A few years ago, I used to be terrified about speaking in public and in particular talking on the telephone. This was a bit of an occupational hazard as a receptionist in a busy office. But more often than not, I would allow calls to go to voicemail and spend my days picking up messages, effectively doubling my workload.
In this day and age, much can be achieved by text and email, so the phone conversations are dwindling, but there are many people who also feel paralysed by fear if they have to give presentations or speak in meetings.
The power of personal contact with colleagues, a prospective client or supplier should not be underestimated. I've now conquered my fear of the phone and it's actually something that I enjoy, so here are my tips to stop you shying away from public speaking and to increase your confidence.
1. Visualise a supremely confident you
Successful athletes use visualisation to see themselves winning and achieving their goals. So, just imagine or get a sense or feeling of yourself days or weeks in the future when you are confidently speaking in public, whether it's on the phone, in a meeting or giving a presentation.
Have a really good look at this future you. What do you notice about your posture, the way you're speaking and how the people you're speaking to are responding? We learn by repetition, so the more times that you can do this exercise, the more the fear will subside.
2. Use positive self talk
All too often we tell ourselves 'I can't' and if I can't, I don't try. But we never had this attitude as a child, or we would never have developed skills such as riding a bike. We are all just doing the best that we can with what we've been given, so be your own internal cheerleader and be kinder to yourself. 'I can do this!'
3. Rehearse your presentation / conversation
There are lots of reasons to rehearse. Firstly, it gives you a plan as to what you want to say, secondly, it allows you to anticipate any feedback or potential questions from the person that you're speaking with and thirdly it helps you to visualise a successful outcome.
If I'm needing to convey an important message, I will frequently write myself a script to ensure that I cover all of the points. I will also read it aloud to hear how it sounds.
4. Don't forget to breathe
Just before you go into that meeting, or pick up that phone, put your hand on your belly and take a couple of really deep breaths, making sure that your belly rises. Also try to make your out breath longer than your in breath (eg breathe in for a count of 5, and out for a count of 7). When we're stressed, our breathing becomes shallow and slowing your breathing down will release those feelings of panic.
5. Recognise the part of you that wants to protect you
So many of us with fears and phobias feel that we're being irrational. But, at some point in the past, you may have had a bad experience (losing words, stuttering, or a negative outcome).
There's a part of you that exists within your subconscious mind that wants to protect you. This part triggers your 'fight or flight' instinct which creates the feelings of stress. It's only after we have this response that our thinking brain kicks in and we start to question the feelings - too late to stop them happening.
By using all of the above steps you can retrain your subconscious to realise that it's now in your best interests to handle these situations confidently and without fear.