I’ve been watching the Royal Institution Christmas lectures, as I do every year. They have the dual benefit of making me feel smarter than the children in the audience whilst still teaching me something new.
But one thing I’ve learnt this year wasn’t from the lectures. It was from an observation of the crowd.
Imagine for a second you’re at a magic show. The magician, an old-fashioned type in a long cloak, looks out at the audience and says, “I need a volunteer.” Then, before anyone can raise a hand he points at you.
Maybe you have a thing for magicians and the idea excites you. Or maybe, like the majority of people in the room, you start to panic.
“What if I screw up. What if I ruin the trick? What if I pass out, fall over, wet myself or die?” And so, instead of grasping the opportunity, you look at your neighbour and hope he was pointing at her instead.
Of course, you’ll unlike to do any of those things. The worst that’s likely to happen is that you might stumble your words, or the Magician might be very rubbish. But you wouldn’t have volunteered anyway. Most people wouldn’t have dared raised their hand. And that’s probably because of the What-if’s running through their mind.
But at the Royal Christmas Lectures volunteers come thick and fast. Almost every child in the room raises their hand at every possible occasion?
So what’s going on? Are adults shyer than children? Are children unaware of what can go wrong? Maybe, they’re just better at positive thinking.
If you think it, it’s real
In his book, Stumbling on Happiness (a book that I adore) Dan Gilbert points out that the brain has a difficult time distinguishing reality from imagination. In short, if, we imagine the outcome of something our brain perceives it as reality. So if you imagine the worst case scenario your brain becomes certain that this is what will happen.
And from there the fear can only build.When the children put up their hands to volunteer they’ll not imagining what can go wrong.They’re imagining how exciting it will be to be involved in the lectures and be on TV.
So how can you get your brain to feel confident when we stand up to speak? By imagining a different outcome. If you feel yourself starting to fear the worst case scenario but your brain on hold! When was the last time you saw a public speaker faint, or wet themselves? How likely is that really to happen?
Instead try to imagine a more positive outcome. It’s most likely that you’ll stand up, say your piece, maybe stumbling over a word or two, but no-one will care. Then you’ll sit down again to applause. Imagine that outcome and your brain will start to accept it. And it’s likely to become reality outside your brain as well.
Keep the worst case scenarios out. If you feel your imagination getting out of control, stop and imagine things a bit more logically. Focus your mind on the good you can bring to an audience and let that picture dominate your thoughts.
Then you can stand up, and change the world, one speech at a time.
This post was inspired by Retrain Your Brain to Feel Confident About Public Speaking