When I turned ten years old, in honour of my birthday, my parents gave me a beautiful brand-new bike. I had never owned a bike before and boy, was I excited! I loved my bike – it came with a big white basket, a bell with a loud ring, and a seat adorned with images of brightly coloured pink and yellow flowers. I could clearly imagine riding my bike all around the local streets. That was in the 1970’s when parents gave us kids a huge amount of freedom to roam and explore to our heart’s delight.
There was just one slight problem with my plan – I didn’t know how to ride a bike! And those summer holidays, my one and only goal was to learn. I remember day after day after day of sitting myself down on the bike, placing my feet on the pedals, feeling wobbly and awkward and falling splat onto the grass.
I felt a little despondent, wondered what was wrong with me and why balancing on the bike was so elusive. But it never ever dawned on me to quit – I just got right back on that bike and gave it another whirl. I did notice that I was staying on the bike that little bit longer each time I got on. After a few days, which did feel like eternity(!), I finally got it. Wow – what an amazing feeling! No more falling and feeling out of control. I was on top of the world.
Cast your mind back to your childhood and ask yourself the following questions:
Did you stand up and walk the very first time you tried?
Did you form perfect sentences the first time that you tried to speak?
Did you balance perfectly the first time you tried to ride a bike?
I can guarantee that the answer to all of the above questions is “No”. I can also guarantee that you kept persevering until you were triumphant. You didn’t even have a word in your vocabulary for fear or failure.
As adults, we need to stop putting pressure on ourselves to get everything perfectly right the very first time we try something new. We need to harness our fearless inner 4-year-old child (in my case – my inner 10-year-old child) and not be scared of “falling over” on the first attempt. When we take action and aim for progress, rather than perfection, we can master anything. The world is truly our oyster.
Psychologist Carol Dweck coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset”. People with a fixed mindset believe that their basic abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed immovable traits. Instead, we need to have a “growth mindset” and adopt the belief that our talents and abilities can be developed through desire and effort. Nurturing this growth mindset is essential to our success! She discusses the power of the growth mindset in her fascinating TED talk.
And that’s how it is with public speaking. Public Speaking is considered to be one of our top fears. Mastering the skill of public speaking can be both scary and exhilarating at the same time. Scary because we’re out of our comfort zone. There are certainly a plethora of new skills to learn – writing a speech that interests your audience, gracefully handling nerves, effectively using gestures, projecting your voice, mastering pauses, maintaining eye contact, using humour, telling stories well, skilfully using PowerPoint and recovering when the technology takes on a mind of its own, interacting with your audience, handling audience questions with flair… The list goes on and on!
Sometimes you will mess up in front of an audience and feel embarrassed. Each time something goes wrong, you get the opportunity to learn something new and to grow your resilience. It’s like that famous saying by 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
Eventually after all that practice, perseverance and useful feedback from yourself and from others, you will triumph. You will get in the zone, and there will be no turning back. You will even start to love public speaking. That’s when public speaking stops being scary and becomes exhilarating.
There is a Japanese proverb: “Nana korobi, ya oki”. It means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” What an apropos saying in light of my bike experience!
As you stumble and fall and “get right back up on the bike”, remind yourself: I’m not a confident speaker yet! But I will get there!
We need to put the Japanese proverb into practice in our daily lives, and when faced with something new and challenging to master, choose to never give up hope, keep going and keep trying until we are ultimately victorious.
© 2020 Susan Weser. All rights reserved.