If you’re like most people, you probably feel some sort of discomfort speaking to groups or going up to someone you don’t know and introducing yourself. As you can imagine, you’re certainly not alone as you’d be surprised at how many people are deathly afraid of either of these situations. But the good news is that there are things that you can do to deal with your fears — and they’re not as scary as you might expect them to be.
Practice makes perfect:
There is at least one rule that applies to all aspects of communication: the more you do it the better you become and the more comfortable you become. If you’re really in a pinch to overcome one of these fears, the best thing to do is just go out there and give it a whirl. If you’re trying to overcome your fear of public speaking, volunteer yourself for ten speeches in the next month (you can easily do this by joining Toastmasters, contacting local service organizations or volunteering at work). I can promise you that after giving those ten speeches, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable speaking to groups.
If you’re struggling to become a better networker, strike up a conversation with the next ten strangers you come into contact with. Whether you’re waiting in line at the store or sitting at the train station just strike up a conversation. Make eye contact, say “hi” and make small talk. Talk about the weather, point out something interesting that both of you can see or make a comment about the situation you’re both in such as “this line isn’t as long as I expected.”
This even works with cold calls — the biggest challenge that people in sales face. Grab a phone book and start dialing. Don’t stop until ten people have answered the phone when you call. Those first few calls will be extremely tough, but the tenth one will definitely feel easier (even if just by a little bit). Do this for ten days and you’ll feel like a pro.
Sometimes you need to ease into it:
The aggressive approach isn’t for everyone and if you’re the type that gets easily discouraged or can’t deal with rejection, then that approach can scare you off. That’s where the small successes come in. I like to use the analogy of building a big snow ball. You start with a small snowball and roll it on the snow covered ground. Which each revolution the snowball gets bigger, picking up more snow than the prior revolution.
Success in communication is a lot like rolling that snowball. You start with something small — a small success such as making eye contact with someone you don’t know. Then you gradually take bigger steps, each one boosting your confidence and pushing you beyond your comfort zone. As you grow and grow with each step, you’ve suddenly conquered your fear.
Communication is not a spectator sport:
A dead horse that I like to beat is that you cannot become a better communicator just by sitting on your couch watching DVDs, listening to CDs or reading books or articles related to communication. Yes, these materials will help you – but only if you go out and practice them in the real world. You won’t push your comfort zone or get a confidence boost unless you actually go out and do it.
Every time you get out there and do it, you gain experience. It’s like those video games where you fight the little bad guys until you gain enough experience points to get power ups so you can face the big bad guys. Each time you put yourself in a challenging situation (such as giving a speech) you grow and your comfort zone expands. You have another success under your belt – and if it didn’t go well, you have a war story.
Go make things happen!