Slaying Your Speaking Demons

Overcoming fear is like beating a demon.

Fear of Public Speaking takes many forms. Each of the great beasts takes a form that is tailor-made to keep you from saying what needs to be said. These Speaking Demons work tirelessly to make sure that you never take the plunge, get on stage, and speak your piece.

The terrible bestiary of speaking demons is below:

  • The Dreadful Drow of Dimwittedness
  • The Nasty Nāga of Nonsense
  • The Offensive Ogre of Ordinariness
  • The Insouciant Incubus of Ineptitude
  • The Pesky Pixie of Perfectionism

Like any good video-game boss battle, defeating each demon requires some different strategies:

“I’m Not Smart Enough” – The Dreadful Drow of Dimwittedness

This Drow is a dark cave-dwelling spirit. He drags you deep into the darkness, letting you believe that you’re not smart enough to contribute. He lets you believe that you don’t have anything worth saying, and that you’re incapable of providing the bright idea that will illuminate the path, and reveal that The Drow himself is a mere shadow.

Conquering this particular fear can be tricky. The first part is recognizing that nearly everybody gets tricked by this one at some point in time. Even the people we look up to, who offer interesting perspectives and ideas all the time often feel like frauds. Knowing that other people are in the same boat is encouraging. It provides a little boost of strength that is needed to take the next step.

The next step is to start collecting your thoughts, and examining your ideas. Sometimes you’ll be better at a certain kind of thinking. Use that particular kind of thinking to create strategies for dealing with the things you’re not as good at. If you tend to be a more linear, ordered thinker, you may want to create a step-by-step system for how to think about abstractions and metaphors. If you’re a more abstract non-linear sort of person, you may want to use techniques like mind-mapping and brainstorming to determine where your ideas link up.

The final step is to share your ideas with others. The more people, the better. People thrive on sharing ideas with each other. We appreciate different perspectives. Somebody in your audience will appreciate something that you bring to the table. Their pathway will be illuminated. And so will yours. The Drow may lurk in the shadows, but you’ll soon be able to ignore his influence.

“I’m Not Eloquent” – The Nasty Nāga of Nonsense

This serpent-like creature will tie your tongue in knots, make you trip and stumble and fumble about, and leave you feeling as though your audience simply couldn’t have gotten your message because of how poorly you surely delivered it. The Nāga will wind you up, and make you certain that every time you open your mouth, nothing but nonsense falls out.

There are two strategies for dealing with this demon: The first is to work on building up your skill-set, and the second is to work on killing off your bad habits.

Building your skill-set means that you need to be practicing regularly. You should record yourself speaking. You should read good books and build your vocabulary. You should work with a coach, and get direct feedback on how to improve. Make sure that you are giving the requite time and effort to practicing and getting better. Nobody is born as eloquent as Noël Coward (not even Noël Coward).

Killing bad habits means that you need to have somebody watch for weird speech patterns, call you on redundant language, or shoot you with a squirt gun every time you utter “uh…” “um…” or “like…”. The Nāga of Nonsense feeds on filler words, and killing off your bad speaking habits starves the beast clear to death.

“I’m Not Creative” – The Offensive Ogre of Ordinariness

Big, sluggish, and slow, this nasty Ogre trudges through your thoughts, pummeling them with his giant club until what you thought was original and interesting is just the same old run-of-the mill thing that everybody seems to be doing. It’s discouraging, disheartening, and it undermines your success.

An ogre’s weakness, however, is its speed. Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t some innate characteristic that some people have and others don’t. It’s a skill that can be practiced, and coached. You just have to out-run the ogre, and start thinking quickly.

Creative, fresh, interesting ideas come quickly. They flit in-and-out. Sometimes they look like the same old idea we’ve had a dozen times. They sound like stuff we’ve heard before. But, if you capture one of those ideas, and spend some energy thinking about new angles and different ways of looking at it, that idea will show you just how creative it really is.

