A big thanks to Dr. Amanda Kirane for inviting me to present a hands-on bootcamp-style Public Speaking & Confidence Workshop for her UC Davis General Surgery Residents at their UC Davis Chapter’s Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) meeting. Location: UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, Sacramento, CA. Date: Aug 2, 2018.
While standing in front of the Be Yourself On Stage workshop audience, Jennifer told me she felt very awkward with her arms in a neutral position – casually down by her sides. Then I turned to the audience and asked, “How does she look?” Everyone in the audience said, “She looks normal.” What’s awkward for you comes across as great body language to your audience.
The big ah-ha moment for the workshop participants was that feeling awkward in front of your audience does not necessarily look awkward to your audience.
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The power of good body language during your speech starts with the body language you use to assuage your butterflies before you speak.
- Sit up straight
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Body language is my secret to overcoming* the fear of public speaking.
In my experience, I’m either standing or sitting while I wait for my turn to speak. I don’t really like the waiting part: my knees and hands used to shake uncontrollably and my teeth would chatter. But nowadays, I’m just plain antsy and excited to get in front of a crowd.
Here’s what worked for me to overcome* my butterflies:
- Sit up straight: physically move forward in your seat. When you’re sitting back in your seat, the butterflies are in the pit of your stomach. It’s like they’re in front of your stomach. By sitting up straight, your back moves away from the back of your seat, where the butterflies are. You’re physically moving forward, so you’re now in front of the butterflies. That’s how I always envision it: By sitting up straight, I’m pushing myself through the butterflies and they’re now behind me. I’m typically sitting down before my name is called to speak, so the difference between sitting back in my chair, and then purposefully sitting up straight is a huge help in calming – by directly facing – my nerves.
- Breathe: purposefully and deliberately. Take deep breathes and make them count. And don’t just breathe in and out deeply, but instead: breathe in, hold it, and then breathe out. Equally important to the holding-it-in part is the breathing out part. Breathe out with purpose.
- Smile: yes, smile! It’s another purposefully physical reaction to butterflies that really helps. Smiling breaks up your facial tension and takes physical attention away from your stomach. I use smiling in conjunction with breathing.
- Prepare: I never thought being prepared would be such an important part of feeling confident. But it is. Being prepared makes sitting up straight, breathing and smiling a whole lot more effective.
The first three tips above are physical reactions to butterflies. However, feeling confident starts long before my name is called to get up and speak. Comparing my first speeches to speeches I give now, feeling confident (by being prepared) goes a long, long way toward sitting up straight, breathing and smiling actually being helpful in overcoming* my butterflies!
It really comes down to screaming confidence. And for me it’s these four things: being prepared, sitting up straight, breathing and smiling.
How I initially approached public speaking:
First, I decided right up front that I wanted the experience of having butterflies and getting up to speak. In the beginning, that’s what I was after: butterflies and speaking, all happening at the same time. So I joined Toastmasters (in particular, I joined Capital City Toastmasters in Sacramento, CA). I didn’t care if my speeches were perfect, I only cared about getting the experience in my bones. I’ve forgotten my next line, I’ve mixed up paragraphs, I’ve completely forgotten stuff – and I’m still alive! And I always looked at my current speech as the experience to get me to the next speech.
Second, I realized early on that everybody just wanted to get their speeches over with and out of the way. I heard a lot of “I’m glad that’s over with!” This approach was not going to work for me and it wasn’t going to help at all with actually overcoming my butterflies. Instead, I decided I wanted to be right in the middle of a speech. Looking forward to being-in-the-middle meant I wasn’t focused on getting it over with – my celebration wasn’t at the end of the speech but, rather, it was in the middle! This made a big difference in my overall approach to pubic speaking and overcoming* my butterflies. This new being-in-the-middle approach ended up reducing each individual speeches’ overall nervousness. I started focusing on experiencing multiple speeches, instead of the fear of getting just one speech out of the way.
What I discovered about butterflies:
I’m not actually trying to get rid of my butterflies, I’m working with them. They’re a part of me and my experience, so I decided we should get friendly. You know, invite the butterflies over for a weekend BBQ and get to know each other. With each new speech, I learned to more openly wrap one arm around my butterflies, stand together at the podium and give the speech as a team.
*Overcoming butterflies is a myth. I never overcame my butterflies, I still get them. But now I have enough experience to know that they’re a completely normal part of my speaking routine. So I’m not scared of them anymore, and I’ve learned to quickly transform the feeling of nervousness into a feeling of antsy excitedness. Butterflies are now expected, I know they’re coming, so I wrap my arms around’em and off we go to give another speech.