I was watching a show on compulsive hoarding the other day. Its classic ‘car crash’ TV – you want to pull your eyes away but you can’t. Compulsive hoarders start by hanging onto a door knob, thinking: “That may come in handy one day…” and end up being entombed in their home by 10 tonnes of rubbish, magazines, broken furniture and assorted paraphernalia.

What does this have to do with public speaking? Well most of the lack of confidence I see is due to the hoarding of bad thoughts.

Here’s how it starts:

We have a bad experience that becomes a bad memory and then morphs into a bad thought.

You’re ten years old and talking during show & tell about the shark egg you found during the school holidays, and one of the cool kids sniggers. You feel embarrassed and adrenaline shoots through your body. This cements the experience and every time you stand up after that episode you feel fear and dread that it will happen again. This releases more adrenaline and what was once a tiny incident, an ant trail, develops into a multi lane freeway in your mind. Twenty years later, you still fear public speaking.

What do we do?

I have written before about how we need to ‘flip the tape.’ Another tool to add to our arsenal is Acceptance Commitment Therapy, ACT for short.

Russ Harris is an Australian guru on ACT and I recently read his book ‘The confidence Gap’ which offers helpful advice on how to use ACT to increase your confidence.

Here’s how it works for public speaking confidence:

A – Accept the thought or feeling
You have a thought, notice it objectively: “Hmmm, I’m having the thought that I am bad at public speaking.”

C – Choose a valued direction
It’s not helpful and it’s just a thought, I don’t need to respond or act on it

T – Take action mindfully
I know my stuff and will prepare so I can deliver a good presentation

Some of us have been led to believe that we need to hang onto unhelpful thoughts, that they will somehow motivate us to rise above the challenges we face. Research does not support this.

I love (insert sarcastic tone) the term ‘constructive criticism.’
It is the ultimate oxymoron: construct means to build up, criticize to tear down. Ultimately it is up to us to choose what thoughts we will hoard and what thoughts we will act on.

It’s time to de-clutter those thoughts, you can start now… if it’s not helpful, don’t hoard it!

Sharon Ferrier
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All Good Presentations Start With a Confident Speaker

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