Saturday, February 1, 2014

Learn from the Army and Wage War Against Stage-fright

Here's a great TED Talk on beating stage-fright that's well worth watching (it's only 8 minutes long). It struck so many chords with me (pun intended!) that I had to jump on here and share my thoughts.

The Video
I love the video for 2 reasons:

1. The speech itself: Joe delivers a speech that is charming, interesting and funny (without trying too hard). This is exactly the type of speech that people feel a connection to - just watch the audience's reactions all the way through for proof of this.

2. His description of the flight or flight response: He nails the symptoms and feelings without going overboard on the science bit. I cover this with all my clients (although I add a third element; "fight, flight or freeze") and it makes SUCH a difference to them when they understand what's happening to their body and brain.

The Myth

There's a bit in the video [02:55] where he commits to going back on stage every week to get over his fear, but it just doesn't work for him. I've found that this is a very common myth:
"If I just expose myself to the fear enough, I'll get immune to it after a while."
Lots of my clients have described the same thing to me. They've tried Toastmasters, or debating, or group training sessions (all of which have their merits), only to find themselves not returning after the first night.

Part of why this "inoculation" approach doesn't work is because it can be too much too soon and throws them TOO far out of their comfort zones, and when the going gets tougher than we expected, most normal humans go back to their old comfort zones. 

Also, it exposes them to the fear, but doesn't change their knowledge or skill levels in a deliberate way or, as was important for our friend Joe Kowan, it does little to shift their mindset about nerves and fear.

The solution? Look to the army!

A major (pun also intended!) reason why I set up No More Nerves was an "aha" moment I had when my brother was in the Irish Army. At his passing out parade, we saw demonstrations of how they were all ready for combat and of all the skills they'd learnt. It was hyper-realistic - they were being shot at, explosions were going off, with smoke and "injured" soldiers all over the place.

I asked myself "how do they all manage to stick to the plan and do what they're supposed to do under such intense threat and fear?" 

The answer is that they drilled EVERYTHING so that it would be second nature when the time came. If all they had done for training was expose them to nerves / fear / danger, then none of them would have gotten any better. They wouldn't have been able to perform when it mattered most to them and their unit.

Instead, they had a deliberate development programme in place whereby they:
  • Got clear, tried and tested instruction on what to do and how to do it
  • Were regularly exposed to threats and nerve-inducing situations - in a controlled and (mostly) safe environment
  • Were taught how their body and mind would react under pressure
  • Got a chance to practice repeatedly, over a period of time
  • Received support (in as much as the army is there to support its recruits!)
  • Got valuable, timely, expert feedback that helped them to develop and improve.
So, if I had met Joe around his 30th birthday, I would have encouraged him to put as many of these things in place as possible. Thankfully he got there by himself in the end, but I wonder to myself: what if he hadn't? Probably, he wouldn't have pursued his passion. Very sad :(

Bottom line?

If you can't get coaching, or put in place all the valuable stuff that the army does, then at least remember 2 things that are illustrated in the video: 

- Firstly, people want you to do well. They really do - just look at the video again, and this time focus on the audience.

- Secondly, if you stop focusing on the fear itself, and can turn it into a source of amusement or power, then you've overcome half the battle. 

Easier said than done - but your thoughts are fully in your control. But that's a post for another day :)

If you like this post - please share it and spread the word that nerves can be fixed!!