Archive: April, 2012

Post from Transformation Tom: Understand that Success is Possible – Chapter “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-Speaking Guide”

Posted by tomdowd - April 20, 2012 - News
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Understand that Success is Possible

Here’s a phrase I teach often: “It is not bragging if it is a fact.” The fact that it took me over twenty years in the workforce to have someone provide, on record (written in my annual performance appraisal), a positive comment about my communication skills gives me the right and obligation to stand on the mountaintop screaming that I now have the skills and confidence to be an effective communicator. You will learn that a person conveying a message does not automatically have the respect and trust of the audience. It must be earned. Part of earning this trust and respect is building credibility with that audience. My intention in this chapter is to build my credibility with you, the audience, by sharing information that will enable you to get to know me and understand who I am as a communicator and leader.

I went to the University of Delaware. On my first day of freshman orientation, I was told I needed to choose a major and “undecided” was not one of the options. My major could change over time, they said, but I had to at least commit to something. I like to say that I picked my major alphabetically. There was no money in Anthropology, so that was out. I never like dissecting a frog, so Biology was not an option. Everyone was in Business, and I wanted to be a little different, so I chose Communication. It didn’t hurt that the female-to-male ratio was rumored to be forty to one (the truth was closer to twenty to one, but it didn’t seem to help my love life in college, anyway).

Being a painfully shy and introverted individual had the potential to hold me back personally and professionally. I had to take action for myself if I wanted any success in the real world. I was given an early lesson, by being told I had to select a major. I was being forced to take action if I wanted to develop myself. I luckily selected a major that would become a focal point for the rest of my life as I struggled to grasp, improve, and finally sharpen my communication. I am thankful for the choice, even if it still took many more years to gain the confidence to become a master.

My specialty in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication taught me the importance of personal interaction. Both in society and at work, success comes to those who communicate effectively. I had a drive to succeed and saw spurts of success; however, I didn’t see the success at the speed I would have wanted. The delayed success was due to my inability to sharpen the skills I had and develop the ones bursting to come out.

I could put two sentences together; in fact, I could put two, three, or eighteen sentences together without a breath. As an introvert, I found that I tried to say everything necessary as quickly as possible in the hope that I would be done as soon as possible. Needless to say, I lacked key communication skills, like knowing the audience or learning to be clear. Having a communication degree did not in itself make me an effective communicator.

After college, my early professional successes were inconsistent. I started on the phones in a collections call center. My shyness was not going away, and I felt it would be better if I didn’t have to interact face to face. Except, somewhere, I must have forgotten about the daily interactions with my peers and management. Performance-wise, I achieved decent results and my confidence increased with my ability to speak to customers I didn’t have to see. My ability to confidently speak face-to-face to my peers and management team, however, was awkward at best. As long as my numbers spoke for me, I didn’t think I needed anything else.

My results did speak for themselves enough to land me a management position, in which I was responsible for leading people who worked on the phones. This was the beginning of a roller coaster ride in success. My inability to effectively connect with people who worked for me and for whom I worked left my confidence shot. I couldn’t assertively communicate, let alone give my team the assurance that they were in good hands. Unfortunately, my drive to succeed far outweighed my ability to target specific opportunities. Every time I was knocked down, I worked twice as hard to get back up. I was demoted twice in my corporate life and changed positions often.  Sometimes, the frequent positions changes were because I was wanted for my knowledge or skillset, while other times because the company needed to move me on because of my derailing behavior. I was a hard worker, but did not always work smart.

What I didn’t realize early on was that I needed a career coach. Objective people were ready to give me advice, but I was not proactive enough to ask for it and I was too defensive to accept it. My introverted behavior did not let enough people get to know the true me. They saw only the surface me. I was a hard driven, dedicated individual who had trouble sending and receiving messages. My overall success was stagnating and possibly moving in the wrong direction.

