A very special anniversary

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11th March.

I looked at the calendar and thought: ‘something important happened on that day’.

I couldn’t figure out what it was until I checked my work calendar. Exactly a year ago, I organised my first ever public speaking session at my company!

I didn’t plan it.

It wasn’t my idea.

A senior employee, who attended my series of a digital marketing-related training that I delivered at my company’s offices,  approached me after the last session.

-Why don’t you teach us all how you do it?

-But.. I thought I just did! – I replied and smiled slightly worried.

-No, I mean teach us how to speak so comfortably in public!

I was surprised, flattered and a bit doubtful when I first heard it. But, at the same time, my brain immediately started imagining what I could do to in order to make it happen.

-I guess I could! – I replied.

The next day, in order not to chicken out from this idea, I created an event and invited the whole company to a 2-hour session that was due to take place in just over 2 weeks time.

I started preparing myself by writing all the possible things I could share.

But as I was doing it, the chimp in my head (that is the emotional part of my brain) realised the potential magnitude of this task and I got very anxious.

I was just about to attempt to persuade my work colleagues that speaking with confidence in front of an audience is possible and, if practised, can even become enjoyable!

And I, the person who was still nervous before each new speech, was to stand there and make it sound easy!

It wasn’t just about learning how to speak. To make an impact, this training had to be about learning how to express yourself freely, telling the world who you are, what’s your story and what you know!

Who was I to do such a thing?

Did I know enough about it myself?

Did I have the power to convince anyone to try?

“But what if they think that I am full of myself?”- my chimp was definitely not helping out with this task.

I knew I had to go back to working on myself. On my own confidence!

I went back to reading my books on this subject, I watched loads of videos on Youtube from Stanford and Harvard University professors, motivational speakers, through to doctors and spiritual leaders.

A week before the session I already had 25 people signed up for the training and then the adrenaline hit really hard…

I read more, researched more and wrote more of what I would like to say because that was taking me away from my anxious and unhelpful thoughts.

It got to the point that I even got myself a waterproof notepad and took notes of videos that I watched while taking a bath. Seriously, I still have it and highly recommend it! 🙂

I also knew that just reading a book, watching a video or attending a lecture wouldn’t get anyone to speak.

This training couldn’t be as simple as showing some slides and telling my story. It had to be done in a way that our scared brains would react in a courageous way!

We had to practice speaking!

11th March arrived.

I stood in front of all these people who gathered in a small room. My mouth was dry, my hands were shaking, my breath was shallow.

I told them I would share my story and my speaking tips but we were also going to practice speaking.

I could see the fear in their eyes. They didn’t expect it and they definitely didn’t look forward to it!

And then.. something beautiful happened.

I realised that all of these people decided to participate because they trusted that I could teach them something useful.

My mind decided to switch its attention from my thoughts to the thoughts of my audience.

My heart followed applying the same system to feelings.

Somehow all the right words came to my mouth and I said much more than I thought I would. Fo 2 hours we were all operating on the same wave length. We smiled, we laughed, we shared the same emotions, we practice speaking and… we all had a great time! 

I cried that night from the overwhelming feeling of gratefulness for this moment in my life. I realised that by overcoming my own fear I gave something important to others.

Ever since that day, we have been meeting on regular basis to practice our skills by presenting 5-minute speeches where anyone has a chance to share their thoughts on any subject as long as its at least slightly related to work. The audience plays an important role in this too because after each speech everyone has to give the presenter some positive feedback.

Why only positive?

Because our brains are experts in finding negatives themselves and most of the time we know very well what we did wrong. However, it’s what we do right that is sometimes hard for ourselves to pinpoint.

If you hear from others what you do right, what made them listen, what is your strength, you can use that to master your further speeches.

It needed, however, to be done in a safe atmosphere which is not often easy to achieve at workplaces. But boy did we do it.. So far, I heard almost 20 stories during which we cried, laughed, felt intrigued, inspired and educated. We realised how much talent and knowledge lies within us and we felt even more driven to do more!

A few months later I delivered another training session on this subject and I can truly say that both the training and the practice sessions are changing my life constantly!  I really believe that they help us built trust within the company, they make us all grow personally and professionally.

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March is a very special month for me also for another reason. Four of those people who attended the training are going abroad this month to present for the first time in their life at a business conference related to our industry.

They go there to look their fear in the eyes and to show the world who they are. Because they told themselves THEY CAN!

And the rest will be history 🙂

Think Yourself to Speaking Well

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I have recently finished reading a little but powerful book.

It’s called ‘As a Man Thinketh’ and it was published in 1903 by a British writer James Allen. The book is less than forty pages long but on every single page it sends a very powerful and clear message – learning how to manage your thoughts will put you in more control of your life and help you accomplish the things that are important to you.

I really believe that we are much more than what we think we are. By simply learning how to choose more positive and empowering thoughts and rejecting those that makes us feel scared, unworthy and weak, we can become more confident in our abilities.

The author compares our minds to a garden. Whether cultivated or neglected, things will grow in them. If gardens are cultivated and kept free from weeds, flowers and fruit grow. If neglected, weeds will start taking over and no seed will grow.

