BY: ROB HOFFMAN
**This article is the first instalment of a weekly column that explores effective techniques of communication, persuasion, and self-help using a background of NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) to understand and influence the subconscious language patterns of the people around you, as well as your own mind. In a nut-shell, if you want to become a powerhouse of social skills, this column is for you.**
In my life I’ve gone through waves of fearless public speaking, followed by long droughts of paralyzing stage fright. Heart rate increases and the ability to speak is lost to a lack of breath and tight windless chest—it’s confusing when our body acts in a way that completely spits in the face of our intentions and best interests. The body-mind connect is a bit like an IKEA dining room set in this way: you may very well own the set, but until you learn how to assemble it, the parts will just sit in a messy heap in your living room.
There are two sides to every self: our internal selves that draw an ongoing map of where we wish to go, and our external selves that attempt to follow these directions. As anyone who has trouble public-speaking will contend, our external selves are not always great at following directions. The point of NLP is to sharpen the communication skills of our internal selves to prevent these directions from ever getting lost in translation.
The following technique from NLP pioneer, Richard Bandler, takes a little over five minutes to learn, and has personally saved my ass in innumerable meetings, speeches and seminars, leading me into a long prosperous river of confident public speaking.
The Movie Technique: “Since most problems are created by our imagination and are thus imaginary, all we need are imaginary solutions.” – Richard Bandler, founder of NLP.
When we watch a film and the protagonist falls on hard times, in the back of our minds, we can be fairly certain that by the end of the movie a solution will be reached and the protagonist will end up just fine. In some ways, our lives follow a similar pattern: though we face numerous problems, in the end we generally end up alright. You might recall a significant “problem” you had in high school that once seemed paramount, that now seems silly and unimportant. This realization about the nature of time and problems is at the heart of this technique.
Step 1: Think back to the earliest memory you can reach where you experienced the fear of public speaking. From this point in your mind, fast forward through your life and try to stop at four other times along the way when you experienced this fear. Take this group of memories and string them together in your mind to create a vivid movie starting at your first experience, and ending with an experience that you expect to have in the future—perhaps you have a meeting next week and you’re expected to speak.
If you don’t have a memory of public speaking, create a vivid imaginary situation that demonstrates the fear.
Step 2: Imagine that this movie you have just put together is frozen-still on a theatre screen, and you are in the audience looking up at the un-moving film.
Step 3: Imagine floating out of your body in the theatre, and up into the projector room where you can watch the version of you that sits in the audience. Start the movie on the screen, and watch as the version of you reacts with absolute terror. Notice how incredibly silly the version of you looks in the audience as you say things to yourself like, “that’s just downright embarrassing.” Laugh out-loud, even if it’s fake. Laughter triggers a flood of feel-good endorphins. Notice as your state begins to change in the face of your fear.
Step 4: Notice how, at the end of each scene, you walk away completely unscathed despite the fear you felt while talking in front of all those people. Let the film play out to the end and watch as once again, you are completely okay in spite of it all and your life continues as normal.
Step 5: Now float into the actual ending of the film and join your body with this newfound knowledge of the ridiculousness of your fear and how everything turned out all right in the end, in spite of it all. Now throw the film on rewind so that you quickly walk backwards through all of the experiences and so everybody talks in silly, high-pitched, re-wind voices.
Step 6: Once you get to the beginning of your movie, go back through the film and notice the difference in how you act now that you know the ending of the film where everything ends up alright. Notice how you can say whatever you want and still you always end up in the same place where everything is okay and at the end of the film after you’ve made your last speech, you walk away and continue life as normal.
Run through these steps a few times until you feel completely comfortable speaking publicly in your imagination.
Why this works:
As you read this, imagine yourself taking half of a big, juicy lemon and shoving the sour meaty interior into your mouth so that it touches the back corners of your tongue. Did you taste a hint of lemon? Did you make a sour-face? Did you salivate? The reason these things occur is because our mind works in visual images. Our mind often has difficulty distinguishing between the images in the real world and the ones we create in our mind. This is why athletes will visualize their success. This is also why running through this visual exercise in your mind will allow you to feel okay about public speaking in the real world.
Shattering the Ice Technique:
This second technique admittedly does not have to do with NLP, but it is incredibly effective. Shattering the ice, as you may have guessed, is like breaking the ice—just with a bigger audience. When I get on stage to make a speech, the first thing I will do is engage the crowd with a loud, funny, shocking, or disarming remark. This is called priming the audience. Personally, I like to say something that incorporates a curse-word to drop the barrier of formality and gain a level of comfort between me and the audience. For a more formal event, a clean-but-funny joke or quip will do the trick. The important thing is to start with a bang.
Why this works:
Stage fright often comes from the fear that we will be met with hostility from the audience, or perhaps they will think we are uninteresting and not worth listening to. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and a downwards spiral. However, if you can immediately get the audience laughing or engaged with what you are saying, it will feed an upwards spiral of increasing confidence. Starting your speech with a loud crash will break the state of your audience, and immediately tune them into what you are saying. If you run onto the stage with a lot of energy—even if it is false energy—it will set your speech in motion with the power of inertia: a speech in motion stays in motion.