I have now worked at one of the largest financial institutions in the United States for over twenty years. I have been in a variety of roles, ranging from people management to administration, and just about everything else in between. Within the last six years, my company was bought, faced the global recession, and an announcement of significant future job cuts. Considering how internally focused I was, it took me far too long to realize that I had to be my own career coach. I learned that career effectiveness and professional development came through a proactive approach and a desire to improve. With the potential ramifications of the macroeconomics swirling around me, I started to realize that I had no choice. I needed help.

Once the choice was made to take a more proactive approach to improve myself, I significantly improved my ability to communicate up, to communicate down, and to communicate to peers and business partners. Confidence was gained in my ability to network, with that self-confidence bubbling over in my presentation skills. I was beginning to take an active leadership approach, which in turn made a difference in the businesses I oversaw and interacted with.

Action had to be taken so I was not left behind. I didn’t want to hide and hope when key employment decisions were made. I wanted to do more than survive; I wanted to thrive. My communication skills were my Achilles heel, and I needed to fix them. You many not believe the extent of my opportunities, so I thought I would share some examples of communication-specific quotes directly from more than twenty years of my performance appraisals:

“Tom needs to be more concise with his communication style. He needs to ensure he understands his audience and his ability to adapt based on who he is interacting with.”

“[Tom needs to] ask questions to ensure a full understanding.”

“Position ideas with your audience in mind…need to be more confident in presentations to senior management; don’t second guess-self.”

“Avoid shutting down when others don’t agree with you.”

There were far too many years of running on a treadmill of feedback without jumping at my main opportunities: communication, leadership, and confidence. These are the skills needed most in the business world! Maybe my problem was that I didn’t always believe the feedback; as a communication major, I believed the skills were already there. Maybe the skills were simply being overlooked somehow or not accurately being assessed.

It finally began to sink in that I would never advance—or that my job might actually be on the line—if I didn’t take steps to improve. I still took the slow train to improvement; but at least I got onboard. The theme: I had to finally cross a threshold and break myself out of my comfort zone; I needed to get past my trepidation. Baby steps were taken toward the process of improvement, but at least I was moving in the right direction. Even with a slow process, there was momentum. Once I saw my actions begin to generate praise and increased responsibility, I went on a mission to proactively grasp the most effective ways to improve my communication and leadership skills. Although no two paths are the same for any individual, I thought I would share the actions taken that made a difference in my career.

  • I found some trusted mentors.
  • I became a mentor (shockingly, teaching others reinforced what I needed myself).
  • I started a networking routine to meet with senior leaders I didn’t know.
  • I gained courage and forced myself to ask key development questions in one-on-one settings and group settings. I began asking anyone and everyone, “What can I do to improve?” After some hesitation and surprise at the question, people were more than willing to share their thoughts and appreciated that I was asking. It seemed as if my mistakes were almost a side note to the main discussion, since people knew I was giving the maximum effort to make myself stronger.
  • When feedback was provided, I always followed-up with, “How?” If someone tells you to be faster, more efficient, more effective, etc., you are still not being given the direction needed to improve. You have to ask, “How?”
  • I joined Toastmasters.
  • I stopped worrying about what people thought of me and started paying more attention to just getting the job done. I put effort into developing the skills needed to gain trust and respect for the work I was doing (the rest would take care of itself).
  • After more than twenty years, I finally saw in writing the following comment: “Tom’s organizational and communication skills are his key strengths.”

 

This was the first time I didn’t read that I needed to improve something in my communication. The biggest change was my confidence. I was also learning the importance of two-way dialogue. Although still introverted, I was beginning to understand the power of building strong relationships, a skill I would that needs to always be honed and will always work for you.

I want to share a story of how a little action can turn into a big success. After joining Toastmasters, I began working through the various certifications in communication and leadership. My managers at work became aware of the certifications and started to recognize me. The word slowly spread to groups of people who didn’t know me. When they did get to know me, it was as “an effective communicator.” My past communication gaps were being left behind. In social settings where I had previously kept quiet, I now threw in a couple of conversation starters about my public-speaking endeavors. These conversations led to strong friendships and beneficial networking. I was even getting invitations outside my company to speak to other organizations.

