My grandfather once told me a joke which is the perfect illustration of how crucial our mindset can be:
A man was driving in the countryside when one of the tyres of his car went flat. As he set out to change it, he realized he had no jack. He decided to walk to the next village to ask the local garage to lend him one. But on his way, he started to worry:
“Maybe the garage owner won’t want to lend me a jack” thought the man “I am just a stranger in this area. Maybe he won’t trust me. Or maybe he will take advantage of the situation and refuse to lend me a jack so that I have no choice but to pay him a fortune for him to come with the tow truck…..” And on and on, so much so that when he arrived at the garage, he opened the door, shouted at the puzzled owner : “You can keep your (censored).... jack, I will manage without it!” and slammed the door behind him as he went away....
When we are nervous at the prospect of public speaking, we are this guy with his flat tyre. How can we prepare ourselves?
The stoic philosophers advised their followers to brace themselves for the worse. They thought the worse doesn’t hit as hard if we expect it. This seems to contradict the point I have been making up till now, but think about it: if the guy with his flat tyre problem had been really prepared to face being turned down, he would have kept calm. He would have asked without expecting much, and if the garage owner had lent him a jack, he would have been agreeably surprised! So there is a difference between bracing ourselves for the worst case scenario and getting caught in a spiral of worry…
When we are going to speak, let’s remember that whatever happens, we will survive. Maybe we are going to be misunderstood or even judged in a negative way… and then? Trust me, trust yourself. We are so much stronger than we think.
Let's face our fear of what may happen. Remember: the scary monsters we dread often exist in our imagination only and can be deflated by a sharp conscious look!
Now, it is very important to be prepared for the best as well. The best has a tendency to happen more frequently when we are prepared for it. Let's dare imagine success...
What if they love us so much that they give a standing ovation? What if we get loads and loads of compliments after the speech? This might be quite unsettling as well! We need a bit of mental preparation:
When we receive compliments, declarations of love, admiration or such things, the best way to react is simplicity. Let’s not answer that no, we weren’t that great ... No no no! When people give compliments they don’t want to be contradicted! They want us to be happy to hear that we were so great. The best answer is a simple thank you.
It would also be very awkward to take advantage of the moment to boast and keep talking about ourselves. After saying that we are touched by the compliment and that we really appreciate it, good manners are to show interest in the complimenter, if only for a short while.
In any case, preparation is key… Are you ready to enjoy a big round of applause?
I am going to talk at Google Campus in the city, on the 15th of June. The headline is “Start up Stage Fright Public Speaking Top Tips” It’s a free event with networking times, you can book your ticket here