"I am not afraid of dying. If you placed a gun to my head, I would not want to die.... I would be able to face it with dignity. Put me in front of a group, and I totally fall apart. I know a terror that is impossible to explain or understand."
Charles, Colonel USAF
After twenty years as founder and president of TalkPower, Inc., I can safely say that I have heard every horrific public-speaking story imaginable. During this time thousands of students in my TalkPower workshops have recounted tale after hair-raising tale of public humiliation, excruciating stage fright, panic attacks, forgotten lines, and botched presentations.
My job has been, and always will be, to repair the damage. Again and again, I watch my students overcome their terror of public speaking by adhering to my simple, yet transformative, TalkPower program. I am convinced that the method I set forth in these pages can conquer even the most deeply entrenched fear. With proper training anyone can learn to speak before an audience with clarity, grace, and ease.
My Own Story
In 1978 I returned to college after many years as a professional actress, director, and teacher, to prepare for my second career as a psychotherapist. One day I was sitting in a class called "Oral Communication," waiting for the instructor to arrive. Snatches of conversation drifted across the room:
- "I sound like a moron!"
- "My voice is so monotonous."
- "I hate this."
- "They don't like me. I know it; I can feel it."
- "Oh my God, the other day she was reading a menu during my entire speech."
The students commiserated with one another until the instructor arrived and the presentations began. I listened to the endless speeches. I watched the bobbing heads, shaking hands, and nervous pacing. A few students did reasonably well. The others looked extremely uncomfortable. Most of them had no experience speaking in front of a group. Tension mounted as the students rambled on and on.
The instructor sat at the back of the class, taking notes and making suggestions. "Relax," she kept saying. "Relax."
Was I the only one aware of the discomfort and loss of concentration? Apparently, the instructor was not concerned. Apart from her command to relax, she ignored the students' profound distress and continued urging them to make eye contact and speak more slowly. "Don't be so nervous," she'd add, presumably trying to be helpful. "We support you."
I was bewildered. This wasn't at all like the systematic training I had received in acting school, where we were given intensive coaching for concentration, relaxation, attention, and awareness. Here, except for the suggestion to relax, the sole focus was on the preparation of the speech, with no serious attention paid to the painful loss of confidence that many students were experiencing.
Filled with advice, gimmicks, bits and pieces of information, and a hodgepodge of theory, this class was ineffective in helping the students to calm down and take control of themselves. The most basic questions were never addressed. For example:
- Why does this feeling of dread come over me for days before a presentation?
- How do I deal with the adrenaline rush that I feel just before I have to get up and do my presentation?
- How do I keep from thought-blocking?
- How can I stop rambling?
- Why do I feel that my talks are boring?
- Why do I lose my breath as my speech gets faster and faster?
- How do I stop my hands from shaking?
- What can I do about rushing to get it over with as soon as possible?
- Why do I feel so out of control in public when I am so confident in a one-on-one?
- How can I prepare a talk that makes sense when I have so much to say and I don't know where to begin?
Sitting in that classroom, I realized that there was no established procedure for training the mind and body for public speaking. Suddenly I had an "Aha!" moment. It occurred to me that the same kind of systematic techniques used to train actors with the Stanislavski Method might help non-actors develop better concentration and performance skills.
Of course, a step-by-step method was the logical answer for eliminating the problem of public-speaking distress. Envisioning an original mind-body concept, I devised a new way to train people to be comfortable when they speak in public. Based upon the concept of systematic training, this new method would not only be effective for public speaking, but would be helpful for other performance situations unrelated to acting. This includes speaking at a meeting, interviewing for a job, making a toast, asking a question in class, and even walking down the aisle. Since you believe that you are being judged and evaluated for your ability to perform well, this program would equip you with skills that eliminate the threatening aspects of these events.
Above all, my program would finally answer the most pressing question that people who are phobic or uncomfortable about public speaking ask: "How can I keep my concentration focused on what I am saying when everyone is looking at me?" I called the program TalkPower.
One year later, I started teaching the TalkPower method in a class called "Panic Clinic for Public Speaking" at Baruch College of Continuing Education. The name was so promising that from the very beginning the demand for my class was impressive. Calls and inquiries about the class poured in from people who shared a shameful secret: absolute terror of public speaking.
"In the class, students shared their stories. Some confessed that as far back as they could remember, they dreaded having to speak or read out loud. We were a very big family . . . seven children. Whenever we went anywhere, we had to sit perfectly still. If you were thirsty or had to go to the bathroom, you couldn't go unless you got mother's permission. You had to sit there and be still. When I was in kindergarten, I did not utter a single word for the entire term. If I wanted something, I would point. Finally, they sent me to the nurse and there, alone with her, I had a conversation. My teacher was amazed that I could talk. . . . All of my life I felt as if I was not allowed to speak."
Laurie, sales manager
Others reported a different story. For these students, speaking well had never been a problem until one day, in front of an audience, they became inexplicably speechless. This was so humiliating that they avoided all future opportunities to speak.
"I was the valedictorian and I was giving my speech when I suddenly started to lose my breath. Before this time I was never afraid to speak in public. I would even volunteer to do so. That one incident seems to be the thing that set this off, because now I can't do it. I get a wobbly voice, feelings of terror, feelings of embarrassment. I feel as though I'm completely losing control. I never speak in public."
Phyllis, fashion coordinator
Testing my TalkPower method, I introduced these first students to a new kind of mind-body training designed to restore their shattered confidence. Step by step they learned how to become calm, how to concentrate, and finally how to speak.
To help them organize their ideas, I created the TalkPower Action Formula, a recipe for breaking down the difficult task of assembling facts and information into an interesting talk.
