01 May Hero Series: Beating the fear of Public Speaking, with Felicia Slattery
Last week I started a series where I’m putting the spotlight on some of my heroes: These are people that have inspired and helped me and I can’t wait to introduce them to you.
To continue the series today, we’re going to talk about one of the biggest fears in the world: The fear of public speaking!
We’re going after it with a long-time friend and a long-time hero, Felicia Slattery.
Felicia is a award-winning professional speaker. She’s works one-on-one with experts, entrepreneurs, CEOs, celebrities… to help them to connect with people on a human level from the stage and from online, as well as, build relationships that last.
Right from the start of my business, Felicia welcomed me as a peer and helped set me up for success. She is someone you can listen to and count on. She’s the real deal.
Whether you want to be a professional speaker or just be more effective in any speaking scenario, Felicia Slattery will share GREAT strategies that you can apply that will enable you to DREAM THINK DO.
Felicia, welcome to “Dream.Think.Do.”
Wow. Thanks, Mitch. I’m so excited to be here.
It’s a long time coming. I want to back up. You’re one of my heroes. I literally, I mean that. I think I’ve shared this story with you, but if not, you were the Emcee at one of the first events that I got to speak at as a professional speaker. Do you remember that years and years ago? It was like 400 years ago.
I do remember that. It was fantastic.
Yeah. Well, I don’t know if I’ve told you this story before, but my business was just getting started. We’d gone through some setbacks at the time as well. I remember checking in at the hotel hoping that no one from the conference was going to be there because I was a little worried about my credit card clearing!
I was there. I was passionate about the message I was going to give it. It was a Big Dream Gathering, kind of at the first time we were ever really doing it in a conference setting. But there was that imposter syndrome thing creeping up on me, all of those fears, all those doubts of should I really be here?
Should people really listen to me? Do I belong here?
As you Emceed, you just controlled the room. Right from the start, you welcomed me as a peer. You set me up for so much success. You warmed that audience up. They were on the edge of their seats. We had a great time.
Then the next day, you got up and you actually spoke about my talk and said, “Guys, listen. He’s going places. You should listen to him.” I’m getting a little misty as I tell this, but that message mattered to me so much. It spoke to my heart and that gave me juice for years to come.
I just so appreciated how took control of the room. You cared about us. You set me up for success, but those comments you said the next day. It went deep in my heart. You’re a long time hero of mine.
Aw, you just gave me chills. I’m so happy.
Honestly, that’s one of the things that as a speaker, we just never know who we’re impacting with our words. I had no way of knowing. I don’t think you came up to me right afterwards. I don’t know that you told me that then, but I’ll tell you –
Just hearing years later, for you to remember some seemingly just normal thing that I would say at an event because I’m boosting up the speakers. That’s part of my job, but also, I don’t say anything that I don’t also believe. Of course, I meant every word, but it was like I barely would even remember saying that. But I do remember your presentation? Yes, because you were amazing.
Thank you. I just want to tell you DREAM THINK DO-ers, this is a person you can listen to. You can probably already tell, she does an incredible job in front of an audience, speaks to thousands of people. She’s the real deal.
I say all of that because I just want to jump right into her wisdom here. We’re going to go after this. I know you work with all sorts of different types of folks. You work with professional speakers, helping them take their game up, but you also take a lot of thought leaders, executives, CEOs and you help to prepare them for the stage. Whether they want to be a professional speaker or not, you help them to communicate more effectively.
One of the biggest things I want to hear about first: public speaking terrifies some people. I think everybody gets a little shot of adrenaline, but some people get panicked and anxiety-ridden just at the thought of standing in front of a group. What do you think tends to be at the heart of that fear? What’s something you do to help people get over that fear or to step into that fear? What’s something that you found works?
Mitch, there are actually a couple different levels to this kind of fear. There’s the kind of fear that says, “I have to stand up and speak for the work that I do,” or “I’m passionate about my non-profit that I’ve created and I know I’ve got to get up and speak and I’m so nervous about doing that.” There’s that kind of fear, but then there’s also the kind of fear that you and I as speakers, you know this, people will come up to us (you, especially because you’re talking about what’s your big dream? And people come over and say, “My big dream is to speak.”)
But even when I’m onstage, people will come over afterwards and say, “Oh, my gosh. I love what you did. I really would love to do that. That’s my big dream. I would love to be able to speak, but I” … Then the “but” comes in. Then there’s the fear, they’re not afraid to get on stage necessarily, but they’re afraid to go after their dream so there’s really two levels of the fear.
The first fear – plain stage fright is more straightforward. If you’re scared to get on stage. Where that comes from is from the fact that you just don’t it all the time or ever. When we don’t do something regularly and we put ourselves in the situation of being looked at and we’re being put in a situation of having ourselves being judged, now your body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in.
