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Something I always preach when teaching presentation skills is an idea I call "what gives you the right to speak?" This is where I challenge my clients about why they deserve to speak on their topic. When you understand why you deserve to speak about your subject clearly you end up with the unshakable self-belief which is necessary to present in a captivating way.
After I make the case for why this exercise is useful for any would be presenter, I have included a rant to show you my thought process about why I have the right to speak. It might be useful for you to see the chain of thinking which produces a firm self-belief. By reading my rant and seeing this thought process in action it will be easier for you to apply a similar chain of reasoning to make yourself feel confident in front of any audience.
The way I see it, my role when I am coaching people through presentation anxiety and stress is to be a mirror for them.
Let me explain.
When you are communicating and presenting, the world acts as a bullshit detector. People want to push back against you, to test your credibility and your belief in yourself. This is both natural and positive, it is not designed to hurt or hamper the person being tested but rather to make sure they are who they say they are.
A client might ask you why they should trust you, a coworker might challenge your opinion, Heck, one employer I know tells the salespeople he is thinking about hiring that they don’t have what it takes. Bluntly and borderline rudely. Unless prospective employees challenge him on his opinion they really don’t have what it takes to be a salesman!
That is his bullshit test, and we all have our version of it.
As a presentation coach, I see myself as being the personification of that bullshit test. This attitude is one of the best ways I have found to help my clients blow through any presentation anxiety they may have. By challenging them until they get clarity on why they have the right to talk about their subject they build real confidence in presenting.
Most of the time we are fed a line of reasoning that runs something like “You should feel inherently confident, it is something you are rather than something you have.”
I call bullshit.
The only thing that creates confidence is competence; having a reason to feel confident in a specific skill.
You wouldn’t feel confident boxing the heavyweight champ unless you had trained for years.
So why do most of us think that confidence can be made without practice and expertise when it comes to speaking about our topic?
It is lunacy.
My role as a coach is to help people put some legs under their beliefs, to add support to their beliefs like more legs add more support to a table.
The way I do this is by asking them "What gives you the right to speak?"
If you are reading this post, you are probably someone who understands the value of confidence when presenting and who wants to cultivate that unshakable confidence that every great speaker has had.
So please, remember that confidence comes from having, knowing, and being able to articulate what gives you the right to speak on your subject.
If anyone tells you that confidence is innate, they are either lying or misinformed.
To that end, here is what gives ME the right to talk on my subject (teaching young professionals how to be less stressed and anxious and more confident when communicating at work.)
A good format for this is going to be addressing what the naysayers along my journey have told me at one point or another. This is a good place to start to come up with your own personal reasons for feeling like an expert on your topic.
Objection: “You don’t have a degree”
A common objection which I faced early on (and still face from time to time) is the fact that I have no college degree, that I am a dropout.
I used to let this really get to me, this criticism made me doubt if what I had to say had any value. After all the story is still that college is 100% necessary. But this objection doesn't get to me anymore. Here is how I answer this objection when it crops up these days.
Stress management and good public speaking skills are taught in schools under the majors of psychology, philosophy, and most business degrees. When people ask me why I didn’t get a degree in one of these areas I like to respond with a question of my own, “what is more credible, a kid who took some classes on psychology and public speaking or someone who brought himself out of crippling anxiety which sapped his will to live, who has written a book on the science of body language, and who has given 100+ speeches in the last 3 years?”
That question is usually enough to shut people up.
If that is not enough to win the conversation I bring up the fact that I have helped most of the students I know in business majors and psychology majors to outline their speeches and to deal with their presentations. Even the people who are getting degrees that should make them good at mood management and at public speaking are turning to me because they recognize that their education is failing them.
Practice beats theory. Every time.
Without qualification, I believe that the classes these kids are going through fail to prepare them for the real world as far as presentation skills and emotional intelligence goes. They read studies to understand psychology but they never take the time to apply these studies to better their own lives. They take a public speaking class and are graded on a rubric of how many filler words they used. But when they leave the echo chamber of college, they are shocked to find that their audiences are no longer obligated to listen politely. They learn that technique alone fails them when they get stressed out and blank on what they were going to say. College is failing my generation when it comes to preparing us with a practical understanding of how to apply psychology and presentation skills to their professional life.
