Jonathan Earle: How you tame the devil on your shoulder that says ‘you cant….’

I subscribe to the daily blog by Seth Godin that often hits a chord with me. It’s not often I disagree with the sage. A recent post of his, ‘Preparing For A Shark Attack’ argued that when it comes to presenting it’s better to focus on the things you can influence rather than dwell on the unlikely event you forget your lines. It’s not an approach I subscribe to.

Jonathan Earle

Despite delivering regular presentations, I don’t mind admitting I get nervous before hand. I don’t believe those people who say – ‘Oh, I am just winging it’ and then go on to deliver a fabulous, engaging story – do it off the cuff.

I have an imaginary cartoon devil, David, on my shoulder constantly haranguing me, ‘You are going to forget your lines’ and more rationally ‘Why would anyone want to listen to what you have to say’.

To counter this fear, I do a number of things that help me enormously:

  • I breathe a lot and deeply before going on stage. Sounds strange, but this will resonate with people who do yoga, pilates or free diving. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing and helps to slow my heart rate, calm my nerves and allows me to relax and fully focus. This breathing comes by filling the pit of my stomach and then finally my chest (you know you are doing this if you place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest and only your stomach inflates and deflates whilst breathing).

Once I have taken a full amount of air, I then exhale very slowly until all the air has left and there isn’t any left.

I learned this technique whilst on a presentation course. It also allows me to also speak with purpose as I end up talking from the pit of my stomach.

  • I practice a huge amount. In front of the mirror, talking to the kids or when at the gym. Any opportunity to become more familiar with the stories I will be telling. I do not learn the presentation off by heart but will be very familiar with it, both words and slides (images only – no words).
  • I prepare for questions by thinking through the hardest questions I might be asked and practice my responses. Invariably, the questions that do get asked are nowhere near as challenging but by preparing I have an extra level of confidence.
  • Finally, I won’t watch the presenter who is on before me. Their story may be much more interesting than mine but secondly, if they end up being the funniest, most engaging speaker ever then ‘David’ will be shouting even louder.

I don’t enjoy public speaking (I am not sure too many people actually do) but have learned that these four simple techniques allow me to talk with confidence; be more relaxed when on stage; push ‘David’ to his rightful place and above all else, not run off stage left crying (well not yet).

Shark attacks are indeed rare and long may that continue. However, planning for the worst gives me the confidence that I could deal with any issue on stage and not panic. Here fishy, fishy, fishy…

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