Think Fast, Talk Smart Communication Techniques by Matt Abrahams (Full Transcript)

Second, what we’re going to talk about is some ground rules for the interactivity we’ll have today and then finally we’re going to get into the heart of what we will be covering and again, as I said, lots of activity and I invite you to participate.

Anxiety management

So let’s get started with anxiety management. 85% of people tell us that they’re nervous when speaking in public. And I think the other 15% are lying. Okay? We could create a situation where we could make them nervous too. In fact, just this past week a study from Chapman University asked Americans, what are the things you fear most? And among being caught in a surprise terrorist attack, having identity, your identity stolen, was public speaking. Among the top five was speaking in front of others. This is a ubiquitous fear, and one that I believe we can learn to manage. And I use that word manage very carefully because I don’t think we ever want to overcome it. Anxiety actually helps us. It gives us energy, helps us focus, tells us what we’re doing is important. But we want to learn to manage it.

So I’d like to introduce you to a few techniques that can work and all of these techniques are based on academic research. But before we get there, I’d love to ask you what does it feel like when you’re sitting in the audience watching a nervous speaker present, how do you feel, just shout out a few things, how to do you feel?

Uncomfortable

Uncomfortable. I heard many of you going, yes, uncomfortable. It feels very awkward, doesn’t it? So what do we do? Now a couple of you probably like watching somebody suffer. Okay, but most of us don’t.

So what do we do? We sit there and we nod and we smile or we disengage. And to the nervous speaker looking out at his or her audience seeing a bunch of people nodding or disengaged, that does not help. Okay. So we need to manage our anxiety. Because fundamentally, your job as a communicator rather, regardless of if it’s planned or spontaneous, is to make your audience comfortable. Because if they’re comfortable they can receive your message. And when I say comfortable I am not referring to the fact that your message has to be sugar coated and nice for them to hear. It can be a harsh message. But they have to be in a place where they can receive it.

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So it’s incumbent on you as a communicator to help your audience feel comfortable and we do that by managing our anxiety. So let me introduce you to a few techniques that I think you can use right away to help you feel more comfortable.

The first has to do with when you begin to feel those anxiety symptoms. For most people this happens in the initial minutes prior to speaking. In this situation what happens is many of us begin to feel whatever it is that happens to you. Maybe your stomach gets a little gurgly. Maybe your legs begin to shake. Maybe you begin to perspire. And then we start to say to ourselves, oh, my goodness, I’m nervous. Oh. They’re going to tell I’m nervous. This is not going to go well. And we start spiraling out of control.

So, research on mindful attention tells us that if, when we begin to feel those anxiety symptoms, we simply greet our anxiety and say hey, this is me feeling nervous. I’m about to do something of consequence. And simply by greeting your anxiety and acknowledging it, that it’s normal and natural. Heck, 85% of people tell us they have it. You actually can stem the tide of that anxiety spiraling out of control. It’s not necessarily going to reduce the anxiety but it will stop it from spinning out.

So the next time you begin to feel those anxiety signs, take a deep breath and say, this is me feeling anxious. I notice a few of you taking some notes. There’s a handout that will come at the end that has everything that I’m supposed to say, okay? Can’t guarantee I’m going to say it, but you’ll have it there.

In addition to this approach, a technique that works very well, and this is a technique that I helped do some research on way back when I was in graduate school, has to do with re-framing how you see the speaking situation. Most of us, when we are up presenting, planned or spontaneous, we feel that we have to do it right and we feel like we are performing. How many of you have ever acted, done singing or dancing, I am not going to ask for performances now, okay. Many of you have. We should note that we could do next year, maybe, a talent show of alums. It looks like we got the talent there. That’s great.

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So when you perform, you know that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you don’t hit the right note or your right line at the right time, at the right place, you’ve made a mistake. It messes up the audience. It messes up the people on stage. But when you present, there is no right way. There’s certainly better and worse ways. But there is no one right way.

So we need to look at presenting as something other than performance. And what I’d like to suggest is what we need to see this is as is a conversation. Right now, I’m having a conversation with 100 plus people. Rather than saying I’m performing for you. But it’s not enough just to say, this is a conversation. I want to give you some concrete things you can do.

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