The idea of taking baby steps has been around for ages – for as long as babies, actually – but when you apply that idea to how to overcome shyness, taken up by personal growth writer Mark Harrison, it helps to know what those steps might be. The indefatigable Lisa Hoover at LifeHacker zeroed in on this point in her post about Harrison’s article, noting that one tactic for practicing your public speaking might be to “ask a question from the audience during your next company presentation, or vow to say hi to two new people at the next party you attend. It’s okay to be nervous—baby steps.”
Harrison goes well beyond the “imagine everyone in their underwear” trick to explore ways to build your confidence day to day. Repeating in the shower every morning that “you’re the man” may seem silly (especially if a person within earshot outside the bathroom asks later who you were talking to) but it goes to Harrison’s idea of using your subconscious to pump yourself up.
When it comes to public speaking, it helps to remember that your audience is going to respond to how seriously you take yourself, and Harrison observes that “shy people often take things far too seriously. So what if you make a mistake, if your voice trembles, if you forget your lines? So what if nobody laughs at your jokes? Is it going to kill you? I doubt it. Lighten up and keep things in perspective.”
Lightening up is easier said than done, but think about the presentations you’ve most admired. They probably haven’t been perfect, and somewhere along the line the speaker was probably a bit self-deprecating. Think about the whole notion of being up at the podium and your next thought suddenly going out of your head. Rather than putting your head down and standing in silence of twenty seconds, you might say, “Wow, my brain just shut down, give me a second to re-initialize” if you’re speaking to a techie crowd. Tweak it to your audience. You might change the line to “My mind just took a short vacation” if you’re addressing a roomful of travel agents.
You get the idea. Lightening up has almost nothing to do with the charisma of the speaker and almost everything to do with admitting your lapses to your audience – it’s something they can relate to, and thus an excellent way to connect with them.
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