Public Speaking is the most important skill we hate.
If you’re in the 7% of Americans who have an actual phobia of public speaking, you experience a physical and mental reaction akin to fight or flight, leading to measurable, negative consequences in your life. Somewhere around 27 million Americans experience glossophobia or a diagnosed phobia of public speaking.
For the rest of us (all but maybe 10 percent of the population who enjoy public speaking), we experience anxiety, though it doesn’t equate to a disorder.
Ten years ago, I counted myself in “the rest of us.” When I was FORCED (because I never volunteered) to public speak, I would sweat and get stomach cramps, a racing heart, shaky hands and legs, a quivering voice, elevated body temperature, blushing, and a disrupted ability to think.
My fear was not unique. Stats say public speaking ranks FIRST in America’s top five fears, followed in order by death, spiders, the dark, and heights. In other words, some of us would rather die, get bit by a giant spider, sit alone in the pitch black woods, or stand on the ledge of a tall building than speak in front of a crowd.
Today, I LOVE public speaking. It contributes to career progression, higher income, board and committee memberships, and professional credibility. I motivate team members to translate vision into practical operations by communicating powerfully. I build and deliver the case for a new budget line or an innovative new program without fear. I influence organizational behavior toward achievement of strategic goals by inspiring groups. Not to mention, I position myself as an expert.
Shedding my fear also helped me be a better mom, friend, and human being. Isolation is a key factor limiting personal and spiritual growth. By getting comfortable talking in groups and being vulnerable, I could take on some of my self-limiting behavior. I joined a community-based group and at first, was terrified to talk in front of them. As I overcame that fear, I grew personally and my relationships blossomed.
Often, I speak to college-aged students and, much like me at that age, they sit in silence when there's an opportunity for group discussion. Maybe one or two students will engage the conversation. Matching the statistics, they are the 10 percent. The others say nothing, missing out on wonderful opportunities to develop themselves and network with an industry connection.
Today, I speak all over the country, but how did I make the transition from visibly frightened to confident and competent?
Practice, practice, practice. You have to do it to demystify it. As uncomfortable as it is, push yourself to engage in public speaking opportunities. Start where you feel safe and work your way into new and expanding groups. It won't feel good overnight, so don't give up. Keep at it for a year and you'll be amazed at the transformation.
Forgive your flaws. Slips ups, forgotten words, shaky hands and blushing are NORMAL. Don’t let imperfection stop you in your tracks. I give powerful keynotes flawlessly but even after years of practice, I still get hit with the occasional anxiety. If I have a bad day speaking, I brush it off and move forward. Perfectionism will get me nowhere.
Study. My first year public speaking I felt like I was going to throw up every time. I needed help! I’ll never forget finding the book The Breakout Principle at the public library. It offered simple tactics to distract my mind from anxiety right before speaking. It worked! We spends thousands on a college education. Why not invest in some resources today to make yourself more competitive?
Start with a script. In the early days, I would get so lost in my head, I HAD to script out my speech. Sometimes I read it word for word. So what? I had to go through that phase. Eventually, I only referred to it to stay on track. Later, I moved toward note cards and sometimes today I use no script at all. This is a process. We will not be a pro on day one or even in year three. Allow yourself to evolve.
Get a mentor! While at an author’s conference in Nashville, TN, Anne Freedman, CEO of Speakout, Inc. and author of Public Speaking for the Genius, blew my mind with her presentation on how to be a better speaker. I furiously took notes. I stayed in touch with Anne. A couple years later I was helping manage a conference and suggested Anne as our keynote. We hired her and I took advantage of the opportunity to visit with Anne and talk more. I was offering a breakout session so I invited Anne and asked her to critique me. She did, and again, I found myself growing immeasurably. Professional athletes get better with the help of coaches who watch, video, and analyze their game. We can do the same!
At the end of the day, if you can develop this skill you will be in the ten percent. Want to set yourself apart, grow as a person, and blast past your work and life goals? Take on public speaking. The rewards are well worth the effort.
In my new book Five Strategies to Increase Annual Fund Revenue I consider a common challenge in our industry – coming up shy of the goal. Falling short of the vision is a universal issue we all face in our lives and careers.
Stalled goals can halt a company’s progress, deprive communities of important services, and prevent individuals from achieving lifelong dreams, but it can be overcome. Here are three potential reasons we don’t make it to the finish line and how to get back on track.
In development, misunderstanding leads to lost results. Fundraisers and donors alike misunderstand the purpose of development work and often become rooted in failure before they begin.
This concept is true in all industries. Misunderstanding limits our capacity for success right out of the gate. If you are struggling with a goal, ask yourself, what might I be misunderstanding? Take a learning journey. Talk to experts in the field or people who have accomplished what it is you are trying to achieve. Begin to root out those things which are limiting your potential. Being an expert in a certain area may have gotten you so far, but perhaps it is time to take a step back and consider this. There is always more to learn!
Fear is a very real deterrent to success and 99 percent of the time people will not admit they are scared. They point to every possible reason for failure rather than acknowledging, “I’m scared and I need help to overcome what is holding me back.”
