A while back I came across a post by Kevin Getch. It’s a nice post about learning from his mistakes. It’s always great when experienced speakers admit they too have fails. Today, I want to discuss a suggestion at the end of his post that is … well, take a look:
If you’re feeling bold enough, this is my key to perfecting any presentation. Head to a busy coffee shop, set up everything you’d need for your presentation and deliver your speech as you would on the big day in front of everyone.
What? Wow! Now that takes confidence!
In all fairness to Mr. Getch, the quote is part of a larger picture. The heading directly above that text is “Practice Embarrassing Yourself”. His point is embarrassing things happen; if you are practiced with that feeling, you can just roll with it. In a sense, it isn’t so different than what I suggest in my last post, on distraction reactions.
Things happen. In reality, they happen quite often. They might be external events, circumstance, or caused by ourselves. Each has the potential to cause us personal, psychological discomfort, e.g. embarrassment. What matters is how we react internally to those situations.
Do you react openly, drawing (more) attention to it? Do you get get tripped up by it, loosing your way in the presentation? A big component of the fear of public speaking is a fear of embarrassing yourself, making a real possibility we’ll react poorly to such situations. Additionally, fear often makes us overly sensitive, such that even minor occurrences are perceived as highly embarrassing.
As Mr Getch points out, embarrassing situations are going to happen in some manner or another. They’ve happened to him. They’ve happened to me. You can’t change that, but you can change how you handle them. Experience speakers learn to be comfortable with embarrassment.
Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
Comfortable with uncomfortable is a popular concept at the moment. The concept has come into popular consciousness through extreme training regiments and events, like mud runs, with a strong tie to elite military units. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is about pushing one’s own boundaries.
Mr. Getch’s suggestion is exactly this, though a rather extreme example for a specific realm, public speaking. Is randomly setting up and presenting in a coffee shop going to be embarrassing? definitely. His suggestion is getting comfortable with embarrassing yourself, by purposefully creating a situation that should be embarrassing.
In a very real sense, this is one of the bases of Exposure Therapy, which therapists use to help treat people with clinical fears. You get comfortable with the thing you fear by gradual adjustment, created through repeated experience. The thing is, you don’t go to the top of the Eifel Tower on day one if you have a fear of heights. You work up to it. Similarly, the coffee shop presentation is not for beginners, you work up to it.
The result of training to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is a psychological boost when confronted with other uncomfortable situations. You are better equipped to deal with it, as you have repeated experience meeting similar challenges. The benefits trickle into the rest of your life.
Comfortable with Social discomfort
Get comfortable with social discomfort to improve your speaking. Embarrassing situations and other social discomfort happen, even to the best speaker; Mr. Getch was nice enough to share his personal experience. If you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you can change your own reaction. Instead of getting tripped up, you’ll be able to react appropriately. Eventually, you won’t even be embarrassed by the minor events that are bound to happen.
In a future post, we’ll introduce a collection of methods to get comfortable with being socially uncomfortable. Most of them are a lot more approachable than the coffee shop, so you can work up to it.
Got your own ideas to share on this? Share them with us below or via social media. We’ll include them.
Dr. Blom is a long time researcher in the VR field. He is the founder of Virtual Human Technologies, which applies VR and avatar technologies to human problems and helping better understand people. Virtual Orator exists largely because Dr. Blom wishes he had had such a tool instead of the 'trail by fire' he went through learning to speak in public.