The Common Denominator (One thing our public speaking fears have in common and what we can do about it)

What if I stumble over my words or make a mistake?

What if I lose the respect of my peers or leaders?

What if I haven’t prepared enough?

What if I go blank or forget what I have to say? 

Ever had these thoughts come out to play in those crucial moments before you stand up in front of people to speak?

You’re not alone.

I’ve worked with individuals and organisations in high school classrooms, training rooms and board rooms and I am yet to find a time when people didn’t have one or more of these concerns.

Whether you have been asked to present to the senior leadership team, speak to your team or deliver a speech at a wedding, you will find that many of our internal conversations taking place have one common denominator.

They usually focus on us.

“Me” or “I” tend to be the recurring words I see take centre stage in some of our biggest fears.

We’ve got a focus problem.

I like to explain it to the people I work with like walking into a room with your phones ‘selfie’ camera turned on. We are often front and centre in the picture.

It’s ok. We all do it. I catch myself slipping into these moments at times too.

There’s usually a couple of signs that let me know there’s an issue with my focus and it’s becoming about me. 

STATUS

When the focus is on me I get preoccupied with my status. I’m usually asking the question “how do I look?” It’s not just about my physical appearance, but rather how I might be perceived by the people in the room.

In these moments pride sneaks in. When it does I’m less likely to expose my vulnerabilities and more likely to focus on my achievements and my accomplishments to win people over. But even though people are inspired by our strength, they connect through our vulnerability.

STRUCTURE

When the focus is on me I’m obsessed with my structure. I’m usually asking the question “how does this look?” Have I prepared enough? How will I open? What will I say? What’s my flow?  

In these moments perfectionism sneaks in. I find myself going through line by line what I will say with more focus on the notes in front of me than the people around me. Maybe even stepping away from the room in those crucial moments before I have to get up, to go over my outline and plan just one more time.

When I see some of these signs I know it’s time for me to intentionally Refocus. 

Here is what I have found happens when I intentionally refocus and make it about others:

SUPPORT

When the focus is on others I shift from how does this look? to “how does this help?” I’m here to support people with my message.

How does what I’m sharing support these people to do their job or make life better? How does this message benefit the people I am speaking to?

In these moments I’m focused on being helpful. Structure is important but I’m flexible. I’m here to learn from the people in the room, adapt my content to support the decisions they have to make and solve the problems that they face.

SERVICE

When the focus is on others I shift from how do I look? to “how can I help?” 

I focus on the people I have the privilege of speaking to and ask how can I be of service? How can I bring the best of me to bring out the best of you? and what do you need most from me right now?

In these moments I’m more committed to being humble than to being noticed. It’s been said that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It’s about being passionately in service to the people I’m speaking to. 

Next time you have the opportunity to speak and you’re tempted to make it about you, find a way to make it about others.