You don’t have to love the spotlight to be a great speaker
This post is in honor of my friend Daphna Stern, a wonderful singer. Daphna is kind and radiant, and she has a naturally regal bearing and gorgeous voice. And yet, she’s shy, especially at the microphone. She asked me for tips on beating performance anxiety.
My first reaction was “Ha!” as I’ve never managed to vanquish my own public speaking jitters. But then I thought about it and realized that my anxiety is much more manageable than it was when I first started speaking. In fact, I’m starting to gear up for a heavy speaking schedule, to promote QUIET – and I find that I’m really excited about it. Ten years ago, I would not have believed it possible for me to feel this way.
So, here are my top five tips:
1. Don’t expect to eradicate your fear altogether.
Instead, learn to live with it. As Charles di Cagno, Director of the Public Speaking Center of New York, once told me, “Only a few people can totally conquer their anxiety, and they all live in Tibet.”
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For many people, the fear of public performance is a “conditioned fear” that they acquired in childhood, when they were made to perform and had a bad experience. The brain learns quickly to avoid danger – this is one of our most important survival mechanisms – and once it decides that audiences are scary, it’s not about to change its mind. Fear associations are stored in a small organ in the brain called the amygdala, and there they remain for the rest of our lives. (This is why teachers should be very careful about training young children in public speaking. But that’s a post for another day.)
You are there to share something of value with your audience. I have heard Daphna sing — and I have heard her stumble over a word or two. So what? Her voice, and her presence, are so warm and beautiful that her singing gives me goose-bumps, and precious moments of transcendence.