How can someone overcome shyness and stammering? I'm happy to share my first post written in english. This is not my first language so, apologies in advance :)
Seinfeld is one of my heroes. In one of his classic bits, he shares on a common terror with the audience.
“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means, to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Every time I give a public speaking training (I'm from Buenos Aires), I sense that the worst moment for them comes prior to giving a talk.
The moments or days before. How to handle the anxiety? How to prevent blockages in the form of amnesia or dry throat?
I like to speak in public. I enjoy the preparation, the adrenaline before, be a positive influence on a group.
But it was not always like this.
At twelve years old, I noticed that with adolescence came an annoying stuttering. I began to feel the words hovering over each other and tangled in my mouth.
And the impatient looks of those who listened.
The stutterer doesn't have it easy. In the hope that no one would discover my stuttering, I spoke little, very little. I even seemed quiet, which would seem ridiculous to those who know me today.
I was stuck with every word that began with consonants. Also with those who had consonants in the middle. Or in the end.
But I had an escape. Stutters can usually sing without being caught. The prose limits them, the singing frees them.
The conscious process does not register singing as a progression of single words but as a continuous sound.
Remember the scene with Colin Firth embodying George VI in the King's Speech?. It's something like that.
Every stammerer soon discovers that by singing, the barriers that seem insurmountable tend to disappear.
And that's when fantasies ensue. Because singing allowed me to speak freely. Singing the melody of Persiana Americana from Soda Stereo (BIG 80/90's local band), shouting as much as I could without being kicked out of the house by my parents.
During that brief moment, I was no longer in that wet bedroom, barefoot and anxious. I was in a stadium, on stage, the crowd singin along with me. At night, singing is freedom. The sea of the crowd roars, but my voice, thanks to the mic, sounds above all of them.
The cassette (not even CDs yet) ended and was automatically ejected from the car stereo on top of my desk, with old speakers barely tied with suspicious cables.
The game was funny. But I was obsessed with translating that flow of singing to my everyday talk.
It occurred to me that (perhaps) repetition would help. And listening the recording with the correct form. So I started practicing with a recorder. One sentence at a time.
"I want an ice cream, please. Yes, ch-ch-chocolate chips with cooooookie d-d-d-dough." Damn tongue twisters. Repeat. Again. Twice. A hundred times. A thousand.
It was easier at night. No witnesses.
Same thing the next night. And many more. A hundred nights. A thousand. Now I can order an ice cream. Now I want to ask for the time to someone in the street without seeing the condescending smile in the face. "Excuse me sir, w-w-w-what time is it??"
No. Again. A thousand. Ten thousand times.
I felt like untangling a hundred headset wires that were long forgotten in a backpack. Slowly (patience, grasshopper), very slowly, the sentences came clean.
I remember reading a lot. I became an expert in synonyms. When I couldn't utter a word, I went a similar one.
It comes handy to say "canine" when "ddddog" is caught between teeths. I also sounded a bit pretentious, because nobody says "canine", nor many of the words I started to incorporate (who says "incorporate" when you can say "use"?).
All good. Better pretentious than stutterer.
Weeks, months. A couple of years later, I could barely feel any obstacles. I'd learned to act my fluency with so much emphasis and formality that when I asked for a coffee I was tensed like someone who wants to pass bogus check in the bank.
Years later, it was already part of me. It was not acting, now it was me.
Very formal, yes, but also fluid. I was able to work in sales. Make a living from talking to people, influence in others. What seemed a crazy thing to my 12 years old self, was already a reality at 19.
And then, the sales workshops. I started given training, speeches to groups. Later came Advertising school, and my new role of teacher.
But something bothered me. I wanted to know how I did it. I felt that there had to be a way to synthesize what I had done during my teenage years to be able to teach it to others.
I started to give form to this idea reading texts on neuroscience, but mainly learning on NLP (neurolinguistic programming). The repeating patterns of so many nights had reprinted a new program in my anxious brain.
Each sentence, as a new line of code, replacing the wrong code of the stuttered phrase.
I had generated my own tools to repair the deviations, and once the first victory had been achieved, I had instinctively modeled the recipe to apply it in the future.
How to accelerate this process?
I saw a Ted Talk of Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard proffesor and researcher. "Why are we happy?"
Our present brain is three times larger than the homo sapiens two million years ago. The brain gained new structures. But above all, evolution added a new part, the frontal lobe.
In this lobe it's the prefrontal cortex. Among other functions, this prefrontal cortex can act as a simulator of experiences for us. A flight simulator. It allows pilots to practice without putting at risk 300 passengers.
This adaptation allows us to have simulated experiences without having to experience them in real life. Like imagining yourself singing on an arena, or successfully ordering an ice cream.
Our brain can create images before living them.
Can I see what I've never lived? Of course, it's called visualization.
Can I hear or smell what I have never experienced? Yes. Because although we haven't lived that experience yet, we do live similar situations or experiences. They give us the material to create.
Our five senses can give us the sensory material to create the image we want.
What is the difference between an intentional visualization and a simple imagery or fantasy? Intention. Purpose.
A visualization created for the purpose of generating a positive emotional change, has a lot of power.
I started using the flight simulator. I wanted to concentrate on a successful image of the challenge ahead (a class, a talk), so that the brain learns of that image and believes in that imagined success.
I began to imagine a happy audience receiving me. Clapping.
Smiles, gentle gestures on the faces. I saw myself walking the room, relaxed, in a serene tone of voice, participating with the assistants in the development of the class.
If the positive scene was strong enough, I could came on stage with that live image in the brain, and the visualization then fused with reality.
And I focused on the smiles, the gentle gestures, on my own sense of relaxation.
Seinfeld never expressed shyness or anguish to speak in public.
His way of talking about death or anxiety with that level of lightness… it was trully inspiring.
That is one of my primary goals today when I train others in public speaking.
Emotional weight loss. Disrespect for anxiety and fear, creating a world of images that become reality. Your reality. Your new self.
Have a good week!