If there is one thing that doesn't help presenters in the lead up to delivering an important presentation, it is too much time to think.
If you get selected to deliver a big stage presentation like a TEDx talk, it's likely you will experience 3 months of build-up to you delivering one of the most important presentations of your life. That's a long time. And because the stakes are high, it's all to easy for your brain to go into overdrive the minute you receive the email confirming your place.
Having run several TEDx events myself, it is enough to send the most seasoned of speakers into a frenzy.
If you had a behind the scenes pass at TEDxClapham, you would find the speakers doing all sorts of things to manage their nerves. Some would hide in the nooks and crannies of the theatre rehearsing their scripts for the 100th time, others would be found power posing, meditating or trying to breathe themselves into a state of calm, while a few would be found doing press-ups and pull-ups in an attempt to expel excess adrenaline before they stepped on stage.
The tension was always, understandably palpable. Looking back now, they were signs that I had more to learn as a public speaking coach. They revealed a gap in my expertise as a public speaking coach. I'd worked with them to craft messages that I would have been proud of sharing myself and I'd given them all sorts of tools to help them pre-empt their nerves on the day so that when they walked on stage it would all look effortless, and they would look confident. But I'd spent no time helping them to become confident. The truth is, back then, I didn't know-how.
We all too often associate confidence with outer attributes: the way we carry ourselves, the words we use and the way we say them. The preparation phase of the presentation process is all about building our confidence. Thought leaders spend hours agonising over every word they are going to use and even more time committing them to memory; rehearsing the gestures and inflections they're are going to use in front of a mirror, pets and family members they can persuade to help.
Then, most, cross their fingers and hope.
The result? A performance that feels like a memory-come-dance-come-singing exam.
Both inside and outside of the world of thought leadership, most speakers judge the success of their presentations on whether or not they 'made it through' without forgetting their words.
Not exactly a high bar that's been set, is it?
Now don't get me wrong, what you say does matter. It is the core philosophy that I have built my coaching business on. But without training your inner confidence, every speaking engagement will send your brain into overdrive, increasing the risk of you forgetting your words (memory recall without inner confidence is at best, a gamble) and the process will feel so exhausting that you'll never want to step on stage again!
There is a huge discrepancy between how confident someone looks and how confident someone feels. Focusing all your efforts on outer confidence is like attempting to skate on a thin sheet of ice. It's fine until it isn't. And in the moment, you're just waiting for something to go wrong which at some point it will and when it does you're... well, I'll leave you to come up with a word to finish that sentence.
If we're going to overwork the metaphor, I'd much prefer you all to be skating on a monstrous iceberg. That way, any curveballs that are thrown your way will be almost unnoticeable and you'll be able to handle them.
One of the biggest leadership narratives of the past decade has been to 'fake it till you make it.' The Decade of the Swan - cool, calm and collected above the water, whilst panici... I mean paddling hard underneath! (There are no more water-based metaphors in this blog I promise).
I think it's time for a change. And it starts with building your inner confidence.
What is inner confidence and how do you build it?
There are two ways you can deliver a presentation; consciously or subconsciously.
Conscious presenters are deep in concentration. Their brains are working overtime, thinking about everything they have learned from coaching sessions and rehearsals and trying to implement all of the lessons in real-time. From what they're saying, to making sure they pause in the right places and make eye contact throughout the theatre. Making sure that they don't pace up and down the stage or cross their arms or use filler words like ums and ahs. If that wasn't enough, many conscious presenters provide themselves with a running commentary of how it is all going by pointing out that their voice is still a bit shaky or that the audience doesn't look very engaged or that they didn't land this particular line as well as they had planned.
In contrast, if we had the chance to tune into the mind of a subconscious presenter, we'd be able to hear a pin drop. There would be no trying, no instruction and nor would there be any commentary.
No thinking, just doing.
To many of you reading this, subconscious presenting doesn't just sound like bliss, it sounds like the stuff of a legend. Something to aspire to but never reach and this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, every single one of you is a proficient 'subconscious' communicator. When you're having a casual conversation with a friend, you don't try to talk to them, you just, talk to them. Nor is there any instruction or commentary to be found; which is excellent news because it means that the holy grail of 'subconscious' presenting is possible for all. You just need to learn how to do it 1. after you have put countless hours into thinking about what you're going to say and 2. while it feels like everyone is gawping at you.
By now you will have realised that while the brain is highly proficient at both thinking and doing, it is far more effective when it is doing one of these things at a time.
From this point onwards, I would like you all to actively differentiate between the two processes. You now have a 'thinking brain' and a 'doing' brain.
Your thinking brain is going to be pivotal in the presentation preparation phase. It's going to help you to avoid death by detail, communicate your messages with clarity, and ensure that you deliver your message in a way that makes your audience want to listen to what you've got to say. It is perfectionist in its nature.
Your doing brain is going to take care of the rest. Or it would do if it wasn't for the fact that your thinking brain doesn't trust your doing brain. Given half a chance, it will override the doing brain, join you on stage and cause your body to tense up and your brain to fog up as a result.
Until you are able to teach the thinking brain to stop interfering with the doing brain while presenting, you will always be leaning on your outer confidence to carry you through.
To do this requires a leap of faith.
Ultimately, developing inner confidence is about learning how to trust yourself. It requires trust in your preparation process, trust in your ability to remember the words and trust in your knowledge and expertise to carry you through if something does go wrong.
More specifically, it requires your thinking brain to trust your doing brain.
Easier said than done, Alex. How on earth do I go about doing that?!
Short answer, by equipping the thinking brain with a new way of communicating with the doing brain.
I'm going to leave you on a cliffhanger (in other words, this blog is already too long and I've run out of time). Unfortunately, some topics require more words than others! If you're presenting in the meantime, simply observing the way the two brains interact with each other would be a useful exercise.
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