Make art’s permed master of “happy little trees” your personal hero
Speaking in front of crowds is nerve-racking. The truth is, instead of doing a speech, most people would rather take a test they didn’t study for, in their underwear in front of a snake pit where all the snakes are all wearing super fancy monocles…that might only be a nightmare for me.
Okay, moving on. Everyone is nervous before speaking in front of people. Even people like me who regularly do it as a part of their job.
Over the years I’ve tried various techniques to deal with my nervousness. Picturing everyone in the crowd in their underwear (distracting), writing out every single thing on cards (I sounded like a robot) and laughing right before I spoke (I ended up having a loud coughing fit).
However, it turned out my salvation was in the form of an afternoon of PBS a soothing voice and some “happy little clouds,” aka, the king of smooth vibes, Bob Ross.
Most of us know Bob Ross, he of the giant perm and infectious enthusiasm. But did you know that he spent 20 years in the military? Yes, Ross was, in his own words, “the guy who screams at you for being late to work.” When he left the military, Ross decided he would never scream again. Instead, he decided to paint because he could “create the kind of world that I want and I can make this world as happy as I want it.”
Well heck, if he could create his own world, I could create a world where I felt more comfortable speaking. I’d just “Bob Ross” my anxiety.
This involves two steps:
1) Much like Ross’ internet-famous love of cleaning his brushes, I do something both physical and silly.
For me that involves jumping up and down, doing some jumping jacks or having a five-minute dance party. It’s a great way to get my nervous feelings out.
2) Ross-ify my voice. By taking a few deep breaths and consciously imitating Ross’ calm, soothing voice I immediately feel my tension lessen.
I then talk through my nerves reminding myself that I’ve done this before and I’m going to do a great job this time too. I go over the “happy little trees” of this experience from beginning to end. For example the fact that I get to talk to people about something I’m passionate about, I get to meet a bunch of new, interesting people and that there’s probably a delicious cheese tray.
I know this all feels silly. That is exactly why it is helpful. Your mind is constantly trying to protect you from danger. After all, at one point your ancestors had to run from big, dangerous creatures that wanted to eat them. However, while the average person no longer has to worry about a predator being around the corner, it is trying to protect you against other “dangers” such as embarrassing yourself.
Ever notice how great your conscious mind is at talking you out of things that might end up making you seem a bit silly? If you start out doing something silly, and own that fact, your brain has much less to try and talk you out of. This is the magic to a big, bold, goofy choice. How can you be scared of a thing seeming silly when you are doing something a bit silly on purpose? And how can you be afraid when your voice sounds like an aural hug?
Give it a try yourself: do something physical, take a few deep breaths, and then remind yourself how great you are in the borrowed voice of an 80s icon. Go big, and go silly.