That’s where all of the physical things start happening to your body so some people’s mouth gets dry. That happens to me when I get nervous. Some people’s hands shake. Some people feel like their heart is going to beat out of their chest. Some people, especially very fair skinned people, they flush and they get a flush of red. Their skin turns red. All these different kinds of things are happening, but really it is your body’s fight-or-flight response and your body is screaming with all its might, “Flight. Flight. Flight.”
There are ways that you can handle that fight-or-flight response and not totally eliminate it. For instance, this morning I spoke. I wasn’t even the main speaker on the stage, but people were going around the room and handing a microphone. Everybody had to introduce themselves and that kind of thing. I’ll tell you as somebody who teaches speakers and is a professional speaker, that’s a lot of pressure for me because if the people in the room already know what I do or I’m going to stand up with a microphone in my hand and say, “I am a professional speaker,” I better not suck.
Right. Right. Exactly. I’ve got to deliver here.
Yes. I still get like this sometimes and I wanted to just reinforce that and encourage people because I’ve been standing in front of audiences of hundreds and hundreds of people. I started when I was seven and in certain circumstances, my fight-or-flight response still is strong. One thing to understand is that it’s totally normal. It is normal.
But you can train your brain. You say, “Oh, wait. This is something that I’ve done before.” You do that through a number of different ways.
The first way you do it and people hate this. But you’ve got to practice. Practice that speech.
Right now, I want you to think back to all the amazing people that we see in the Olympics, thinking of the dreamers and the doers. Michael Phelps and his swimming or Shaun White and his snowboarding or any of the figure skaters, any of these people who are just at the elite level of their athletic skill, they don’t just one day wake up and say, “Oh, you know what? The Olympic tryouts are today. I’m just going to go do that.”
Right. They work hard on their craft to get to reach that very elite level and they practice over and over and over and over again. Even Shaun White and Michael Phelps, who have been in multiple Olympics, they were shoo-ins to get in to the next one. They didn’t like just go, “Oh, yeah, I’ll just swim at my race. I’ll be fine. I’ll just think about how it’s going to be. I’ll be fine.”
This comes down to muscle memory. Most of are not elite athletes, but we can still take advantage of this muscle memory thing because guess what? Your mouth, your tongue, your face, all of that is full of muscles and so when you stand up because you’re not going to be sitting when you speak. You’ve got to stand up because we’re going to invoke muscle memory. Stand up and say the words you’re going to say out loud because here’s what’s going to happen:
When you get in front of those people, your body fight-or-flight response is going to be kicking in and something’s going to happen. Somebody in the second row is going to yawn. Somebody in the first row is not going to be looking up at you. They’re going to be looking at their phone and somebody in the back is going to have their arms crossed and have a weird scowl on their face.
Yeah. Angry listening face.
I have come to learn that typically that doesn’t even anything to do with you. Some people that’s just their thinking face. They don’t even realize that they’re projecting anger. They’re just like in deep thought and really engaged in what you’re saying. You’re having this non-verbal feedback coming in. Your mouth is moving, but your brain is like, “What is up with that guy? Am I being boring? And that woman is like staring at her phone. Look. Hello?
When you’ve stood up and you’ve practiced your speech, standing up, out loud, the muscle memory can take over a little bit.
If you’ve ever been driving a car, people have had this experience, where you’re driving a car and 20 minutes later, you’re like, “How did I even get to this light? I don’t even remember,” because you were lost in thought somewhere else, but your body knew what you were doing. You know when to speed up and slow down and it just feels automatic. Why? Because your body has done that over and over and over again.
The same thing with speaking. The more you stand up and say the words out loud, the better it is.
A couple of thoughts: One, I couldn’t agree with you more because I do think, as professional speakers, we’re getting the chance to be in front of audiences all the time so I still think through my message, but I don’t find myself practicing as much because that’s just my daily life. But in the beginning, absolutely because you do want to get used to this.
At the same time, one of the things I found about myself. Our younger son is an actor. He has an incredible ability to remember scripts. I’ve never really felt like I have that gift. I’m more of a storyteller so I always say, “I never try to remember a script. I just try to remember a story or a series of stories.” I found that very freeing.
Practice does not have to mean saying exactly the same words the same way. One of the things that freed me up was to say, “You know what? I’m going to practice these stories, but I’m not going to practice a script,” because I didn’t want to feel like it was memorized because then it would start to become stilted.
And I agree, if you’re not standing, that’s not muscle memory.
I’m glad you made that point because I am not an advocate of scripts. I think that, to me, practice means you put your notes together in an outline form and you’re going to say such-and-such story. And if you’ve got slides please, please don’t write every word on a slide. Please.
