Lose Stage Fright Over Your Lunch Hour

Think you can transform from being terrified of speaking in public to being exited about taking the stage in just an hour? Here’s the true story of someone who did just that. Learn her secret here.

While teaching a two-day Speaking Confidence program to a group of 25 government secretaries, I wanted to give them practice using their personal experience to help others. So I gave them a simple assignment to ponder over their lunch hour: Think of a lesson they’d learned in life and share that lesson with the group when they came back.

A petite woman named Judy nervously came to me as the group was disbursing. Judy begged me to excuse her from this exercise. “Please! You don’t understand. I’m terrified! I can’t possibly get up and speak in front of all these people,” she pleaded. We talked for a few minutes and, with compassionate encouragement from me, agreed to think in a hypothetical way about the possibility of maybe doing the exercise. With a long face and a heavy heart, Judy slouched off to lunch.

When the group came back, I said, “OK, it’s time to hear your lessons learned. Who wants to go first?” To my amazement, Judy’s hand shot up! “Well, Judy, come on down,” I said. She marched to the front of the room like a woman on a mission. She whipped around and, with a determined but gentle poise, she looked out at her colleagues and spoke. “After 30 years of marriage, my husband left me for a younger woman, which was devastating. To make matters worse, he took all our money. So there I was alone in my mid-’50s and practically penniless. (Long, poignant pause.) But, I’m happy to say that today I am literally a millionaire. That’s because, out of necessity, I learned to save and manage and invest my money. But none of you should have to learn it the way I did. So take out your pencils, girls. I’m gonna show you how it’s done!”

Judy blew us away.

She was funny, passionate, authentic, driven, feisty. She shared the mistakes she made, the resources she found, the lessons she learned, the gifts she discovered–all with a magnetic power that held us transfixed. The moment she finished talking, everyone leaped up in a joyful, exuberant standing ovation.

After everyone settled down, I asked, “Judy, what on earth happened to you? An hour ago you were quivering, saying you couldn’t possibly speak. Yet you’ve just held this room spellbound for 10 minutes. What happened?” She paused for a moment and said thoughtfully, “It never occurred to me until today that I could HELP people from up here. All my life I thought that public speaking was about following rules and performing and getting everything right. It had never occurred to me I could just stand up and help people.”

As Judy discovered, all the posturing and performing is unnecessary. You need a desire to help your listeners-that’s it! Any time you speak to a group, it’s because you have a message that can help them. Perhaps you can spare them some pain (as Judy did), tell them about a resource they’ve been missing, help them take advantage of an opportunity, explain something that’s been confusing them, make their jobs easier, save them money or time, increase their efficiency, boost their morale, solve a problem, etc. The audience doesn’t need to be impressed or entertained. They just need YOU and the wisdom you have to share.

As Judy learned over her lunch hour, it’s about helping people.

(c) Copyright 2003, Upside Down Speaking

Melissa Lewis turns traditional thinking about public speaking upside down to give people more comfort, confidence, and charisma in front of groups. She is a former comic actress, a certified facilitator of SPEAKING CIRCLES(r), president-elect of the National Speakers Association Kansas City Chapter, and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Upside Down Speaking. For more information, call (913) 341-1241

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