Word continued to spread within my corporate environment. I was tapped on the shoulder at a meeting of local managers and my peer asked me to meet with her newer managers about effective communication. It was hard to imagine! The person told far too many times that he needed to improve his communication skills was being asked to teach others how to communicate. I was in heaven. People started to listen to me. They actually sought my advice and messages because I could confidently convey them in a way that was easily understood and relate to them to the audience. I shared my mistakes and showed them that they, too, could persevere and succeed. I was gaining credibility from a group of people who saw my own growth and through that recognized that they, too, could improve.

My informal professional-development series was getting attention. Another manager in a different department asked if I could formalize the event and speak to his group of managers monthly. These sessions were a hit, and they morphed into topics that people could pragmatically develop and use for their own individual development: writing résumés, networking, organizing, managing time, managing different generations, interviewing, and, of course, overcoming fear of public speaking. The series then made me eligible for the National Speakers Association (NSA).

A month after getting into the NSA, I was selected as the 2010-11 District 45 Toastmaster of the Year. I was pleasantly surprised and humbled to see that my work was starting to pay off not just for myself, but for others. It was an honor to be selected to represent my district, knowing that there are only eighty-one Toastmaster Districts in the world (representing over 270,000 members). I felt like I was living the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. As the author Laura Joffe Numeroff writes, “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for some milk. When you give him some milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw.” The story continues with constant add-ons.  In my case, I was finding ways to succeed that fed the motivation to want more. This painfully shy and introverted individual was making a name for himself in the field of public speaking.

As a teacher and mentor, not only was I improving other people’s careers, I was improving my own, because I had to practice what I preached. More importantly, I was managing my time effectively, building a strong network, and constantly finding ways to improve. I was making a difference to others and making myself stronger. All of this happened because I finally took action to improve my communication skills and gain confidence in my abilities—something that required more than just a simple leap of faith.

In order to set myself on this road initially, I knew I needed to take action to increase my confidence. I knew I needed Toastmasters. I even lied to myself that the only reason I was joining was to kick-start a dormant corporate club on my company campus that had not met in over a year. My original thoughts were simply to build up my résumé. I had no idea how it would change my life after I joined in September 2008. The people I have met over the years through that organization provided encouragement and support to participate in speech contests. I moved from an unofficial club consultant to the Vice President of Education. Our club, Dirigo (“I Lead”) Toastmasters, went from never holding a meeting in over a year to being well respected within District 45, which includes over one hundred clubs within Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. I now hold advanced communication and advanced leadership certifications with the organization, including a High Performance Leadership (HPL) certification for writing my first book based on the professional development series. My successes seemed to be never ending, simply because I stared my fears in the face and won.

The contests have always tested my will to break down the constant trepidation and angst of being in front of a large group of people. I may never get rid of these feelings entirely, but the shakes, sweats, and heat rushing up from my neck to my ears are no longer the first and only feelings I get. I am now full of energy and excitement to share my messages and stories with the audience.

I found consistent success when competing in speech contests, which only pushed me to go further. I have entered all types of contests to broaden my skill set and to continue to test my comfort zone specific to humorous speeches, inspirational speeches, impromptu speeches, and speech evaluations. I have been fortunate enough to represent the state of Maine on multiple occasions in these contests.

I may need to change the word “consistent.” Actually, I have found inconsistency as the pressure has tightened at the higher levels. I have forgotten words in competition, frozen on stage because I could not remember the first line of my speech, and even repeated lines when I had a shot at advancing to the Toastmasters International World Semi-finals. I have presented with an actual jackhammer behind me and watched in horror as props were knocked over. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

A speech will never be perfect and I was learning to keep moving forward after I made mistakes. More importantly, I had to identify the next actions needed for me to improve the next time. I was growing as a speaker when I actively sought to be better.  I took on a mentor after my first taste of the bigger stage when I went to the Toastmasters District 45 International Finals in May 2009, one who has reached the World Semi-finals twice (and advanced to the World Finals once). His advice as a formal mentor and fellow competitor forced me to develop.  I have even changed my practice routines: where I previously ensured that the house was dead quiet before practicing, I now can’t wait for my kids’ piano rehearsals to start. I also invite the howling dog into the room so I have distractions while I refine my skills. The goal is to strive for perfection and grow from the experience. No speech experience will ever be the same, but we should always strive to make it the best it can be.

