Powerful Tools for Overcoming Fear of Speaking in Public Speaking

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Great tool for managing nervousness before, during and after interviews too!

Harvard Professor, Psychologist and Author, Amy Cuddy advocates that “Striking a Pose” is a way to shape your emotions rather than your emotions shaping you.  Her recently released book Presenceexpands on the concepts she introduced in her popular 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are”.

She begins by telling her TED Talk audience to “Fake it until you make it.” 

What does that mean?

Cuddy gives us the following example: “When we smile it makes us feel happy, but also when we are forced to smile by holding pen in our teeth - it makes us feel happy.  So it goes both ways.  When it comes to power it also goes both ways.” 

Cuddy’s research on testosterone and cortisol responses show that not only does our minds change our bodies, but it is also possible for our bodies to change our minds.

The study demonstrated that when you pretend to be powerful by using powerful poses you are more likely to feel powerful.  And when you feel more powerful your body chemistry actually changes and you release hormones that reinforce that empowerment.  Thus, our body language is more likely to demonstrate that confidence/power.

How can we develop a practice that creates and reinforces a sense of empowerment, even when we don’t feel it?

Amy Cuddy talks about feeling like an imposter when she first began speaking to large groups.  A mentor told her, “fake it until you make it”.  Cuddy says she did that and eventually the discomfort faded away.  She advocates that we change this mantra to be, “Fake it until we become it.”

How do we “fake it” and then “become it”? Maybe we should go back to our childhood when we didn’t have all the apprehensions and limits placed on us as adults. As children, many of us played dress up, played house or even played school.  We dressed up and pretended to be super hero, police men, cowboys, nurses, princesses and much more. We played as if we were all grown up and dealing with grown up issues.  We created a persona in these roles.

Think it is too far-out for you? Can you think of anyone who has changed their “presence” when having to interact in public venues? 

The first person that comes to mind is Beyoncé.  She has spoken publically about the stage persona, Sasha Fierce in interviews on talk shows, magazine articles and even on her music videos. 

Beyoncé is known for being sexy, seductive and provocative when she performs on stage, but she says that's not really her; that's her alter ego Sasha.

"I wouldn't like Sasha if I met her offstage." Beyoncé told Parade Magazine.  She said Sasha is "too aggressive, too strong, too sassy, too sexy!”

"I'm not like her in real life at all," she said. "I'm not flirtatious and super-confident and fearless like her. What I feel onstage I don't feel anywhere else. It's an out-of-body experience. I created my stage persona to protect myself so that when I go home I don't have to think about what it is I do. Sasha isn't me. The people around me know who I really am."

Beyoncé says that in real life, she is shy and vulnerable. 

Beyoncé isn’t the only artist to have a public or stage persona. Have you ever met any of these of these artists? Kathy Beth Terry, Shawty Mane, Slim Shady, Jo Calderon, The Fireman, Borat, Bruno or Chris Gaines?

Maybe you would know them better by these names: Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, or Eminem (Marshal Mathers).  Or maybe, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Garth Brooks.

Creating a “presence” at times can be beneficial, provided it does not go overboard.

Some of history's most important and distinctive figures have created personas for a vast array of purposes. A good persona/presence can help you visualize and conquer fears of speaking, interacting in and performing in public settings.  Whether you're an amateur superhero inside the body of a mild-mannered self or an artist hoping to protect your vision, a good persona/presence can be vital to helping you achieve your goals.

Visualizing a persona/presence can be a powerful tool for overcoming fears or nervousness about speaking or performing in public. 

The persona/presence allows the artist to step out of the box that is their persona and create a new persona that doesn’t have the limitations placed on them as their first self.  This can be incredibly empowering.  People who use this tool, have been able to accomplish things that are uncomfortable or unnatural to their first self. 

Artists, executives and even everyday people have discovered a simple way to liberate themselves from that feeling so that they can move through their fear to accomplish the goal that is in front of them at that moment.

If you were a super hero who would you be?  What would your super power be?  What “power pose” would you use to trigger the physical response that Cuddy described?  Would you be willing to use this tool to train your body to change your mind?

You can actually make yourself feel more powerful before an important job interview or presentation if you use this technique. Power posing can inspire you to be more authentic, more passionate and more present, Cuddy asserts, thereby enabling you to demonstrate your worth with ease and conviction.

Once you have your power pose down and you have established your “Presence” in a public speaking role, consider how you might use this tool in other areas of your life?

Remember what Amy Cuddy said, “Our bodies change our minds . . . and our minds change our behaviors . . . and our behaviors change our outcomes.”


About the Author: Teri Grier is a part-time instructor at Southwestern Oregon Community College and a nationally recognized Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation. She has over 15 years’ experience onboarding, training and managing teams. She is a graduate from Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies where she received a graduate certificate in Leadership Coaching.  In addition to her coaching credentials, she has a Master’s in Public Administration and a BS in Communications from Northern Arizona University.