Do I like speaking in public? Not really. Do I do it anyway? Yes, I do.
Why? Well, it’s part of my work for a start. Plus, speaking in public is a very useful medium for sharing information: your passions, your ideas, or sometimes just for delivering content more efficiently…
…Saying something once to 10 people or 100 people instead of saying it once to everyone individually saves you a LOT of time. (100 people? Are your knees knocking yet? Mine are.)
More than just being efficient, public speaking can be an art: elegant, engaging, rousing, moving, funny… it brings an energy and relationship that I find lacking in a pre-recorded speeches.
All those good things… and yet, for many people the prospect is terrifying. Does it terrify you? Me too.
In this blog, I look at how the Alexander Technique has helped, not by resolving the fear, that’s not what the work does, but by giving me a mental toolkit to deal with unhelpful feelings like fear, that arise along the way of the things you want to (or sometimes have to) do!
I used to think of every excuse under the sun not to stand up and talk in public. Not just excuses to bosses and colleagues and friends, but excuses to myself too.
They don’t need me to tell them! No one wants to listen to me. I’m not an expert in this. I am an IMPOSTER. I will write a blog instead.
If this sounds familiar to you then don’t worry - we are not alone.
In her book, ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway,’ Susan Jeffers points out that fear of public speaking comes second on the list of top human fears, beaten only by fear of dying… That’s quite extreme, isn’t it?!
Her book goes on to examine fear and reveals that in fact, fear does not have to prevent you from doing the frightening thing unless you decide it’s going to.
What Jeffers explains is there is nothing wrong with feeling fear. There is nothing wrong with shaking with fear as the adrenaline courses through you. We feel fear because it helps us! In the wild, without fear, we are someone’s lunch. In urban life, fear might not save us from being eaten but it certainly lets us know we care.
But here’s the thing: We always get to choose what we do with that fear. We get to choose our response to the feeling of fear.
As Jeffers says: Fear does not have to be a red light. We don’t have to stop at fear. Some people view fear as a green light. They think; “Is this suitably terrifying? YES? Great I’ll do it!”
I have to admit I am not that kind of gal. I like things that feel SAFE. I like the known! I do not like change. I like guaranteed outcomes.
But even as I write that with total honesty, I can also see, with total clarity, that if I always knew how the next thing was going to roll, then a concrete of boredom would seep deep into my heart and ossify the beating pulse of my life. Because if you know what is going to happen, then you know what is going to happen. Sure, you are safe, but where is the fun in that?
What has all of this got to do with the Alexander Technique and public speaking?
Well, I was frightened of speaking in public. I was frightened of what people would think of me. I was frightened of saying something stupid and failing. I was frightened of looking frightened and everyone knowing I was frightened because my knees would be shaking and my hands would be shaking and I would not know what to say and the silence would stretch on and on and on while everybody stared… AND I STILL AM FRIGHTENED
I was struggling with this while I took my four-year Alexander Technique course. Many of my lessons took the form of me standing up and practising presentations I knew I had to deliver. Luckily for me, many aspects of the Alexander Technique helped.
In the Interactive Teaching Method School of the Alexander Technique, we don’t just learn about the principles of the Alexander Technique – although these run through everything we study. We also spend time learning about anatomy, about how people think and move. We learn about the history of the work - and most relevant to this topic, we learn about The Principles of Personal Development.
This is where I met Susan Jeffers’ book, “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway,” as well as the brilliant “Improv Wisdom,” by Patricia Ryan Madson, plus, the work of cognitive behavioural therapist Dr David Burns (Feeling Good, the new mood therapy), and Stephen Covey’s “7 habits of highly effective people”… Ideas from these authors + more + the pioneering work of FM Alexander, Don Weed and the ITM teaching team showed me that I can get through a public appearance. I can even enjoy it. Despite feeling fear.
Here are some of the ideas I learned about speaking in public speaking – many of which can be applied to all kinds of performance. If you’d like to know more still, join this upcoming 6-week introductory course starting 22nd Feb and running Thursday nights 7-8.30pm at The Family Practice, 116, Gloucester Road, BS7
Despite fear, I can make a plan and stick to the plan: In relation to public speaking (for me), that looks like figuring out what I want to say and in what order I’m going to say it. It also includes thinking about what I am doing with my head in relation to my body when I am speaking. This is something that FM Alexander realized was key in preventing unhelpful and unwanted movements he made along with speaking. When he could prevent interference with the relationship between his head and body, speaking went much better – in the ITM AT we say “The Poise of the head in relation with the body in movement is the key to freedom and ease of motion.” Not just in speaking but in all movement. More on that HERE.
Feelings are not facts: I might feel shaky and sick, as though ill or in danger but that’s not true. Speaking in public is not dangerous. These feelings are a result of the way I interpret the world at that frightening moment. They are a product of my thoughts. But I can reason with these unhelpful thoughts. Am I truly in danger? No. What’s the worst that can happen? Nothing life-threatening that’s for sure.
I can choose where I put my attention: I can put it on my area of concern (how it goes / what people think) or my area of influence (what I do and how I do it). I can only make a difference in my area of influence not concern. I can’t control what people think about me. They have their own set of references and criteria for what success or failure looks like. If I please one person, I almost certainly displease another in an audience of 100. Instead of worrying about what people think. I can put my attention on my plan: On the content and how I am going to use my body to deliver it.
Don’t present, BE PRESENT …. Although I have a reasoned plan, I am not a robot. I can be alive to what is going on and adapt the plan as I go. The bonus of this way of thinking is that it makes messing up quite fun.
There is always something in the box… if you wander into an unknown situation, if you go off script, if your cue cards get snatched by a dog, if the podium falls over. The world will continue. When you open the box of the unknown THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING INSIDE! The world is full of wonderful gifts waiting for you when you trust it.
Before I met this work I would always be running after people after the event trying to check in to see if they thought it went okay. But I don’t do that anymore. I gauge my success myself. By how well the plan went.
And if it didn’t go well, I can think: Great. There is something to learn here. Time to get curious. What didn’t go well? How could I improve that? And off we go, making another plan, knees-a-knocking as we walk up to the mic.