The premise of this book is not to turn every reader into a professional speaker. The business of professional speaking is an art that needs constant nurturing. However, simple effective communication needs the same cultivation. Everyday skills that can be practiced and refined will turn an ordinary interaction into an extraordinary experience. Your enjoyment and success will skyrocket, along with your confidence level. I am not on the road each day pounding the pavement looking for speaking gigs. I have a day job. However, after years of toiling with being average and inconsistent, I have taken actions needed to succeed.

I’m not the most charismatic person. However, I am now building a strong name for myself because I am learning to relate to people with a message they want to hear. More importantly, I am proud of my ability to finally do something that needed to be done years before. My simple message will resonate with any audience at the core of their thoughts and beliefs.

  1. Effective public speaking is more about confidence than communication skills.
  2. Public speaking is more than a lectern, podium, or microphone; it is everywhere.
  3. The ability to speak publicly is not as hard as you may imagine— the hardest part is taking the first steps.
  4. Public speaking is a learned skill that must continually be developed.
  5. Your own success, both personal and professional, is correlated to your ability to communicate effectively.

 

As an audience member listening to presentations for years, I feel qualified to recognize what people want to hear. You should, too. As a public speaker, I have always had a clear vision for what I wanted, but often avoided the situation or taking the actions necessary to improve. I have found confidence and success on the other side of the podium. I know that I now have the skills and self-belief necessary to provide what the audience wants and needs. You too have a strong message inside you right now that is ready to come out. If I can make a difference by transforming my fear into success, you can, too.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com

 

Post from Transformation Tom: Tame the Beast- Chapter “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-Speaking Guide”

Posted by tomdowd - April 5, 2012 - News
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Tame the Beast

 

I just finished a speech for the local Rotary Club. I confidently explained that a few years before, I would have had difficulty presenting to them. As a communication major with over twenty years in the corporate world, communicating face-to-face or presenting in front of multiple people created far too many anxious moments in my life that I’ve repressed from my memory. My experience and background may make some non-believers say that it couldn’t have been that bad. I must emphasize that it was that bad. I’ve been demoted twice in my career and was told that I would never reach senior management because I was never seen in the role. Yet, I can confidently tell you that I have never been happier or more satisfied personally or professionally. In the midst of a down-turned economy, I’ve had more raises, promotions, and increases in job responsibility then I could ever have imagined. I am doing things I never dreamed of, including writing two books and being part of the National Speakers Association (NSA). I give much of the credit to my transformation to my increased confidence level. Learning to get over my stage fright saved my career and created an abundant amount of new opportunities to succeed.

Most people want to improve themselves, including a countless many that have a targeted desire to improve their public-speaking skills. The most difficult part is crossing over the threshold from change-thinking to change-actions. As an example, just look at the countless New Year’s resolutions broken immediately after we announce we want to improve ourselves. What I want to provide is a guide to ensure you stay on the right track toward achieving your goals.

Have you ever been lost while driving without having an accessible map or GPS? We have an instant panic attack about what we need to do. The anxiety builds up more with each wrong turn. We lose our ability to think clearly and make rational thoughts. The exact same feeling occurs when we approach the podium to give a speech. Our mind plays tricks on us, which impacts our body. What if you could control if not even block these feelings, so you are able to clearly and confidently articulate your points?

I have seen people with normally rampant stage fright who have given amazing eulogies. I found it interesting that these individuals were so caught up in the anguish of death that they forgot, even if for a small moment, that they were supposed to be scared to be in front of a large audience. The thought of the death instantly jumped them to the last stages of what experienced speakers are taught: it’s not about you; it’s about them, the audience. The frightened thoughts are substituted for ones of passion and love for the deceased. With regular public speaking, you can take actions that will allow you to give rousing speeches and presentations that you once thought were never possible.

