This week we’re focusing on the 3rd most common fear we have when speaking in public: finding ourselves with nothing to say. The classic symptoms include memory blanks, a loss of means and the inability to formulate our remarks or answer questions. So, is it serious doctor?
If you’re feeling concerned about this, we have two good news points to make:
- You are not alone. Indeed, it is a widely shared obsessive fear that we often deal with in training.
- It can be treated, by analyzing the symptoms, identifying the cause and rigorously following the appropriate treatment.
We have identified 4 main causes in which you will surely identify with, as well as their suitable solutions.
“I lose my means each time!”
Finding yourself mute in front of your audience is a widely shared taboo, which generates automatic stress provoking thoughts well ahead of your speech: “I’m going to lose my train of thought. I won’t be able to answer questions, I’ll be perceived as bad and ridiculous…” These negative thoughts are toxic. They interfere with your preparation, feed a negative image of you and your abilities. Keep in mind that fear doesn’t prevent danger, it often provokes it. The more you are convinced that you will lose your means, the more you will concentrate on what is troubling you and the more you will be sensitive to it. Negative thoughts are often difficult to fight off because they are unconscious and seem to be consistent with the image one has of oneself. In the most acute case it is necessary to get help. For others we can try to challenge the dark ideas trotting in our heads by reformulating them in the form of the questions: “And what if I was sufficiently prepared? Is it that bad not knowing how to immediately answer a question?”
“I’ve said everything I had to say… and there’s still some time left!”
You were given 30 minutes of speaking time, but you panic when after 15 minutes you’ve completely covered what you planned to say. You then feel the fear of the pupil whose handed in a blank copy: “what are they going to say about me? They’ll think I didn’t work hard enough…” Remember that the purpose of speaking is to generate a change in those listening to you, not to fill a time slot. If you still have time at the end of your speech you have two advantages:
- You have additional time to interact with your audience and continue the presentation as a conversation. To do this, always have questions ready to initiate the exchange;
- Once at the end of the exchange, you will allow your audience to finish earlier… They’ll blame you less than if you finish late!
“I’m drawing a blank…”
A haunting fear of any speaker, the memory blank that occurs when we’re focused on our speech and a parasitic detail diverts our attention. The phenomenon is very destabilizing: anxiety rises quickly, we’re desperately searching for our words. But the more anxious we get, the less the chances are that our words come back to us.
The only solution is to calm down, while accepting that yes, you lost your train of thought. This is a classic phenomenon when one regularly speaks. Take a deep breath, it’ll come back the same way it left. The most effective way is to tell your audience so that you can get back on track. The less it becomes a problem for you, the less it will be a problem for them.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to answer the questions.”
Where does this requirement come from, that every speaker must know how to immediately answer all the questions asked by the audience? This is indeed an added pressure that one imposes on oneself. Do you really want to be a good student all your life?
It is precisely by getting rid of this attitude of wanting to be the good student that leaders stand out. A leader accepts that his expertise is less about his ability to answer questions than it is to identify the needs of the person asking them. In this posture, every question is an opportunity to create a link:
- You have the answer: that’s great, you’ll be able to immediately help whomever questions you. But beware, the goal is not necessarily to answer the question itself… the goal is to answer “why” you were asked the question!
- You need to do some thinking: that’s great, it means it’s a rare question that you need to think about a bit. The easiest way is to pose a question to the person questioning you in order to examine the question from all angles and identify an appropriate response.
- You don’t have an answer: that’s great, here’s a question you have never asked yourself. Either the answer is within your field of expertise and it will be interesting to search for it, even if you propose answering it at a later time; or the question doesn’t concern you at all and you can direct the questioner to someone who can help.