The positive thing is we all feel fear. I have visited more donors than I can count, making asks big and small, and I still get a twinge of nervousness every time. Ask yourself, “What exactly am I afraid of and how is that stopping me from boldly achieving my dreams?” Often fear of rejection or hearing no stops us from making the case for ourselves and our organizations. I learned something valuable in my field that applies across the board.
The best way to annihilate fear is (1) preparation and practice, (2) openness to feedback and adjustment, and (3) acceptance that some things you have no answers for.
Just because we make a bold and well-practiced case doesn’t mean we can’t adjust it or go searching for answers to questions that confound us. One of my favorite sayings is, “I don’t know but I’ll find out!” The point is, never let the fear of no prevent you from getting to yes. In other words, brace yourself for significant rejection but never stop working toward that one yes that will launch you toward success.
3. Lack of a rigorous process
Whether you are trying to achieve stretch goals for your company or the next level of your career, it takes a structured process. In my industry, fundraising for anything requires staged processes with timelines, goals, strategies, and measurable milestones. More organizations and individuals than you think do not maintain consistent processes when trying to achieve major goals. Many do not track results, analyze what is or isn’t working, and adjust along the way.
In companies, dive into the research and find out what the absolute best processes and proven methods are to achieving a goal like yours. If you are trying to accomplish a major milestone in your career or with your family, what processes might you put in place to add structure to your steps? Even something as simple as asking for feedback from others can improve your resume, your communication skills, and your interpersonal abilities. Debrief with someone you trust after each attempt at achieving your goals. Share what you did and get feedback so you can adjust your process next time.
It is never too late to get it right!
Remember, stalled goals are not an end to anything. They are a milepost on your road to success. Don’t let misunderstanding, fear, or lack of a rigorous process be the reasons you give up on your dreams! Some of the greatest successes the world has known were achieved by failing forward.
VISIT PAM AT WWW.BEASEEDPLANTER.COM TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER UPCOMING BOOK, JOIN HER CONTACT LIST, AND HEAR ABOUT NEW BLOGS, SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS, AND RELEASE DATES FIRST!
I recently served on a panel of women Executives for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s PowerUP event. PowerUP is an all-women’s event that includes insights and wisdom from successful business women as well as opportunities for networking. I knew I’d learn something – but I received much more than I expected that day.
First, the keynote speaker was Rhonda Frederick, President and Chief Executive Officer of People, Inc. Rhonda approached her talk in a straightforward and vulnerable way, sharing personal and professional challenges she faced and overcame.
Inspired by her story, many of us on the panel went on to share life challenges we worked through toward our ultimate leadership potential. Some of the leaders in the room talked about their divorces, what it was like to be a working single mom, overcoming brokenness as teenagers, unexpected pregnancies, work-life balance and more. Soon, the audience chimed in and we began to realize, none of has a “perfect story.” As human beings we all face uphill battles at times. We stumble and fall. Sometimes people might count us out. Yet, through perseverance we gain strength. That resilience helps us to be better leaders.
I loved that this topic came up organically because I talk about this often when giving keynotes and teaching workshops through my business Seed Planters. One of my favorite authors, Bill George, in his book True North, asserts that great leaders do an “inner work.” They put their life story in context and face and overcome their greatest crucibles. This is what makes them authentic and trustworthy. The PowerUP panelists and keynote speaker embodied that concept.
As the evening came to a close, I could see women reaching out to one another as they engaged in discussion and networking. I remembered when I first began my career sixteen years ago. It was a different time and women were less able or likely to mentor up-and-coming professionals. Being vulnerable was practically unheard of. It wasn’t the way of the business world back then. I believe many of those women paved the way for us, today, to be vulnerable and find inspiration and support in one another.
So in that spirit, thank you Mary Travers Murphy of the Family Justice Center, Althea Luehrsen of Leadership Buffalo, Cindi McEachon of Peace Prints WNY, and Morgan Williams-Bryant of Girls Scouts of WNY. As fellow panelists, you inspired me! Thank you, Rhonda Frederick. You set the tone for an amazing discussion. And last but certainly not least, thank you Jacquie Walker from WIVB Channel 4, for serving as hostess and MC.
Each of you is making a difference in the world and I am proud to serve alongside you. So, in your honor, and in the spirit of one of the world’s greatest business women, I leave you with this final thought:
“Dare to be different. Be a pioneer. Be a leader. Be the kind of woman who in the face of adversity will continue to embrace life and walk fearlessly toward the challenge.” – Miss Oprah Winfrey
Over the last several years I have delivered or taught more than 30 keynotes and workshops nationwide including topics on communication, fundraising, and leadership; but the topic requested most is far from the typical conference session.
Its gritty, vulnerable, and often uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, whether I’ve taught this to a group of underprivileged college freshman or middle-aged factory managers – the response is the same. This is a life-changing way of looking at leadership.
We start by digging into the first “c” of the Social Change Model for Leadership Development (SCMLD), called “consciousness of self.” We look at what a person consists of – their experiences, values, beliefs, natural abilities, and perspectives. We hone in on the notion of leading by strengths as articulated in Gallup’s “Strengths Based Leadership,” but give a nod to the importance of building skill and teams around weaknesses. We discuss filling your leadership toolbox with items representative of all the stages in the SCMLD, like citizenship and controversy with civility.