As a general rule of thumb, our minds are often numb to the potential triumph because we are too occupied with the heart-stopping anticipation of what is in front of us. What if you could be trained to think about the endgame and the potential success? It is possible. This book will cover many ways to identify the varying symptoms that often come with the pending act of public speaking. The symptoms are driven by deep-seated causes that we may not even fully understand about ourselves, yet. When you fully recognize the correlation between the onsets of symptoms with the ability to control your thoughts, you will see exponentially greater success, and get a deeper understanding of your own potential.

This practical guide provides examples and techniques that will make it real for you. It will show you that speakers of all levels of experience and anxiety will be capable to retrain their hearts and minds one tip at a time. The ultimate goal is to control the symptoms, and more importantly use them to your advantage to relate to any audience. Here are just some examples as to why we get anxious when we think about speaking in public:

  • Uncomfortable situation
  • New environment
  • Potential failure
  • Possible embarrassment
  • Fear of boring the audience
  • Inexperience
  • Anticipation buildup

 

Each of these examples can create the symptoms we fear: dizzy head, heart pounding, shaking, sweating, shallow breathing, and that sick feeling in our stomachs. These symptoms most likely will never go away completely, but they can be controlled with practice and preparation.

In Janet Esposito’s book Getting Over Stage Fright—A New Approach to Resolving Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing she discusses approaches that tie in the inclusion of spirituality and meditation to get the mind and body stabilized to find “inner strength for outward support.” Her premise is based on the need to understand that the escalation of anxiety is completely normal for most of us. Many actors as they approach the stage have varying levels of fear, but what makes the experienced ones different is their ability to teach themselves to transfer these feelings to their art. The important fact is that there is a direct correlation between your ability to tame the mind and your ability to control the body.

I took a class in college more than twenty years ago on visualization. As I walked into the first class laughing, I was expecting some easy credits. It was taught by one of the university sports coaches, and the class was full of athletes. The study of visualizing and sports psychology was a growing field at the time, and was not fully understood. We were asked to take one routine act, such as shooting foul shots, and start tracking our progress physically as we slowly introduced new mental practices to calm ourselves down. The intent was to visualize our own success and growth through true focus. I was skeptical for much of the semester. I selected a three-mile run that I had been doing for years. I had been doing it for so long that I typically finished close to the same finish time each day. I saw very little room for improvement. There may have been some times when I could sprint through it for a quick event-driven improvement, but the goal of the class exercise was sustained improvement.

I watched in amazement as I worked on my breathing techniques, on measuring my strides, on keeping my arms straight rather than having them come across my chest, and—most importantly—on the belief that I could accomplish more. My times continued to go down regularly. I did reach a plateau, but it was at a stabilized level that was far better than my predicted outcome. Visualizing success is now a common practice among athletes, and it can be important to your own success when preparing for situations that cause stage fright. Maybe the old fictional character, Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live segment that first aired in 1991, wasn’t too far off when he said the following catchphrase into the mirror: “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggonit, people like you.”

It is now normal to watch athletes and actors visualize their performances. They are making every effort to stretch their peak performance. I recall seeing Olympic skiers on TV with their eyes closed and hands in motion as they simulated their progress through the course. Their hands moved smoothly in unison with their thoughts by going side-to-side and up-and down to mimic the exact course they were about to go down. I believe that they all saw themselves as the winner.

Limiting thoughts can significantly impact performance. Shaquille O’Neal was a consistently poor free-throw shooter in college and in the NBA. His physical technique was often identified as an issue because of the lack of arc he had when shooting the ball into the hoop. However, as his career continued and more coaches and sports psychologists became involved in his training, his issue was often noted as a mental block. He finished his career with a 52.7-percent success rate. Wikipedia states that in the NBA, most players make between seventy to eighty percent of their attempts. A combination of more mental focus, physical preparation, and practice could have increased these results substantially.

