Matthew Cossolotto believes that it is time to banish fear about public speaking.
And one night, the Lord said to Paul, in a vision, “Have no fear, but speak and do not keep silent.” Acts 18:9
Public speaking and joy. Together at last. Really? Is such an unlikely union even possible? My enthusiastic answer is a resounding yes! In fact, I believe this is the perfect time for my new book The Joy of Public Speaking, because fear has ruled long enough. And that’s very good news for you and your audiences.
But if you’re like the vast majority of people, the very suggestion that there could be joy in public speaking sounds like an oxymoron. A contradiction. For many people, the mere idea of public speaking elicits emotions of anxiety, trepidation and outright fear.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld tells a joke that adroitly captures the widespread fear of public speaking. Citing studies that say most people rank public speaking as their #1 Fear and death as Fear #2, Seinfeld concludes that when attending a funeral, “the average person would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy”.
Cue nervous laughter. Actually, Seinfeld slightly overstates the case. Chalk it up to comedic license. In point of fact, public opinion surveys confirm that most people rank public speaking as one of their top fears, along with spiders, snakes and death itself. And because so many speakers suffer from some degree of stage fright, they often inflict their agitation and discomfort on their audiences.
I believe speakers and audiences have suffered enough. In my new book, I shatter traditional, fear-inducing mindsets and misconceptions about speaking to audiences. My goal is not merely to inform or educate. I’m not trying to change the minds of readers. I hope to blow their minds. One of my maxims is: There’s no such thing as public speaking. There’s only speaking. Talking. Having a conversation. Remember that when you speak in public you’re not performing brain surgery on stage.
You’re not juggling sharp knives and buzzing chain saws. You’re just speaking. Chill. Although we conventionally call it ‘public’ speaking, I urge you to avoid thinking of it as such. If you avoid slapping that fear-inducing label on it, you will begin to play the mind game to win. And you’ll give joy a chance.
Mental Jujitsu and joy
The path to joy starts with a liberating mindset shift, an empowering act of mental jujitsu. The term ‘jujitsu’ is defined as ‘the gentle art’ or ‘the gentle technique’. With jujitsu, you manipulate the opponent’s force against him or her instead of confronting that force with your own. I like referring to the joy of speaking as ‘mental jujitsu’ because it implies a gentle way of redirecting the fear of public speaking by thinking of it differently. You don’t attack the fear head-on. Instead, you use your head and outmanoeuvre it psychologically. You gently outsmart it.
After all, speaking is something most of us do many times a day, with friends, colleagues and loved ones. And we do so without a trace of fear, trepidation or anxiety. In fact, most people actually enjoy speaking, engaging in conversation, exchanging ideas verbally. When you shift your mindset about speaking to audiences, when you begin to think of it as simply speaking, talking, you will begin to feel the heavy, foreboding pangs of fear recede, replaced by the lightness of delight and joy.
And joyful speakers, both public and private, know that joy is a two-way street. It’s contagious. When you speak from a place of comfort, ease, authenticity, and joy, your listeners respond with appreciation. Something wonderful happens when you share joy with an audience: You feel it in return. Maya Angelou was right. People probably won’t remember what you said; they will remember how you made them feel. All speakers and leaders should heed that message.
The ability to stand up and speak with confidence to audiences of all sizes is a widely recognized leadership and success skill. My book and my PodiumPower! workshops offer powerful mindset shifts, profound insights and practical tips that will help experienced speakers pack punch, personality and presence into their presentations.
But my mission is also to assist those hobbled by fear and anxiety to find their voices, share their stories, and reach their full potential – on and off the podium. The joy of public speaking does not stop at the podium’s edge; it spills over into all facets of life.
There is joy in being heard and making a difference in the world. I hope all speakers will succeed in turning stage fright into stage delight. So I issue the following call to action: speakers of the world, delight!
About the author
Matthew Cossolotto is a former NATO speech-writer. His new book – The Joy of Public Speaking – has been published in October. Matthew conducts public speaking workshops and other Personal Empowerment Programs (PEPTalks) in Brussels and beyond.