, public speaking came in at number one in it, death coming in at number seven. I guess people would preferably die than giving a public speech. In addition, the funny thing is that people are actually already good at giving public speeches. We do it all the time; according to Berkun an average person speak about 15,000 word a day.
”The best speakers know enough to be scared.. the only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.” – Edward R. Murrow
But why is that? Why some of us are so stressed about giving speeches and presentations. Let´s dig in some evolutionary psychology. Scott Berkun tells about few things that our brains happen to interpret as very bad things for survival. These are: standing alone, being in a open territory with no place to hide, without a weapon and being in front of a large crowd of creatures staring at you. Sound familiar? This is exactly the same scenario where you are, when you are giving a presentation or a speech.
Most of the people who are scared to give speeches would simply just want to completely shut off these fear-responses. However, that is actually a very bad idea; what if all of a sudden a group of ninjas would ambush you on the stage and you couldn´t act, because your body´s fight or flight system wasn´t active?
So, what are the things you can do before giving a speech? Practice, practice and practice. I can´t stress this enough. Yes, practice is not always all that fun and it might even cost few hours of your precious time. But would you rather fail in front of the crowd during the presentation or spend few hours preparing for it, so you would nail it? See the main advantage you as a speaker have over your audience is that you know what is coming up next, the audience does not. And when you do practice, try to make it so it mimics the real deal as much as possible. Berkun also emphasizes in his book to not focus on memorizing or giving the “perfect” speech. He instructs to practice the speech so well that you are actually comfortable with it. This gives you a significant confidence boost during your presentation.
In addition, there are some basic, practical things to do before giving your speech that allow you to get more used to the environment you will be speaking in:
• Be there early, so you don´t have to rush
• Do a tech- and soundcheck
• Walk around the place/stage so you will feel safer and more used to the room
• Get yourself a little snack like banana before the speech as sugar is the main fuel for your brain
• Talk to some people in the audience before the actual speech so you get a better sense that they are too (surprise, surprise) only humans
I, myself am extremely nervous about giving speeches, nor do I even consider myself a good speaker or performer, but those are things I am keen to get better at. I want to be able to perform with and speak with confidence and the only thing I can do to get better in this area, is to step outside the comfort zone and just perform and speak more. Which I have actually been doing lately and I can definitely see some improvements in it already. Actually, looking back one year when I started my “career” in Proakatemia, I am like a whole different person – in a good way, of course. I have also had some amazing feedback from my Apaja teammates regarding to my speaking skills.
So, when it comes to giving speeches, practice doesn´t make you perfect, it makes you confident. Get out there, speak and perform! Fight or flight!