In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.
Steve was one of the most interesting martial arts instructors I’ve ever had. An ex bouncer from London with a thick accent, a chubby build and a no hair, he was quite a change from the kind of Karate instructor people saw in the Karate Kid movies.
Somewhat inevitably, given his atypical look, he turned out to be one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met and we learned so much from him about martial arts and self-defence in the real world. Many classes would have Steve showing us how to disable an attacker and twist them into a pretzel, only for us to twist ourselves into humorously ineffective pretzels as we attempted to copy him.
The one thing he said that stuck with me more than perhaps anything else was his philosophy on getting ready for a competition (please read Steve’s words in the thickest London accent you can manage)
Steve: “Get the gloves on. It’s time to fight each other.”
Us: “But what techniques should we practice? How can we prepare ourselves and win the fights?”
Steve: “If you want to be good at fighting…fight.”
Steve: “Gloves on…fight.”
Steve: “If you want to be good at fighting…fight.”
I can’t say that it was easy to start fighting one another but he really had a point. We were terrified at the beginning but it was a critical component of us actually getting to be good at fighting. Fighters need to fight in order to learn. Also, once we actually tried it, it wasn’t so bad. Sure we got hit a few times and it was tough to work through the pain and tiredness but it was much worse in our minds that in the ring. You probably are not reading this blog because you want to start doing martial arts or competing in full contact fighting. If you are, though, I would be happy to recommend places to start looking ;-)
The number of people who go weak at the knees when it comes to standing up and speaking is significant. It’s exactly the kind of fear that you have when you’re about to go into the ring for a fight. So many of my clients have confidently told me about what they would do in a presentation or how they would speak to an audience if they were in front of one. Note the hypothetical phrasing. As soon as it came time to stand up and actually deliver to a group, most of that confidence they showed me just leaked out and they were nervous.
You know the feeling I'm talking about. Your stomach feels unsteady, hands and legs start shaking, palms sweat, your mind is racing, various bad outcomes are running through your head, sometimes you even become hyper-aware of the rooms and surroundings, as though your brain is looking for an escape or distraction. In theory you know exactly what do you. In practice, it's a whole new ball game.
People who have to stand up and speak get nervous.
Even more experienced speakers get nervous.
It’s only a matter of scale and pressure. To a beginner, the idea of speaking to an audience of ten people is terrifying. More experienced people are fine there but how about in front of a hundred audience members? A thousand? What about a sales presentation where the success or failure is going to finance your company for the next year or leave it bankrupt and all the staff out of a job? What about a manager who has to stand up and announce a set of firings or pay cuts, while still motivating their staff not to leave? What if you're speaking at a funeral trying to give the deceased person an appropriate and moving eulogy while the teary eyes of grieving family members are on you?
Everyone will feel pressure and nerves when they have to stand up and speak. The only difference is where your comfort line already is. Cross that line and you’ll know it.
My advice to all speakers and presenters is simple. Get up and speak. If you want to be good at public speaking, then put on your metaphorical gloves and get into the speaking "ring". Fighters really learn by fighting. Speakers really learn by speaking to audiences.
Will you be nervous? Probably yes.
Will you make ‘mistakes’ or feel you could have done better? Definitely.
Will it be as bad as you expect? Almost certainly not.
My wife took a video of one of the first speeches I gave to a larger audience. I can still recall how much I was shaking beforehand and as I walked up to the stage. My hands were wobbly and I wanted to go to the toilet for the tenth time in as many minutes. I swore that everyone in the audience must be thinking how badly and nervously it was going.
Until I watched the video.
It wasn’t so bad. I looked much less nervous than I know I felt. My voice didn’t wobble (much), my smiles seemed so genuine and I could see some audience members in the video nodding along to my points.
It wasn’t that bad.
The same thing will happen to you. Again, I urge you to stand up and speak in front of an audience, whether it’s five friends, ten colleagues or a hundred strangers, and simply speak to them. You’ll probably be nervous and that’s ok. You’ll probably feel like the audience sees your shakes or hears it in your voice, and that’s ok. You will give your speech and presentation and, like when we put on our gloves to fight, you’ll find that you are better than you expect and it’s not as bad as it was in your mind. You'll be ok.
In a relatively, even surprisingly, short time you will notice that your nerves go way down and you feel fine on the stage. Your mind will be calmer and much more able to learn and integrate new ideas to make your public speaking better. Be careful, you might even find out that you like public speaking. It's a dangerous thought I know :-)
Speakers need to speak so go and be a speaker.
You'll be ok.
Then you'll be good.
Then you'll be great.
Then you'll be someone the audience can't NOT listen to.