by Daniel Kingsley
Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.
William Shakespeare (spoken by Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet)
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth
There is a famous teaching story in which an old Cherokee Indian chief is teaching his grandson about life.
He said, “A fight is going on inside me,” he told the young boy, “a fight between two wolves.
The Dark one is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The Light Wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you grandson…and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.”
The grandson ponders this for a moment and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee smiled and simply said, “The one you feed“.
I’m sharing this story with you right now because when we are speaking in public, we could say that there are two wolves fighting inside us too. One wolf is that of our nervousness, anxiety, worry, fear of our audience and their judgment. The other is the wolf of our joy in communication, our confidence, our generosity and our desire to share our message with those we’re speaking to. Just as in the story, which one wins is largely dependent on which one we choose to feed.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should completely ignore our anxiety. All feelings in us arise to send us messages, and it’s really important to listen to those parts of ourselves with kindness and compassion, and receive their messages, whilst still remembering that they are only parts of us. (But how to do that is a story for another day).
What I’d like to share with you today are two easy and powerful techniques for feeding the other wolf.
The first technique is astonishingly simple. Slow down. When we get nervous, we tend to speed up our words to try to fill the space. It’s almost as if we imagine by throwing enough words at the audience they won’t see our nerves. Unfortunately, it tends to have the opposite effect. It makes us feel more tense, and tends to signal our nervousness to those who are watching. This creates a vicious circle, by feeding the wolf of our anxiety.
The good news is this mechanism works both ways. Just as speaking more quickly makes us more tense, deliberately slowing down our speech actually starts to calm us down. You don’t need to slow your speech to a snail’s pace, just take 5% to 10% off your speaking speed (taking it from a little bit fast to something approaching relaxed or normal speed). This is a small change that makes a huge difference.
The underlying principle here is that of embodiment. This means that any way we can be in the world (whether they are ways that we want to be or ways that we don’t) has a shape or feeling in the body. The more we adopt that body shape or attitude, the more we will feel that way.
You may have noticed that speaking quickly and nervousness in the body tend to go together. Similarly speaking at a relaxed pace and a feeling of relaxation and confidence in the body also tend to belong together. By simply adopting the pace of someone who is relaxed and confident it will tend to make us feel more that way.
It may sound too simple to be true, but in my experience both as a speaker and a teacher of public speaking it works amazingly well. Give it a try next time you’re in front of an audience. Slow down your speaking just a little, allow yourself a few little pauses in between sentences to create paragraphs in your speaking and notice what a massive difference this makes.
By the way, audiences love it when you take pauses in between things you are saying, because it gives them a chance to catch up. (You know what you’re going to tell them, but they don’t know it yet and it really helps them to get a little processing time).
The second technique is even simpler. Adopt an attitude of being service to your audience. Instead of focussing on what you are worried might happen with your speech, how it could go wrong and how you could be poorly received by your audience, focus on what you would love to happen for them and why. Focus on why you are telling the audience what you want to tell them. This is especially easy if your message to the audience is one that is going to help them if they receive and understand it.
This is literally a technique of feeding the wolf you wish to win. By focussing on your wish to support and serve your audience, you stop worrying about yourself. This change of focus switches us from a mode of ego or personality (which is by default perpetually concerned or anxious) to a mode of presence (which is naturally generous and unfazed). We are invoking our heart, through our wish for good outcomes to happen for those we are speaking to, and this not only feeds the wolf of generosity and confidence but is a natural antidote to anxiety.
When we talk about “getting out of our own way” this is how to do it. The mind doesn’t do very well with negative commands, such as “stop worrying about yourself”. But it does very well indeed with positive objectives, such as “focus on how much your message may help others”. It’s also a lot more fun to speak from this place, and your enthusiasm will be infectious. If you’re having fun there’s a good chance your audience will be too!
So next time you’re standing in front of an audience and are concerned that the wolf of anxiety might be the one who wins, take a breath, slow down and speak from your heart. I think you’ll be delighted by the results.
As always, I love to hear your responses, do let me know your experiences in the comments below.