Another thing to realize as you start out, one of the fastest ways to turn off a meeting or event planner, one of the ways to make sure you have a very short career as a professional speaker or the way to tick off your co-workers, a leader, a organization or somebody who’s organizing an event within your organization is to go over your time limit.
Oh, they hate that.
Someone once told me”If you want to be a professional, if you want to do this the rest of your life, if you want to be recognized and do well in this business, always end on time.” He was like, “That’s one of the biggest things.” He said, “It’s one of the most subtle things, but it’s the most important things.”
Okay. I wanted to circle back to helping people overcome their fears of public speaking. There’s a powerful technique called visualizing and when you visualize, visualize yourself feeling calm and comfortable when you’re presenting. Feel yourself feeling confident. Visualize, if you know what the room looks like … Let’s just say you’re at work and you know you’re going to be in a particular conference room. You know what that conference room looks like. Maybe if it’s the first thing in the morning, maybe people are going to be bringing their coffee.
Bring all of your senses to your visualization. Get the aroma of the coffee in your visualization and maybe you’re going to have water with you. By the way, your mouth is going to get dry. I always have my water right nearby. (Water sound). Can you hear it?
Nice special effects, Steven Spielberg. I like it.
Thank you so much. Thank you so much. So just know how your body is going to respond and then work around it. I’m visualize myself. I’m swallowing the water and I can feel that. What am I seeing around the room and what am I hearing? Am I hearing people? Maybe it’s a little bit more of a formal meeting where there are coffee cups and somebody’s got a spoon and they’re stirring it around in the cup.
Imagine all of these things happening because brain science, neuroscience says that what you’re doing is you’re creating synapses in your brain and your brain actually when you visualize very powerfully, your brain doesn’t recognize whether you’ve actually been there and done it or you’ve just visualized it. That will also help that fight-or-flight response diminish because it won’t be like, “Oh, my God. I’ve never done this before.”
Your brain says, “Oh, we’ve been here before. I’ve seen this exact room. I’ve seen these exact people. Oh, I’ve smelled this exact smell. This isn’t scary or bad at all because I didn’t get eaten by a tiger when it happened.”
Let me ask a couple questions on that ’cause I love this thought. I’m guessing that there are some people who are already on board. They’re nodding their head with you. They’re like, “Okay. I get I’m in,” but there might be some who say, “Oh, I don’t visualize.”
But we all visualize. Our mind’s eye is such a powerful thing. So when are you doing this? Are you doing this three days before? Are you doing this five minutes before? Is it a both/and? And, I’ll do follow up, are you visualizing the actual delivery of the talk? Are you visualizing the audience responding fondly, laughing, ha-ha? Those kinds of things. Do you go that far?
Yes. You go as far as the audience is smiling. They’re nodding. They’re getting your jokes. They’re into it. Yeah. You absolutely visualize that far.
When are you doing it? You’re doing it all along so when you’re not able to be standing up and practicing … If you’re going to take the time to sit and look over your presentation, then why not incorporate all of the senses in that process?
This is brain science. We’re creating synapses where there were none before so that we diminish that fight-or-flight response. If you’re going to be going over your notes anyway, go over it and visualize “Okay. As I say this part, maybe I’m going to hold up my left hand so I’m going to think about myself doing that.”
Whatever it’s going to be, just visualize yourself doing that. Practice. Stand up. Visualize. I get some of my best bits when I’m practicing. I go, “Oh, I should say that again.” Write it down for myself. Make sure I say that because it seems like it’s important, appropriate, funny, interesting, whatever.
I think to your point, too, going back to the muscle memory aspect of all of this as well that … I think if there’s any push back on this, someone might push back and go, “Well, I really want to seem authentic and off-the-cuff.” To me, it’s one of those that I find if I have practiced and if I have visualized what that does is that allows me to be more calm.
It’s funny. As you were telling this, I was reminded of a story. You know me. I’m a recovering worrier. Right? Worry has always come easy for me. I’m not perfect in this area, but I’m better than I was yesterday, but it’s funny. A huge turning point for me was while I was visualizing … This is years ago now, but I used to get so nervous before a talk.
Here I am wanting to be a professional speaker, but almost dying on the days before a talk ’cause I’d just be worried about all these things. I was visualizing, thinking through what’s this like, all of that. I asked myself, “Okay. Why have I been getting so nervous?” I started to think, “Okay, maybe, the audience, they won’t get it. Or maybe somebody in the audience will turn against me or maybe somebody’ll be mean,” It’s when you start to draw those dark thoughts out of the closet, you realize there’s usually not much weight to them.
One of the things that I realized was, most of the time, people get my jokes. Most of the time, they get my points, but I started to think back through all these different events I’ve been to. I started to think back through unique, fun, amazing people that I’ve met. People that have become lifelong friends. You, as an example, right?
