A public speaking client recently thanked me for challenging the little voice in her head.
You know the one I’m talking about: That voice in your mind (or maybe sitting on your shoulder) that can’t wait to let you know what you did wrong, can’t do right, will never become, don’t deserve to get, etc.
We all seem to have this little voice, each in a highly personalized form. Its comments can range from an occasional, very mild rebuke to a constant cacophony of self-blame. It’s been called your “superego” (by Sigmund Freud) and your “critical parent” (Eric Berne); it’s been compared to a warped recording that plays over and over and over in your mind, and to a demon that must be exorcised.
One thing is clear, though: Whatever you call it, however you cope with it, if that negative voice gives you trouble elsewhere in your life, it will probably get in your face about public speaking, too.
In the case of the client I mentioned above, Isabel (as we’ll call her) is already a strong and successful public speaker. When I met her, though, she had just agreed to take on a new challenge — using TelePrompTer for the first time — and that opened the door to her self-doubting voice.
(TelePrompTer, or “prompter,” is a system in which an off-stage operator scrolls text in front of a presenter. It’s a great tool for giving word-for-word speeches, but can be unnerving to use until you’ve mastered it.)
So here’s what I saw: Isabel walks into the rehearsal room, takes her place in front of the Prompter, and reads through her speech close to perfectly. (Almost no one does this on their first try.) She’s a great reader, but as she reads, she becomes increasingly agitated. Several times, she stops over minor mistakes, but instead of just correcting herself and starting again, she fumes. “I can’t do this,” she says, with every appearance of believing what she’s saying. “I’m never going to get it!”
As her coach, it’s my job to get Isabel over this hump, and in her case, it proved remarkably easy. I took her aside for a little hallway chat, gave her my assessment of her skills, and said that her negative attitude toward using Prompter didn’t seem based in reality, since she could use it effectively, and in fact, just had.
Then I said, “If that little voice in your head is saying you can’t do this, try telling it to shut up.” Isabel broke out in a big smile, and that was the end of her problem with Prompter.
Needless to say, she aced her onstage presentation.
Less Little Voice? Rejoice!
It’s not always that easy to banish “the voice. (And I don’t know what mental work Isabel did to reinforce her conceptual breakthrough.) But it can be done, with awareness and persistence — and don’t we all deserve to be “voice”-free?
When does your little voice gets louder: When you try something new? When you make a “mistake”? When things are going great?
And what part of public speaking brings it up for you? Preparing? Practicing? Waiting to get up in front of your audience?
Most importantly, how do you make it go away?
Leave your comments here, because inquiring minds want to know!