Capture your ideas, all of them. Bring your perspective to them. See if you can find a different way to look at the “same-old-thing”. You want proof that this works: There are hundreds of Internet Marketing Experts and Gurus, who make millions of dollars each year. They all sell strategies that are hugely similar to one another, but each of them brings their own spin to the basic idea. It’s rare that any idea is truly original, but if you present an idea with some original perspective, it can strike a chord that other presentations can’t. All of the switching and changing will help you out-run the Ogre of Ordinariness once-and-for-all.

“I’m Not Talented” – The Insouciant Incubus of Ineptitude

The Incubus is a seducer. He eases happily into your life, and seduces you with the idea that nothing you do is quite good enough. It’s certainly not as good as what that other person does. That guy? He’s a NATURAL! You couldn’t possibly follow that. There’s simply no way you can compete. Better, by far, to play it safe and avoid the risk of putting yourself out there.

The incubus is also a killer. His seduction is guaranteed to prevent you from ever taking the sort of risks that lead to big results. He’s happy to see you sacrifice your self-confidence, because then he can feast on the success you’re forfeiting. You’re seduced by the comfortable safe-haven he provides, and he is able to gorge himself on your unfulfilled promise.

How do you stop this evil seduction? First, you recognize it for the sabotage that it so clearly is. If you never take any action, you will never succeed. Second, you have to understand that, more often than not, the people who seem like they’re so much more “talented” are simply working harder.

Hard work and action are the two things that send the Incubus of Ineptitude packing. You have to be willing to step outside that seductive comfort zone, and take the actions necessary to put yourself in the spotlight. Your hard work is the thing that will bring you the biggest success. Plenty of people with very little talent manage to make an enormous impact, while talented folks languish and fail all the time. The difference is merely in those who are willing to take the plunge, and work harder than everybody else to succeed.

“It’s Not Perfect” – The Pesky Pixie of Perfectionism

She flits in, bounces up and down, and lets you know that the thing that you’ve worked so hard on is a complete disaster. I mean, just look at it! Tons of little mistakes! OOPS! You forgot a comma! Oh no! There’s a typo in that paragraph! WAIT! STOP! HOLD EVERYTHING! You totally forgot that super important sub-point! Do you think that there are too many bullet points in this slide? Or maybe not enough?

She’s the Pesky Pixie of Perfectionism, and she is capable of completely destroying you. She doesn’t seem too bad, at first. I mean, she’s just a pixie, right? But this little tinkerbell of terror will undermine your confidence, waste your time, and stop you from ever accomplishing your goals.

Voltaire tells us that “The Perfect is the enemy of The Good.” While you waste your time dealing with every last detail, others are producing great speeches, great presentations, and they’re getting better AND reaching others. Your slide deck may be incrementally improving, but with all your endless tweaking, YOU are the only one who is seeing it.

Perfectionism is the downfall of more of my students than I care to think about. They get paralyzed by trying to deliver something that is perfect, and they never manage to deliver anything at all. I can’t coach stuff I’ve never been allowed to look at. I can’t help to improve something if I can never see it in the first place.

One of the first pieces of advice that you get as a participant in National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo) is that you have to give yourself permission to suck. The object of NaNoWriMo is not to produce a publishable book, but instead to write 50,000 or more words during the course of a month. They don’t have to be perfect. They don’t even have to be very good. If you get stuck, they tell you to just write about why and how and where you’re stuck.

They tell you to Just Keep Writing.

Giving yourself permission to produce something that isn’t perfect is a great way to beat perfectionism. Set a deadline, take some action, produce something, and get it in somebody else’s hands for feedback. You’ll find that the less time you spend tweaking, and the more time you spend producing, is the pathway to better stuff, and greater success. Taking action, and letting go is the best way to keep that pixie out of the picture.

What other demons do you face? What strategies do you have for dealing with them? Which of these do you struggle with the most? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know!