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The Dubai performance coach tells EDGAR how to be cool in front of a crowd
How serious a problem is a fear of public speaking for some people?
It’s been found that the fear of public speaking is higher than the fear of death. That means people would rather be in the coffin – dead – than giving the eulogy at a funeral.
When did you notice you had a fear of public speaking?
When I first became a performance coach I was so scared of it. My whole breathing patterns changed, as did my posture and muscularity. I felt a sense of disassociation with my body, as if I was watching myself.
What made you take action?
I realised that if I couldn’t speak well in front of people, I could not take my business to the next level. So I sought out the best teacher at public speaking who was a guy called Andy Harrington. I did a couple of intensive seven-day courses with him.
What were your first impressions?
I was learning how to speak publicly, but I wasn’t enjoying it. But I realised getting good at something is just practice, it’s gradual. I used to be a tennis coach and when you learn to play tennis you’re not good so you don’t enjoy it. The hard bit is sticking at it.
What memorable lessons did you learn on the course?
There’s a lot to be said for preparation. If you are confident with your content and know what you’re doing the chances of fear are less likely.
How can we practically do that?
Have a framework. A teacher can stand for an hour and talk to their class but they’d forget everything. People will forget what you say but they will remember a framework. It gives people a mental bucket to file things in to. When I’m coaching business I have five boxes: map, marketing, multiplying, me, measure – it’s like a mental filing system. They may not remember everything I said but they remember my framework.
How do you break the ice when you speak at an event?
The tip I was given was that if you start well you’ll be okay. Fear is different from anxiety – fear is seeing a spider, but anxiety tends to build gradually. At the beginning of your talk, get your audience to do something to generate some energy in the room. I’d walk on stage and ask the audience to stand up and introduce themselves to each other. By the time they’ve done that I’ve been on stage a few minutes, I have control and my fear has gone.
Do you hold anything to help?
No, I like having my hands free. If you grab a lectern or a clipboard it doesn’t help.
What do you look at when you’re making a speech?
Try to stay in your peripheral vision, which is that hazed look when you’re focused on nothing in particular. It’s really hard to get fearful when you’re in peripheral vision.
What about notes?
I don’t need a script. People go wrong with public speaking because they script something and that’s when they’re not speaking from the heart; all they’re doing is trying to remember words. Go on stage completely empty and back yourself that you know your topic.
That’s quite a daunting prospect, isn’t it?
Yes, it can be but remember, speaking is an unconscious skill. I don’t need a script to chat to someone socially at a BBQ, do I?
END OF INTERVIEW