For most of my career, I’ve helped people get past their fear of public speaking by working on their style and content. This has allowed them to look and feel much more confident. However, some clients would still have a look in their eyes that said, “I know what to do and say…but I just can’t.”
I imagine you have felt the same way at some point. The logical side of your brain understood what to do, but the emotional part of your brain was freaking out.
Unless you learn how to settle this reaction you may sabotage your results in the most critical moments of your life.
That part of the brain, known as the “monkey mind,” only cares about survival. It’s an ancient part of your brain that wants to protect you from pain at any cost. It doesn’t care if you do well in a meeting. It doesn’t care if you advance your career. It doesn’t care if you give a good presentation.
It just wants to avoid pain so you can survive until tomorrow.
But if you can find ways to soothe the monkey mind you’ll be able to succeed when you need to and gain the results you deserve.
1. Breathe: You Need Oxygen
Oxygen is number one for survival, so your inner chimp needs it free-flowing at all times. This is one of the reasons that I coach people on their breathing.
You already know instinctively that you can last for a while without food or water. But if you run out of oxygen you’ll be dead in minutes.
By giving your monkey mind the oxygen it needs to feel safe, you’ll help to soothe fear. You’ll breathe better, which will help you feel more grounded and remind your inner chimp, “Look, we’re breathing. We’re going to make it.”
Focusing on your breathing will also offset some of the physical pains and anxieties around public speaking. When we get nervous we hold our breath in anticipation.
Even worse, you may be told to ‘take a deep breath’ when you feel nervous. This doesn’t help, because this will cause you to suck air into your body at a time of stress. You’ll feel like a balloon ready to burst!
Instead you need to focus on breathing outwards.
Place one hand on your stomach and slowly push all the air out of your body, squeezing gently inwards around your tummy, to push out the dead air. Then relax and let fresh air naturally come into your body – not through sucking it in, but by relaxing and allowing the air to flow freely.
By focussing on slow out-breaths you will also help lower your heart rate and fill your body with more oxygen, leaving you feeling more calm and confident.
2. Water For Nerves and Survival
If you’ve ever watched a courtroom trial, you may notice there is always water nearby for everyone speaking.
This is twofold: talking for long periods of time can make your throat dry, and nerves can sometimes be settled with a glass of water. The latter is also a part of soothing your primal need for oxygen and water.
Knowing that no matter what happens in the next few moments, you aren’t going to die of hydration, can settle some of the intense survival instincts your monkey mind kicks up in times of stress.
A glass of water will help things calm down.
Your inner chimp will think, “Okay, I’ve got the basic things here I need to survive.”
Note – drinking too much water can be a bad thing, though—having to use the restroom halfway through your event can trigger a whole new set of worries!
Hot or cold water can leave your mouth feeling dry. Slow sips of room temperature water are best.
3. Give the Monkey an Airtight Argument
Have you ever tried to calm a friend who was worried by simply saying, “It’s okay, don’t worry, calm down!”
They most likely weren’t comforted.
When persuading someone not to be nervous, you have to give their monkey mind a concrete argument against feeling that way.
An argument the monkey cannot disagree with.
For example, I have a fear of heights. When this kicks in I often hear friends and family saying, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing to fear.” My monkey disagrees, squealing in my head ‘what do you mean! I could die if I fall!’. The only way for me to calm it down is to watch other people. When I needed to cross a rope bridge that was very high and appeared to be swaying in the breeze I just sat near the bridge for a while and watched other people safely cross it. I was then able to say to my monkey, ‘Every person who crosses this bridge is fine.’
You can do the same thing when you feel under pressure at work – in an interview, sales pitch or when giving a speech. Remember you have to say things your monkey can’t disagree with. My favorite phrases are “I’m in the right place. This is the right time.” Your monkey mind will check the calendar and go, “Oh yes, you’re right, I’m supposed to be here!”
It can be as simple as that to feel a little relief.
So as soon as you start to make the monkey mind feel better, your neocortex—your more logical mind—can run the show. You’ll be back in charge of the situation and able to perform at your best.
Would you like more help? You can find out a whole range of coaching solutions offered by my team.