Some people see the deep-rooted causes of their own public speaking as obstacles too large to break through. We fill ourselves with excuses that it’s too hard to try to identify and fix due to personal time constraints. We convince ourselves that it’s not worth the effort or we are unable to visualize our own success. I was one of those people until I ironically got more personal in a speech and showed a significant amount of vulnerability. I begin to sing onstage for part of a speech. My apprehension turned to confidence when I saw the audience’s reaction. I was consistently off key and had no rhythm, yet there were tears in the eyes of some of the audience members as they began to relate to the message of my story. You can use your own individual hurdles, roadblocks, and triumphs to strengthen your own message.

There are many options that can be taken to create synergy between your mind, body, and soul. I am not an expert, so I suggest consulting the professionals. However, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and yoga have been identified as potential alternatives to prepare you for the big meeting or your moment on stage. I’ve even turned to the Nintendo Wii game console to do yoga on the Wii Fit Balance Board before a speech competition. The exercises are calming and relaxing, while it stretched out my building tension. I continued this routine before I got mad at the game. It predicts your fitness “age” based on certain physical tests. At the age of 40, it continued to tell me I was over 60 years old. This was not helping my mental stability. I needed to visualize success, not being 20 years older.

Once we understand the potential causes of the fear, we can take the actions to build our confidence level. The psychology of fear can have a devastating direct link to the physical effects of the built-up symptoms. An article from www.owningthestage.com notes that there are certain things you can’t control such as “…your genes. Some people are simply more prone to anxiety than others, and if you’re unlucky in the DNA you probably know it. Blame your parents. With the genetic factor, you have to play the hand you are dealt.” This argument still allows for the possibility that we have the ability to control much of the causes around us. We will cover much of this in detail later in the book. The article does go on to state that:

“It’s ‘only’ in your mind. It’s important to understand that stage fright is subjective: it exists only in your mind and your own perception. It might be painful, but it’s not like a poke in the eye. It’s a purely inner struggle.

Sometimes stage fright can feed on itself, like when you’re deathly afraid of getting stage fright! It might seem crazy but we’re not talking about rational, logical thoughts here. This leads to a kind of perfect storm of anxiety. You might make a little mistake, like a slightly out of tune note or a badly timed entrance or a loss of balance. That triggers a bit of anxiety, which kicks off your overblown fear of anxiety, which causes a few more mistakes, and so on until you faint, or have a coronary, or at least consider faking one.

And even though stage fright is ‘only in your mind,’ it is still very real for a lot of people.”

The Eric Education Resource Information Center notes that many inadequate theories of stage fright tie into the “cumulative effects of emotions” that include “neurological, body reaction, and a two-factor theory of body reactions and environmental cues.” However, they theorize that stage fright goes beyond that to become a culmination of “behavioral, physiological, and the cognitive.” In other words, the behaviors of avoiding the situation of public speaking because of perceived failure or embarrassment, leads to physiological symptoms of sweating or shaking that impacts the “consciousness of both.” There is a continuum of mind, body, and behavior actions that are related to each other. All can impact our ability to give our best unless they are controlled.

Some ways to prepare for your time in the spotlight include: write out what you want to say; practice by repeating the message often; increase your stage time; and be a student of yourself. Specifically, being a student of yourself can include your ability to be more willing to be open to feedback and videotaping.

As you continue your public speaking growth through mental and physical preparation, you will be taught how to visualize success and how to get to know the audience. Additionally, you will begin to truly believe that the audience wants to listen to your message, and understand that not all of your feelings are fear. Some of your built-up anticipation might just be excitement to be there. On the physical front, you can prepare with deep breathing, stretching out the tension, avoiding caffeine, exercising prior to the presentation, and staying within your routine, if possible. Many of these tips will be detailed in later chapters.

You can become a solid public speaker, or simply someone who doesn’t faint when they do it. It takes time and effort. However, the preparation and practice are easily accomplished with a commitment to get better, and are not as difficult as you think. The beast of public speaking can be tamed. You can find the way to sustained success. It is time to cross over the threshold from wanting to change to actual change.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:  Amazon.com