Now, each event, instead of going, “Oh, where are the lions and tigers, the bears?” Now I go in and say, “I’m opening Christmas presents. Who are the people that I should meet in this room? What are some of the fun stories that are going to come from this?” Even if I trip, going up stage, we can have fun with that, right?
Funny story – I was running late at an event and wound up running into the women’s restroom! In years past, that would have thrown me off, because I was heading on stage right afterwards.
But because I was prepared, because I’d done some different things to get my heart, my mind in the right spot, what probably would’ve derailed me and sent me spinning years ago, I wound up turning it into my introduction and having some fun with it.
I love what you’re talking about. I think that these keys are so important. Again, whether you’re getting ready to do a staff meeting or whether you’re getting ready to speak to a thousand people.
That’s a hilarious story, but one point I want to make is for the people who say, “I want to be authentic and I want to be my real self.” It’s impossible to be your real, authentic self when you are nervous and you feel like your heart is going to beat out of your chest because you’re focused inward, as opposed to the real reason that you’re there to be speaking. That’s to serve the people in the room. That’s to give some value. That’s to share some information and so you need to be focused on them. The more prepared you are and you feel, the easier it is for your authentic, your real, your true self to shine in that moment.
That’s a good word right there.
All right. I’m curious. I’m guessing it’s going to involve some of the things we’ve talked about, but what are some of those things, that last couple of minutes before you’re going onstage. What are a few things that you found that help you in those last minutes to be optimized?
Those last couple of minutes for a speaker, they tend to be busy moments because you’re getting mic’d, somebody might be saying, “Do we have an introduction for you? So and so’s going to be introducing you and they’re wanting to introduce you to the CEO or whoever else is going to be bringing you up,” and you’re smiling and shaking hands so for me, sometimes I only have literally seconds to myself before I walk up. I am a person of deep faith and so I just say a very brief, quick prayer: Lord God, please give me the words that you want the people in this room to hear from me today and I do this all in your glory. Amen.” Then I go.
Yeah. Game on.
Whatever words come, whatever stories come I know that that is … I surprise myself because I have not even thought of that in years, but all right. I’ll tell it. Here comes a story.
Yep. That’s really how I do it. I prep myself in advance. For me, I have a pre-speaking ritual. I’m making sure my lipstick is good right before. Sometimes I use that as my prayer time. That allows me those few seconds to have that quiet time to really ground myself. That’s my pregame ritual.
I do that same thing just even for a couple of minutes before ’cause usually right before they’re looking for you. Like you said, they’re putting the microphone on you or they’re putting in the right spot so you can walk out on stage. Or if it’s in a corporate setting, you’re probably getting your laptop hooked up, all of those things. That’s not necessarily the best time to take a breather, but that whole thing of being able to say, All right. Even five, 10 minutes before, go give yourself a couple of minutes to just take a deep breath.
I’m also with you in those seconds, those short minutes before, a quick prayer. I’m doing that same thing. I also deep breath, big smile. It’s funny how what you’re talking about, the muscle memory, the practice, the visualizing, all of that is preparing your brain and that smile can do the same thing.
Just smiling a real authentic smile is one other thing that can totally help to shut down or at least defray the fight-or-flight, too, to go, “Okay, I must not be being chased by a bear because I’m smiling.” Those kinds of things.
I wish we had four hours so this means we’re going to have to have you back ’cause we’re just getting to the tip of the iceberg, but I think it’s a really important part of the iceberg in that, to be able to go after this fear, to buster this fear, whether it’s you want to be a professional speaker or just want to be more effective at work. These are the kinds of things that are going to help you so thank you so much for the great stuff.
Now I know you got lots of great stuff. You help people literally around the world. You also have something that people can get access to for free … What is it and what’s the best way for people to get access to it?
Okay. Like you said, I have a lot of things. Given, that we’ve talked a little bit about fear today and speaking and that kind of thing, I have a free gift at signaturespeechsecrets.com. I own a trademark on this thing called “The signature speech.” Basically, it’s a tool that people who are entrepreneurs, who are not-for-profit leaders can use to go out and market themselves. Get more fans, more followers, more cash, whatever it is that they need to get.
Also, that’s why I talk through what that is, it’s an MP3, but it’s also you get a report on how to get over the fear of speaking. I’ve got the tips that we talked about, but then there are some other ones that you get as a bonus with that audio. It’s at signaturespeechsecrets (with an s at the end) .com and that’s absolutely free, waiting for you right now.
I love it.
That is perfect. Go grab it, guys. You will be happy that you did and I am so happy I invited you to be a part of DREAM THINK DO today so thanks for taking the time. Thanks for dropping the wisdom.
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And please leave a comment. Let me know what stood out to you and / or what’s something specific you’re going to try from the different strategies we talked about. I can’t wait to hear from YOU!