Looking after the garden requires self-discipline and practice. The more time you spend doing it, the better you become at it, the easier it gets. However, hard work is required right from the start.

It’s very easy to get nervous before the speech. All the natural fears of unknown, failure and being rejected kick in with twice the power.

I try my best to not allow myself to think negatively about the upcoming, arranged speaking events. Whenever the discouraging thoughts somehow manage to find the way into my brain, I quickly find the ways of distracting them with something more empowering – that is, for instance, reminding myself about the amount of time spent preparing for the talk, imagining the best possible outcome -seeing myself delivering an amazing and powerful talk or recalling all the other successful speaking experiences that I had in the past.

As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking. To put away aimlessness and weakness, and to begin to think with purpose, is to enter the ranks of those strong ones who only recognise failure as one of the pathways to attainment; who make all conditions serve them, and who think strongly, attempt fearlessly, and accomplish masterfully.

Every action starts with a thought. The first step to becoming a successful public speaker is to decide to become one.

Despite your fears.

 

The Most Beautiful Song About the Fear of Speaking

 

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Emeli Sande: Read All About It

Emeli Sande “Read All About It “

You’ve got the words to change a nation
But you’re biting your tongue
You’ve spent a life time stuck in silence
Afraid you’ll say something wrong
If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?

So come on, come on
Come on, come on

You’ve got a heart as loud as lion’s
So why let your voice be tamed?
Maybe we’re a little different
There’s no need to be ashamed
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows
So stop hiding it away

Come on, come on

I wanna sing, I wanna shout
I wanna scream ’til the words dry out
So put it in all of the papers,
I’m not afraid
They can read all about it
Read all about it, oh

[…]

Yeah, we’re all wonderful, wonderful people
So when did we all get so fearful?
Now we’re finally finding our voices
So take a chance, come help me sing this

I wanna sing, I wanna shout
I wanna scream ’til the words dry out
So put it in all of the papers,
I’m not afraid
They can read all about it
Read all about it, oh

Why Are We So Afraid To Sing in Public?

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Apparently, I used to be able to sing.

I was recognised at school as the one with a wide vocal range and was asked to join the school’s choir. Most of the members of my family are good and confident, casual singers therefore, it probably wasn’t a surprise for my parents that I also had that ability. While at the choir, I took part in a couple of competitions and we even won some awards.  However, this didn’t come easy to me. Whenever during our rehearsals I was asked to sing a solo, I felt extremely shy, self-conscious and nervous and most of the times, because of all these negative feelings, I would end up singing out of tune and laugh nervously.

This reoccurring laugh was making my coach think that I wasn’t serious about signing and there came a point during my ‘signing career’ when I was no longer asked to do solos at rehearsals. During the school times, I never actually sang a solo in front of the audience. And that’s despite the fact that somewhere deep inside I always dreamt about doing so.

This fear that I would end up laughing uncontrollably or sound very awkward prevented me from even trying to sign solos at the karaoke competitions that used to be extremely popular in my home town in Poland. I didn’t mind signing in a group (only after specific amount of alcohol hit my blood stream) but whenever I would be asked to stand up to sing I would avoid it like a fire.

Just over a year ago, my friend organised a karaoke party at one of our local Chinese restaurant in the UK. Chinese karaokes are different than Polish. Polish ones usually happen in a pub and you stand right in the middle of the premises and have a large and not very understanding (to say the least) audience. If they don’t like it, they will definitely show it since my nation has a great tendency of expressing especially negative emotions in a very straightforward way. 🙂 In contrary, if you want to organise Chinese-style karaoke, you hire a small, private room and the only audience that listens to you are your friends.

I didn’t drink that night but since most of the people that I was with were hesitant to sing, I somehow decided to take the microphone in my hand…

I sang one of my all-time favourite songs ‘Don’t speak’ by No Doubt (yeah, I know! Funny choice of a title for someone who encourages people to speak! ).

I closed my eyes and started signing..

There was something absolutely amazing in hearing my little, shy voice in this tiny room after so many years! I started very quietly but soon realised that, for my ears, most of the notes sounded fine. I increased the volume slightly…

I actually sat throughout the whole song in the corner of the room as I couldn’t stop my knees from shaking and had big goose bumps on my skin. I was so surprised to see that the longer I went for, the more confidently I sang and the more smiles I saw on my friends’ faces.

I suddenly found myself smiling too! I was starting to have fun and the moment I realised it, I felt pure happiness! I even got little ovation when I finished which was amazing and made me blush like my nation’s favourite veggie – fresh beetroot 😉

Someone chose the next song and asked for a partner to sign it with. It was Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and, to my complete surprise, I found myself running towards our little stage. When the first notes hit, I started dancing uncontrollably (yeah, I can look a bit mad when I do that!) and singing my heart out. I absolutely loved it!! It is fair to say that this was one of the most liberating experiences in my life!

I smile when I write this as it’s one of those moments in my life that I will never forget. Those unforgettable moments are usually the ones when you decide that your fear will no longer stop you from doing something!

