Public speaking is a very strange experience. At worst, it terrifies you and you avoid any situation in life that involves it. At best, it scares you, but ends up being fun like a roller coaster.
Or I guess there's the category of it doesn't intimidate you at all and you love it, but then you can only relate to like three other people on the planet.
There are strategies that make sense on how to combat the fear. Some are in yesterday's post. You got the Nike, "Just do it." Trial by error. Hire a speech coach. Spend extra time preparing for the speech. But not too much time. Don't drink milk the day of. Gargle scalding hot water from a swamp. Hug your kid. Cry in the arms of your kid as they tell you it's all going to be ok.
Those are all fine and good, but Medium Rare likes to live outside the conventional. It is my mission to bring advice that is just bad enough, it might actually be good.
Isolate the incident... to the extreme
Seventh grade I was handed a notecard for a speech and my hand shook. My solution? Just never give a speech again while holding a notecard. Or a sheet of paper.
Two results came out of this. First, this forced me to memorize every speech I gave, which in theory led to better speeches. Second, I would feel this little boost of confidence when giving a speech from memory. It's like when a kid has sunglasses that make him "invisible," I felt like I could give any speech as long as I didn't read from a script.
By isolating the incident to the extreme, I was able to still practice public speaking while creating a smaller separate bucket to work on. And this led to some interesting sizzles over the last 12+ years. Being called on to read in class has triggered the fight or flight reflex and I remember feeling like I was heading into war the time I had to read off 20 names and bios on stage.
But over time the strange fear of reading out loud has gone away and I didn't have to throw away the whole string of Christmas lights because of one faulty bulb.
Why do I think this works?
There is a popular acronym for Fear that reads: False Evidence Appearing Real.
Fear doesn't listen to rational arguments. So I use my own FEAR acronym to fight back.
False Explanation Applied Rightaway. Trademark pending.
And this can be anything. Above it was the no reading out loud, but literally anything works here. Bad speech/performance/song whatever, find the False Explanation. I didn't have a good breakfast. I can't give speeches on a Tuesday. I was wearing the wrong pair of underwear. It makes no sense, but fear makes no sense and this can be a great tool to put bad experiences behind.
Yes, it's good to get feedback and analyze what went right, what went wrong, but that's a separate battle. And involves the rational brain. Fear plays in a different arena.
Another example would be the singer Sia. She has extreme stage fright when she performs. Her solution? Cover her face and face away from the crowd. This False Explanation allows her to continue performing and, at least somewhat, silence her fear.
This next piece of advice is for someone who does like being on stage but doesn't like the pre-game nerves. If you don't like being on stage and just want ways to make it be less uncomfortable, skip ahead to the next bold part.
Don't aim for perfection. The problem with perfectionism and performing is you could deliver a really good speech and not enjoy the success at all. Or worse, you could deliver that perfect speech and never want to do it again. Why go up again if you can't top the one before? Eddie Murphy talks about the "water being cold" when explaining why he doesn't go out and do stand-up comedy anymore. Expectations are too high.
But there's another option. When Tim Duncan won the NBA Championship a couple years ago and decided to come back, I thought, "Why? Why not go out on top?" The truth is, Tim Duncan loves basketball. He would rather play a couple more years and run the risk of not having the fairy tale ending than call it early and just play that last NBA Finals on loop in his mind.
The Fear Muscle
One way to work out the fear is to find other situations that bring the same response. Doesn't have to be extreme. Last summer, we were down in Louisville at this little quarry pond. There was a tall platform to climb up and jump into the water. Normally, I'm a baby in these situations. But I thought, alright, this is practice. The steps are the same: nerves, jump, adrenaline rush, peace/fun.
The more times you do the dance of nerves-jump-adrenaline-peace/fun, the more you can recognize the nerves as just the beginning of the experience not the end. And with practice, the nerves start to go away until we need a bigger stage to get the nerves back for an even bigger jump.
Thanks for reading this post and all the posts on Looney Tunes characters. I had a lot of fun writing those. This Double Dip of Medium Rare has tired me out, so no post November 9th, but I'll be back the 16th and the 23rd then off until January, 2016. Make sure to come back for the last two posts of the year or enter your email below and I can send to you. Have a great week!