The reason why I am so pessimistic about how colleges teach these skills is because I noticed that even though I used talk to psych majors I was stunned at how poorly they were able to map what they were learning to improve their lives. That they might write papers on how to be persuasive and how to be happy but as a class, they were no more happy or influential than any of their peers, and neither were their supposedly expert teachers. I, and many in my generation are disillusioned with the way college prepares us for the workplace because the rapid rate of change in marketplace today is revealing many of these teachers for what they are. Armchair scholars.
We are in dire need of real practitioners.
I’ll be blunt here; I have nothing but disdain for those who think that a degree on psychology or taking a public speaking class in college is the only way, or the best way to be a great teacher in these topics. I cannot count the amount of psychology majors and communication majors who I have talked to who have a lack of passion for their degree and a lack of clarity about how they will be using it. Not to mention a lack of real world experience. I have a massive disrespect for the way colleges teach emotional intelligence and public speaking because I saw in my own life that real world practice speaking made me a better presenter than a 3.000$ university course on public speaking. Oh, and that practice was free.
I have nothing against college as a whole but I do see a real disconnect between what college purports to do (prepare you for the workforce) and the reality that soft skills are taught in a mediocre way or not at all. And emotional intelligence is the best predictor of success.
I may not have a college degree but I have put in 5x the time learning (and more importantly, applying) the ideas which college claims to teach. I know for a fact that my passion and borderline obsessive focus with the application of these heady and theoretical ideas around communication has made much more effective as a teacher and a speaker than any degree could have.
Real world experience trumps degrees in the art of communication and mood management.
Objection: “Do you have any certifications?”
A similar argument to the last one that people sometimes bring up when I tell them what I do is that I don’t have any certifications.
As funny as it seems, this accusation is one which I think is a lot more relevant than my lack of a degree. The reason being that even though less reputable in most peoples eyes, many certification programs on presentation skills and stress management techniques are more practical than university courses.
But the reality is that this accusation is just not true. I am a certified hypnotherapist (and yes, I understand the PR issue that hypnotherapy has because people imagine a stage hypnotist and not a hypnotherapist.)
The reality of becoming a certified hypnotherapist though is far from that. I went through close to 1.000 hours of training and a 700 page manual on the subject material in a tiny class of the instructor and 5 of us students. This in depth training had far more to do with becoming a full blown therapist than stage hypnotism. It yielded me a deep understanding of the mind, of personality, of relaxation techniques, and most importantly it gave me a good chunk of the tools I use not with my one on one coaching clients to help them have confidence and manage stress when presenting.
I firmly believe that through self-study and learning to translate the lessons of hypnotherapy to stress management around presentation skills I have more than enough accreditation.
Objection: “You are too young”
This quote encapsulates my counterargument to people thinking that my age is a hang up. I made up for my age by investing uninterrupted 60 hour work weeks against this one goal of managing mood to present better for the last 4 years straight. That is 12,480 hours of practice I have put into understanding mood management and presentation skills. I am a master at it, not because I am smart, but because of the fact that I am obsessive and have focused on just one thing for 4 years straight.
I have more hours of practice around this skillet than most people accumulate in a lifetime. And I am only just getting started.
I am a strong advocate that accelerated learning and really all learning comes from a blending of a white hot desire to learn, focus on where you are going to deploy your education in the world, and stakes, a reason why you HAVE to learn.
I made those things a part of my own learning process: I have the white hot desire to learn how to coach people past anxiety and stress and into confidence and captivating presentation skills. I used that white hot passion to make sure that every moment what I was learning was pointing me into my current reality of speaking on the generation gap and how it is affecting communication skills in the workplace. And most of all, I set the stakes for myself. I dropped out, I put my education on my own shoulders; if I didn’t learn what it took to coach and to speak intelligently on this topic then I would fail.
And because I had to learn fast, I did.
College kids might have a curriculum to follow and a sheet of paper when they leave but when it comes right down to it, often they struggle to connect their experience to a real world outcome, don't value their education, and don’t have to master the information, just maintain a C average
Hell, my college classmates had a running joke that “D’s get degrees!”
If I get a D level in my self-education people laugh me out of my sales pitch. If a psych student gets a D he gets a diploma.
