Three Lawyers and an Actuary

This week I had the privilege of coaching three lawyers and one actuary — bright people indeed who were preparing to speak at various conferences.

Three of them needed help structuring their presentations. One executive was having trouble relating to his listeners. Yet they all expressed concern over the thing that holds so many people back.

If you guessed they all suffer from the fear of speaking, you’re right.

There are two types of comments I heard:

Physiological: They mentioned faces turning red, shaky hands, and the fact that they struggled to focus.

Psychological: Their internal dialog included messages like, “I’m going to forget everything, what if I lose track or I can’t believe I can’t get over this.”

Through years of research and in our groundbreaking book Fear of Speaking, we’ve taught that fortunately, many remedies can help you combat and control the fear of speaking. They couldn’t be simpler but they do take time and attention.

For the physical symptoms, learn how to breathe diaphragmatically.

As humans, we typically use just 17% of the capacity we have in our lungs and breathe down to our clavicular. If we’re asked to breathe deeper, we may breathe down into our chests or thoracically. When you breathe diaphragmatically, you’re getting the air into the lower third of your lungs. When you do that, the bottom of your lungs hit the top of your diaphragm, which is a natural relaxation technique. It also helps you redirect nervous energy.

Try diaphragmatic breathing several times daily and especially right before you speak and even while you speak.

To control thoughts, ask yourself if they’re rational or irrational. Write a list of the beliefs that go through your mind, then sit back, become aware, and curious as to their overtones. Sometimes nervous thoughts are rational. For example, you could be anxious that someone important will be listening. Sometimes, however, thoughts are irrational like, “I’m not qualified enough to be here.”

It’s incredible how often we coach executives, even lawyers, and actuaries who second guess their list of qualifications. These professionals are very qualified, but they do not have experience speaking and are ill-prepared. By categorizing your thoughts as rational or irrational, you can become a spectator to your thoughts and more curious about where they originate. Are they valid (rational)? Or did you make them up (irrational)?

These are two of the many tools to help control the fear of speaking. We started writing about them nearly 40 years ago, and they still hold today.

Speaking and presenting can bring your career to new heights. Addressing listeners can help businesses promote themselves and grow. But before you get to the structure of what you’re going to say and before considering how you’ll deliver your presentation, be mindful of your level of comfort. If you’re anxious or downright debilitated by the fear of speaking, follow this simple recipe:

  1. Be aware
  2. Take action


Because awareness without the action changes nothing.

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