Get Out of Your Head!

            David is president of his own company which he built from the ground up. He speaks to large groups of employees at his satellite offices and is also invited to address meetings of his professional organizations from time to time. He's not afraid of public speaking; he's confident and entertaining and always receives positive feedback from his audiences.

            But in the middle of his talk, when he thinks he's moving along swimmingly, he'll suddenly experience hot flashes, light-headedness, a pounding heart, and forget what he's supposed to say next. He feels embarrassed, is sure the audience thinks he's incompetent, and while he manages to recover and get through the rest of his speech, he feels like a failure.

            It has happened so often that he now waits expectantly for the moment when he knows he's going to blow it, usually about halfway through his speech. He can feel himself tensing up, the blood rushing to his head, and try as he might to focus, he knows what's coming and can't seem to avoid it. What's wrong with him?  

            David has a syndrome I call Get Out Of Your Head! It's that moment in the speech when you suddenly stop focusing outward on what you're saying to the audience and instead begin to focus inward on how you're saying it. Did you make a mistake? Did you forget something important? Do they approve of you? Are you keeping them interested? Do they think you're a terrible speaker? Do they hate you? Do they wish you'd just shut up and sit down? You're firmly stuck in your head thinking about yourself instead of the audience.

            The mysterious part of it is you don't know why it happens. You'll be going along smoothly, telling them exactly what you want them to know, and all of a sudden something triggers you and boom! You're in your head, worrying about you instead of reaching out to them.

            It could be anything: the way the light shines on a glass, someone looking around the room but not at you, a sudden, unexpected noise. Or it could be that you've just said something differently than you expected to say it; you're thrown by the new thought or not sure of its validity; you've forgotten something important or garbled a phrase that you wanted to say perfectly. Or something else. Suddenly, instead of thinking about the information you want the audience to have, you're worrying that you're a terrible speaker or they don't like you, and you get the shakes.

            What to do? How to get out of your head and back to focusing on the audience?     

            Stop. Breathe. Take a sip of water if it's handy. Say to yourself, "It's not about me, it's all about them! It's all about them!" Repeat "It's all about them!" to yourself as many times as you can while you consult your notes and decide what to say next.    

            "It's all about them" is shorthand for what you're there to do.   

            Your job, when you're in front of an audience, is to give them a gift. That gift is your knowledge, which is what they came to hear. They really don't care what you look like or how you're delivering it, as long as it's clear, they can understand it, and they can take it home with them when they leave. They do want to learn from you. Your job is to make it easy for them to absorb and appreciate your wisdom.    

            If you have a particular speaking difficulty which bothers you, i.e., a heavy accent or a lisp, or you're not totally familiar with the language, etc., and you fear people won't understand you because of it, just speak more slowly than you normally would. The audience will get it. They're focused on what you're saying. They'll get used to an accent or other speaking anomaly within a minute or two and never notice it after that. As a matter of fact, there's probably someone in the audience with the same problem who'll admire your courage for not letting it stop you from speaking to crowds of people.   

            It's not about you, it's all about them. When you're focusing on them and the message you want to gift them with, you can't at the same moment be focusing on yourself. Our brains are made to think sequentially, only one thought at a time. So when we're focusing on them, it's impossible to think about ourselves.  

            Give your gift with all the enthusiasm and passion you can muster. Focus outward on them. That's the secret to getting out of your head!