Yet, the part of the talk that strikes home for most people is when we look at author Bill George’s suggestion that great leaders must do “an inner work.” When writing True North, Bill found that great leaders take time to pick apart their own life story, grapple with their greatest crucibles, and put their struggles into context so they can move forward authentically. Only then can people trust them enough to follow.
This last part is the toughest, because it requires us to examine those things that hurt or challenged us most in life. As a college Vice President and successful business owner who was classified “at-risk” in middle school, I never could have gotten to where I am if I had ignored my problems.
In my 20’s, having endured abusive relationships and experienced multiple, severe traumas, I had serious trust and anger issues. The early years of my career included interpersonal conflicts that directly correlated with the turbulence I was feeling inside. I got some counseling, put myself through an anger-control program, and studied more self-help books than I care to admit. All of this allowed me to stabilize and the moment I did, my career began to take off.
Here’s the thing – what is happening in us comes out of us no matter where life takes us. It doesn’t magically disappear because we got a college degree, a new job title, or a bump in pay.
For me, I’ve learned to accept this is a life-long process. Even now, 16 years into my career, I still see pieces of the unhealthy me rising to the surface now and again, in totally surprising and unexpected ways.
Great leaders – as Bill George discovered when he interviewed dozens of them – never stop growing.
Great leaders commit to a life of “inner work.”
Too often, we think addressing our vulnerabilities and letting the walls come down is a sign of weakness, but quite the opposite is true. It is a process to be honored and encouraged.
Pamela Witter is a speaker, author, and professional fundraiser. She serves as VP for Development at Trocaire College and owns and operates a small business called Seed Planters. Her book Five Strategies to Increase Annual Fund Revenue will be released by Charity Channel Press in 2016. Visit her at www.BeASeedPlanter.com.
In corporate and office environments we often size people up based on professionalism and forget, a human being exists underneath that suit. We have human reactions.
Some of us are better at suppressing them. Others are able to internally assess and move through them quickly, maintaining mental stability and focus. Still others, at varying degrees of intensity, duration, or frequency, give way to their emotional reactions to work situations.
In 15 years as a professional, I have had all of these reactions and have witnessed colleagues – from front-line staff to executive leadership – cycle through them. On rare occasions, I met someone who appeared stoic, but this was often accompanied by a lower level of engagement and collaboration. A big wall existed between them and nearly everyone else, leaving little room for the kind of connection, vulnerability and conversation that leads to great innovation.
I am an emotional person by nature, and a sensitive person. Many in my family have argued I am too sensitive at times. Others have said it is a gift and I can often feel other people’s feelings and bring awareness and healing to difficult situations. Either way, it presents challenges and opportunities in my life as a VP.
One opportunity is the ability to quickly assess and change approaches and communication styles based on others’ needs, in order to reach the desired outcome. A challenge is having a difficult time letting go in the inevitable moments when someone simply doesn’t like me.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, Dr. Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., suggests you recognize your reaction. She questions, “Do you feel fear in your chest, betrayal in your heart, anger in your shoulders, gut or head, or humiliation in the pit of your stomach?” She reminds us, “Your brain works very hard to keep you safe, so it will judge a situation as threatening if there is any possibility of social harm. This is not a logical process.”
Let’s say you’ve worked through your emotions, asked yourself if the person really meant to harm or criticize you, and you have determined they did. Reynolds says, it’s time to decide how much that really matters. In some cases, a situation becomes hostile. HR gets involved or you must decide, do I stay or do I go. Every day interactions rarely rise to that level. Instead, we must deal with difficulty.
She continues, resist trying to change others, “rise above the discord,” and mentally forgive people for not appreciating you or the impact they had on you. I would add, self-reflect often and grow through your own shortcomings. It’s not always everyone else’s fault.
Whatever the case, your mental energy is exhaustible. Reynolds calls it one of your “most precious resources.”
In order to continue doing great things, guard it like you would fine jewels, but also forgive yourself when you are what you are – a human being.
I may feel like a superhero sometimes when I’m firing on all cylinders, but God knows, you won’t find a Wonder Woman logo under my suit. Life reminds me often just how fallible I am and guess what, that’s okay.
Reynolds, M. (Sept. 7, 2012) What to do when someone doesn’t like you: Questions to ask yourself when you feel hurt. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wander-woman/201209/what-do-when-someone-doesn-t-you.
Pamela Say is a published author, fundraiser, and life-long student of leadership. Browse Pam's blog entries for possible conference session or keynote topics. Pam customizes training opportunities for her clients.
Read Pamela's internationally published articles at Orato.World:
Father's death leads son to advocate for firefighter cancer awareness
Father offers forgiveness to five-year-old son's killer
Kenyan journalist forcibly outed, launches Bold Network Africa
Hope Virgo fought for her life, campaigns for eating disorder support
Paxton Smith reflects on graduation speech swap, starting collge, and book deal
From racism to one race: the Jane Elliott story