The phrase ‘old habits die hard’ exists for a reason. Especially when it comes to confident public speaking.
Making the decision to actively change your communication style can be daunting. Even so, you’re ready to commit to making a change. Maybe you’ve reached this point on your own. Or a subtle suggestion from a colleague or friend that did the trick. Or a not-so-subtle suggestion from your boss. Regardless, you’re committed to doing what it takes to achieve your new public speaking style.Yet undoing old habits is difficult. And changing how you speak when speaking publicly can feel counterintuitive to the way you’ve always known.
So how can you overcome these uncomfortable sensations? And avoid them derailing you from achieving your communication goal? Acknowledge that different doesn’t equal bad.
A few weeks ago, a quirky client with a goofy sense of humor was preparing for a high-stakes pitch to potential investors. I encouraged her to employ a more direct and confident tone. She expressed concern that delivering her pitch in this manner felt “false”. And what’s more, seemed imprudent. Why would she want to purposely exclude the part of her personality that she found ingratiated her to many people?
After successfully explaining how self-deprecating quips and unrehearsed comic relief could easily backfire(!) we spoke at length about finding comfort in the discomfort. In other words, communicating differently in order to effectively get what you want may feel like “not being yourself” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Awkward sure. But an important indicator that you’re actively working on implementing the change you set out to achieve.
Maybe you are often complimented on your warm and easy-going nature. Or lauded for your ability to quietly and deeply focus on a task. Yet these same characteristics that make you ‘you’ may not serve you when public speaking. And letting go of them can be uncomfortable.
Most detrimental public speaking habits tend to rise to the surface making them easier to identify and correct.
Some that come immediately to mind: overuse of hand gestures. Employing unnecessary fillers such as, “like” and “sort of. Formulating a response before the other person has finished sharing their thought. But for many of us, beneath these superficial facets of our communication style live characteristics deeply rooted to our sense of self. Which can be linked to powerfully potent feelings such as fear and our sense of self-worth. Examples include the sound of your own voice. Making direct eye contact to invite your audience’s gaze. The cadence and pace of your speech. Even something as simple as standing up straight when speaking publicly can trigger feelings of intense vulnerability.
In his recent article for Forbes, “Communicating Effectively In Times of Change,” David Villa shines a light on the importance of a strong sense of self when working to lead external change. “I believe that all great leaders possess an understanding of their own behavior [and an] understanding of their own thoughts and feelings. I feel strongly that the same holds true with internal, self-propelled change as well.
Embracing the sound of your voice as it fills the room, slowing down and giving your audience time to absorb your ideas - can trigger discomfort. Reminding yourself that this discomfort is not bad but quite the opposite is important. It’s proof that you are doing the hard work required to replace longstanding bad habits with good ones and are taking control of the impression you want to make.