Has this happened to you before? You’re pursuing one of your many interests and then WAM! you find out there is a public speaking component to it. Suddenly your heart starts racing and you think:
“I know my idea is awesome, but will other people? What if nobody likes it and it turns out I was a fool for being so excited?”
Maybe you entered your film in a festival and you will have to get up in front of the audience for a post-screening Q&A. Maybe you made it to the semi-finals in an entrepreneurial competition and this means pitching your idea to a panel of judges. Maybe you desperately want to get into a particular program or college and they like you and all, but want to conduct a “quick interview” to get to know you better– (all things I’ve experienced). While you’re ecstatic to have gotten so far, you secretly wonder if it was worth it.
Why People with Many Interests Often Hate Public Speaking (unless of course, one of those interests happens to be public speaking…)
Being the kind of person who pursues their dreams means regularly shutting out the outside world and all those critical, judgmental voices that tell you you’re being impractical or silly. As a result, many of us tend to be quite introspective and have learned to value our alone time. We have lively inner worlds and have gotten into the practice of shielding ourselves from the cruel voices that say: “what are you wasting your time on that for?”
Even my friends who are involved in the performing arts seem to dislike selling themselves. So a musician might perform five nights a week, but when it comes to giving a talk or interviewing for a job, they are completely out of their element.
The truth is, for someone who spends so much time zealously following their passions, the idea of selling yourself can be terrifying.
How to Overcome your Fear
Fear of public speaking is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Even raising my hand in class was a challenge for me. However, I was recently given this piece of advice that completely changed my perspective on public speaking and has actually sort of made it, dare I say, fun. Here it is:
Personalize your presentation and convey your passion for the project.
I was given this advice by an awesome professor of mine, and have since begun applying it in other areas of my life.
The basic idea is not to try to fit into some cookie cutter mold of the person you think the audience wants you to be. Don’t try to blend in and be like the other presenters. You are unique and your ideas are unique. Don’t hide that. Feature it.
We have this tendency when we’re nervous in situations, to hide the qualities that make us unique or different. It’s a protection mechanism. Have you noticed that when you’re around a new person or someone you’re not yet comfortable with, you often don’t have much to say to them? That’s because on an instinctual level, you don’t feel safe enough to talk about the things you are passionate about. This isn’t a problem when you’re talking to close friends though, because you feel much safer around them.
The same goes for a presentation. It’s a nerve-wracking environment and it’s easy to want to hide your individuality in order to protect yourself.
Fight this urge.
Remember, you are talking about something you have a great deal of personal attachment to. Get that across. Be open and honest and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself a little in a good-hearted way. People will appreciate the humility.
Of course you don’t want to be overly self-deprecating or come off as insecure. What you want is for people to see you and smile and think: that person is just like me. When we see someone bare their soul a little, it makes us like them more. It makes us feel connected to them because we see that they are human and have fears and passions just like us.
This trick has literally changed my reality when it comes to public speaking. When I plan out my speech now, I think: is this me? Is there a way to say this that is more me? Can I throw in a personal example somewhere?
Applying the “Show Yourself” Principle to Other Nerve-Wracking Situations
Think about how you are with your close friends. You probably have no problem opening up. However, throw a bunch of strangers into the mix and the instinct is to become shy or rely on small talk.
The “Show Yourself” principle works here too.
Whenever you instinctively feel like cowering in a corner and being silent, that is exactly the time you must be brave and talk about whatever it is you’re passionate about. It’s scary and feels very counter-intuitive, but you will actually begin to feel more comfortable once you start talking about the things you care about.
You may just find that when you make yourself a little vulnerable, other people begin warming up to you and even open up a little themselves.
And if someone seems to judge you based on your passions or they don’t seem to care, then that’s usually an indication that they are not the right friend for you. It’s actually one of the big red flags I look for. If I notice myself editing my personality around someone or feeling like I have to justify myself, I usually know that person is not for me.
Do you guys have any other rad presentation tips? Are there other areas of your professional or social life in which you’ve found success by showcasing your individual qualities and passions?