You’d be amazed how often people talk to me about their fear of presentations. They just hate them because they believe they’re not very good at them. The closer the presentation gets, the more tense and apprehensive they get. The running commentary in their mind gets progressively worse, until they enter the room to present and it’s at fever pitch. The inner dialogue usually goes something like this. “People won’t get it. They’ll think I don’t know what I’m talking about. They’ll think I’m stupid/uninteresting/boring…” insert negative adjective here.
Our inner dialogue comes from what we believe to be true – our BELIEFS. These beliefs drive what we tell ourselves at any given moment. So, because we don’t feel particularly confident in a presentation situation, we really take to heart all those negative thoughts. We give them weight by repeating them over and over to ourselves and as a consequence, that’s what we see.
Someone might yawn in the audience. In reality, it could be for any number of reasons. They may be the parent of a new baby. They may not be feeling particularly well. Or they may even have been up all night partying! But with this negative inner dialogue running amok, that yawn is categorical proof that all those terrible things we are telling ourselves are true.
Our thoughts become things.
Some people are alert to their inner dialogue. I’m one of those people. I’m all too aware of the voices in my head. However, some people also say “I don’t have any internal dialogue. I don’t tell myself anything.” If you think you’re one of those people, let me stop you there. We ALL have inner dialogue. It’s just that some of us have to listen a little more carefully to hear it. The bottom line is, we must listen. Even if the dialogue is relatively quiet, so that we can understand ourselves and begin to challenge our beliefs.
There are 2 types of belief systems:
1. Those that limit us (limiting beliefs)
2. Those that enable us (enabling beliefs)
As we’ve discovered, our beliefs drive our inner dialogue. If you don’t like presentations, you will hold many limiting beliefs about your ability to present. These limiting beliefs will then drive that destructive inner dialogue.
So what do we do about it?
1. Notice when we don’t feel great.
2. Write it down/capture it.
3. Read it.
4. Challenge it.
It all starts with self-awareness. Tap into your internal dialogue. Listen to it. As soon you have a wobble, don’t feel particularly confident, you’re scared or anxious, notice in the moment what you’re telling yourself. What do you believe to be true about the situation? Then write it down.
So, we may write, ‘I’m awful in presentations. The audience doesn’t value me. I don’t know my stuff.’ By writing it down, we get it out. We can pluck the negative internal dialogue right out of our minds and expose it, on paper, in black and white. It may sound simple, but seeing our inner dialogue written down is very powerful. It takes the heat right out of it, almost immediately.
We can then begin to challenge it. What evidence do we really have that any of our beliefs are true? Delve a little deeper and you’ll realise that there is no evidence. It’s just our limiting beliefs. Stories we tell ourselves. How do we know what the audience thinks of us? Have we spoken to them? Have we even met them? The reality is, you have no idea what they really think, or what is going on for them.
Our inner dialogue isn’t always negative. The good news is, it can have a really positive effect on us too. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt on top of our game. Whether we’re confident of a successful outcome to that meeting we’re heading into, or we feel like a million dollars walking into that restaurant to meet old friends. On the flip side, writing down our positive inner dialogue is a really powerful exercise too, because you’ll be able to see in black and white, the differences between when you’re feeling fantastic, fulfilled, content, positive and confident, to when you’re feeling shaken, anxious, scared or not overly confident.
Ask yourself the same questions. ‘What am I telling myself right now? What do I believe to be true in this situation?’ What you’ll notice this time, is that enabling beliefs are now driving your inner dialogue. Beliefs like ‘I connect with these people. I know these people are going to like me. I know these people want to listen to me. I trust these people.’
Our inner dialogue dictates how we show up. If we’re not feeling particularly confident or we’re anxious because we’re telling ourselves some very negative things, then we’re going to show up in a way that isn’t helpful. If we feel this way but we listen, we notice and we tap into what we are telling ourselves, we can challenge it. All we need is a slight alteration. A 1% improvement. Challenge the thought that ‘they’re not going to want to listen to me’, by instead asking ‘how do I know that they’re not going to want to listen to me?’ This slight shift will take the edge right off.
Some people go further than writing it down and simply say it out loud. Have a mantra! If you’re about to go into a potentially difficult situation, find a quiet space, stand in front of a mirror if you can find one and tell yourself, ‘I will be great! I know what I’m talking about! I’m a confident person…’ or anything else that works for you in your particular situation. This will help to override any negative internal dialogue and replace it with positivity instead.
So write it down, or say it out loud. But whatever you do, raise your self-awareness. Listen to your negative and positive inner dialogue and get it out of your mind and onto paper, or out into the open. You may find that the sting is taken out of your limiting beliefs and you’ll start to reinforce and build upon those wonderful enabling beliefs.