I know that majority of people don’t like signing in public. Yet, we sign our throats out in the car or in the shower! How come we can do that?

Because there is no one to judge us therefore we know we can’t be hurt!

We watch the singing competitions such xFactor or the Voice (come on, admit it!) because these shows are about pure self-expression and making your dreams come true. Don’t we all want that in our careers and private lives?

So why not many people go and get it?

I know why I didn’t.

I avoided singing in front of people because I was afraid to be judged. I was scared that I will not hit all the notes (read – not be perfect) and because of this, I would sound silly and embarrass myself.

The same fear stopped me from public speaking as I described in my initial blog post.

Most of us like to do things in which we are experienced or have a knowledge off. The things that we are familiar with. This increases the chance of making less mistakes and be as close to perfection as possible.

In any public speaking situation there is always an element of uncertainty – be it a question asked from the audience that we weren’t prepared for answering, the possibility that you will forget what to say, unexpected wardrobe malfunction or failure of presenting equipment.

What if we accepted that uncertainty is part of our life because it helps us learn new things about ourselves?

What would happen if we let our guards go and allow ourselves to fully express who we are and accept that perfection is not the ultimate goal?

I dare to say that we would most likely have a ball of our life!

Self-expression has many forms- laughing laud, dancing without feeling awkward, expressing your opinion (however original it might be) or perhaps openly showing your true emotions to another human being.

I believe that the real growth is about discovering our true selves and expressing it to the world. And the only way to do so is by challenging our fears and dancing with them rather than allowing them to limit us. They will probably never disappear as our brain is 2 million years old and is a master in constantly searching for danger to help us survive. But we can learn how to manage them!

Imagine what would happen if you did learn how to fight your brain’s primitive instincts and push your thoughts towards more positive, liberating thoughts?

I am absolutely certain that you would have a ball everyday of your life! 🙂

Why I am Not Emu?

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Speaking in front of a public has always made me nervous. Whenever I had to present something, make a comment, ask a question or participate in a brainstorming session, I would feel anxious and self-conscious. I was worried that people wouldn’t find what I was saying interesting, original, clever, worthy and/or funny therefore, in order to avoid embarrassment,  I would often refrain myself from speaking.

This overwhelming and disturbing feeling accompanied me during my whole teenage life and the majority of the first 10 years of my adulthood. Knowing that I had to speak publicly about something, would always cause me sleepless nights and countless negative thoughts, whereas on the day I would be blushing, sweating, shaking and breathing in a very loud and shallow way. My heart would pound so strongly that I often imagined someone getting hit by it straight in their face! Now that would be an interesting view.. 😉 On top of this, many times, few moments before speaking I almost fainted.

I always imagined how nice would it be if I could dig myself a hole and hide my head there… I wanted to bury my head in the sand just like, according to the popular belief, Emu does to avoid danger rather than choosing to face the reality.

Whilst this fear somehow didn’t stop me from finishing university with very good grades, trying to build a business career became a much bigger issue! I knew that in order to show to my employers, clients, work colleagues and, most importantly, to myself, that I can bring great ideas and solutions I had to do something about this silly feeling of anxiety and fear.

I knew it was irrational – there was no real danger to me! No one would shoot/eat/harm me if I did it wrongly. Our primitive ancestors only felt fear if they knew that the real life-threatening danger was coming! Their brain was then starting to produce high levels of adrenaline in order to make them react quicker and save their life.

So I thought – what if my fear, just like my ancestors’ fear could be turned into greater things? Something that would make me think quicker and act faster in public situations?

It sounded surreal at first but imagining it felt great!

In fact, it did feel so good that I decided to challenge my brain by learning everything that there was about this subject!

I don’t personally know or am aware of another person who would read/watch/listen to the same amount of materials on public speaking, social psychology, emotional intelligence, persuasion, confidence and self-belief as I did ever since I made a decision that I had to change. I spent now almost 10 years gathering as much knowledge on this matter as possible and can proudly say that, as a result, for the last 3 years I have been working as an international trainer empowering people through knowledge to do greater things in their career.

3 years ago I made a huge step to put all my knowledge gained into practice and what followed was a dream come true. Nothing that I have done in my business life brings me more satisfaction than what I am doing right know and that is – teaching! Knowing that your hard work on mastering the chosen subject helps someone be better at what they do is a feeling hard to replace with anything else. And to know that I wouldn’t achieve that if I decided to bury my head in the sand instead of speaking up..

This, however, doesn’t mean that the fear is no longer present in my life. Far from it. The knowledge that I gained  helped me learn how to manage the fear so that it can no longer stop me from doing the things that I want to do!

What I also learnt is that emus in fact don’t bury their heads in the ground when faced with danger! This was a myth. When faced with dangerous situation emus put their heads very close to the ground so that they can closely and carefully observe the situation and react accordingly to what ‘s observed – often outperforming their enemy by far!

This blog is for people who just like me, don’t want to be like an Emu from the myth but instead, behave like the real one. And since you are here, you must have already made your decision about this. The question is what you are going to do next! My suggestion would be to join me on my continuous journey of learning as much as possible about becoming who you are meant to become!

Despite all your fears!