Beginning with one sentence, and then with full paragraphs, by the end of the class, every student was able to deliver a complete eight-minute presentation.
That class was a turning point and I was filled with enthusiasm as I watched each student find his voice. My background as an actress, director, and psychotherapist gave me a unique set of tools for solving this previously hopeless condition.
Accepting all new opportunities to teach the TalkPower method, I soon discovered that the TalkPower Action Formula was not sufficiently inclusive to deal with the challenge of an audience. Many students had no idea how to prepare an interesting presentation for a listening audience (and judging from the talks that we hear every day, neither do most people). Participants in my classes, even though they were mature and successful professionals, had never been trained to write a script for a performance. Their schooling had only prepared them to create reports, letters, papers, and memos for a reading audience. As a result, their talks were lifeless huff and puff, filled with generalizations and abstract concepts.
I set to work creating a series of fill-in templates to initiate a storytelling process. With these templates to guide them, the students could now use their imagination, plus their information and expertise, to create talks that were entertaining as well as informative. The templates were a big success. Even students who prided themselves on their ability to prepare excellent presentations loved using them.
Now I really had something. The body awareness work, plus the Action Formula, plus the templates, and my psychological expertise, made for a complete public-speaking agenda designed for transformation.
Over the years I continued to refine and improve the basic program so that even experienced speakers, with very little or no anxiety about public speaking, could satisfy their desire to become more polished. TalkPower could give them what all the video sessions in the world could never deliver: a basic technique for speaking in public that would guarantee a consistent performance.
Today TalkPower is a successful seminar business that has trained thousands of individuals. Some attend on their own initiative, and others are enrolled through corporations that recognize the importance of public speaking. These organizations include American Express, Merrill Lynch, United Parcel Service, United Nations, National Westminster Bank, Texaco, J.C. Penney Company, AT&T, Dean Witter, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, IBM, The Wyatt Company, Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, MCI Telecommunications Company, Karpas Health Information Center, Chase Manhattan Bank, Organization of Black Airline Pilots, Hoechst Celanese Corporation, Otto Preminger Films, Toastmasters International, Howard J. Rubenstein Associates, Weil Gotshal & Manges, Ford Motor Company, The Skyros Center (Greece), and many more.
Fifteen years ago, with the publication of my first TalkPower book, I embarked on a journey of service and creativity, taking TalkPower training all over the world. The book was translated into nine languages. Now that we are in the 21st century, the New TalkPower will bring you up to date on all the latest discoveries and techniques that I have developed since that first book was published in 1982.
What Is TalkPower?
TalkPower is the only systematic technology for training the brain (repatterning) for the skill of performance. This includes physical and mental exercises that use precise concentration procedures plus simple breathing techniques.
To help you develop the "brain wiring" necessary for performance skills, these exercises train you to stand up in front of an audience and maintain physical control and clarity of thought under the most intense audience scrutiny.
Clinically tested and perfected, the TalkPower mind-body program has been compared to the systematic training athletes receive before competitive events. This state-of-the-art program, with a 95% success rate, has changed the lives of thousands of my clients and students.
Equally innovative is the second part of the program: the TalkPower Action Formula. This shows you how to organize your material into manageable sections. The goal is clarity. The TalkPower Action Formula forces you to distill the essence of your talk from a confusing tangle of information into a cogent whole. You will learn to ask yourself: What is my topic? What is my central message? Why am I giving this talk? Following this structure allows your talk to develop a narrative flow that is interesting to listen to.
Included is a selection of templates to help you flesh out these sections so that a real story emerges. With these tools you can create a polished speech in a minimum of time. The last element, self-esteem training, completes the program so that all the needs of the phobic/nervous speaker are addressed.
How Is TalkPower Different?
Unlike traditional public-speaking courses, TalkPower identifies fear as the central problem that must be eliminated before you can speak successfully in public. Contrast this approach with other methods that teach you to "manage your fear" or to "confront your fear."
My experience tells me that for the person who is standing in front of an audience feeling out of control and totally embarrassed, the idea of managing or confronting your fear is meaningless.
Any serious study of public-speaking phobia reveals that this is a complex condition arising from a history of public humiliation, harsh criticism, low self-esteem, and inexperience. People with anxiety about speaking in public cannot overcome their problem with cavalier advice. The only reasonable solution is a method that will eliminate the fear and its devastating effects.
TalkPower accomplishes this with original exercises that combine neurobiology, behavior modification, performance techniques, speech crafting, and self-esteem training. The result is a calmer state of body and mind, a clear speaking style, and a confident public persona.
How This Book Is Organized
Most of the chapters in this book are designed to duplicate the structure and content of an actual TalkPower workshop. Beginning with Chapter 6, each chapter contains a new lesson or step, plus instructions for writing and practicing that step. As you complete the assignments outlined in each chapter, you will find that TalkPower training repatterns your brain for the skill of performance. As a result, your fear response is eliminated. I have taken the liberty of repeating certain thoughts in different places throughout the book. I feel that in these instances the material is so important it bears repeating.
The cartoons in this book were created in collaboration with the artist Joseph Castronova. They were inspired by many, many hours of listening to very sad, funny, and often dreadful stories shared by my students and clients who have spent years suffering from fear of public speaking. Often, their sense of humor helped them to reframe painful memories of humiliation and abuse. For anyone who has ever felt heart-wrenching anxiety at the mere thought of giving a presentation, I hope these little flashes of absurdity will brighten your day.
The stories you'll find throughout the book come from just a few of the thousands of people TalkPower has helped. You are not alone. TalkPower will help you too.