Ultimately I overcame my youth by deploying focus, obsession, and the knowledge that my livelihood was at stake unless I mastered my material.
Objection: “I can’t see the ROI of what you do”
There is no real measurable return on investment of people managing their emotions and presenting more captivatingly in general but we know that people in good moods sell better and perform better. There really is an ROI for young professionals to be captivating presenters and manage their moods out of anxiety and into a hypersocial state. This ROI just takes a little more digging to discover
Objection: “You are not an expert, you combine too many schools of thought in your coaching”
I will be honest, when it comes to teaching young professionals how to be less stressed, less anxious, and more calm and captivating I take a varied approach. I pull from many different disciplines, I will quote truth wherever I find it.
People claim that this makes me less of an expert than those college kids who got a degree in social psychology for example.
To this I have to reply that although I am not a deep expert in any one school of thought (other than hypnotherapy) I am an expert in providing the end result that I aim for.
Ultimately the difference is in what you want an expert in. If you want an expert in the area of social psychology then hire a graduate. If you want an expert in getting results in the area of stress management and of captivating speaking then go with the guy who set out to get good at providing an end result.
Objection: “Young professionals have always been stressed, this is nothing new”
One common and dismissive statement I get is that I really have no right to speak because every young generation has had issues with stress and anxiety when they enter the workplace. While this is true, my message that we are facing an anxiety and stress epidemic among young professionals is still right because that demographic is the most anxious demographic in the last 80 years, young professionals have always been stressed, but never to this level.
Objection: “The tools you use to help people manage their mood are too strange”
I will be honest, the tools I use to help my clients are largely wierd, they are esoteric meditation ideas. Tips on public speaking from ancient Greece. Breathing techniques. Memorization tools. Visualization. All added to a typical curriculum to teach the basics.
People think that these are airy fairy or unscientific practices. they think that I have goofy exercises for fun factor alone.
Nothing could be further from the truth, all of the exercises I teach people are backed up with a sound backing in psychology and physiology. I know how the way we use our body and the way we use our mind make a massive impact on the way we present ourselves socially. And although on the suface some of my coaching techniques and advice looks like positive thinking or oddball physical exercises, just under the surface is the understanding that when we get ourself into a great headspace and manage our mood throuhg our body language then we are able to have access to the full array of our social skills rather than being stressed and as a result socially uninteligent.
Objection: “People skills are something you are born with”
A funny comment I often get is that people skills are something you are born with. Being a presenter is innate. That chain of reasoning.
Do these people think michael jackson was born moonwalking?
I throw this point back in thier face by telling them my own story, born an only child, learned to talk to adults, ended up super anxious and shit socailly, and now I am good at presenting and people say i am charismatic one on one. Ill let them be the judge.
Objection: “You used to be stressed and anxious, who are you to teach anyone?”
One objection which an acquaintance of mine brought up a few months ago is that I used to be anxious and bad with people.
I used to be the type of guy who really struggled just being in any social environment let alone being the guy at the front of the room who everyone is focusing on and judging.
In much less polite words he said something along the lines of :
“You used to be anxious, a social idiot. You are the last person who should be teaching presentation skills and people skills.”
I reacted with some nasty and scathing words of my own (I am not proud of that) but with the benefit of a few months of hindsight this is what I would say to him and anyone who thinks that having suffered from stress, anxiety, and poor people skills disqualifies you as a teacher:
“Most talent, most skill, most ambition comes out of a deep pain. People who have suffered tend to either quit on life or do whatever it takes to overcome the challenge which is facing them. As someone who has overcome that pain point and who has the emotional drive to learn how to do it, there is no one better qualified than me to teach this. The reason I am so good at what I do now is that I had so much pain back then. ”
I am aware of how narcissistic this post may come off. Trust me. But the sentiment from which I am writing it is not to brag, but to make a dramatic point.
If you don’t have a very strong belief in yourself and the ability to brag about what you are good at then it will be very, very hard to become a great presenter. Confidence at the levels that is necessary to be a good presenter borders on arrogance.
If you are going to be a presenter who is confident, hell a person who is confident you have to know what you want to be confident in, and why you deserve that confidence.
So two questions before you go:
- What idea do you want to present confidently?
- Why do you deserve to speak?
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