Public speaking: how to get over your fears with warmth and ease

I used to have terrible stage fright. Having to give my first speech in the required junior high speech class was something to be endured, and when I finished, I didn’t care how well I did, I was so glad I had gotten through it and would never have to do it again.

If I recall correctly, I read it aloud and (this is embarrassing) stood with my legs crossed, as if I was holding it in. I’m pretty sure my voice shook. Afterwards, I slunk back to my seat. The topic may have been “seashells.”

I did not fail, to my surprise. The teacher gave me a C. The content was good, but my presentation needed work. (I am a writer.)

I watched the kids who presented well. I remember a girl who showed us how to make “hors d’oeuvres” (including how she “about died” when told how to spell it).

Then she passed them around. She’s probably a politician now.

That was a long time ago. Over many years, classes, jobs, and activities, I got more used to speaking to groups and felt more confident that I had something worthwhile to contribute. Sometimes it even happened on the spur of the moment, and afterwards I realized I’d been so absorbed, I’d forgotten to be afraid.

Several years back, I participated in “the Alan Steinborn experience” back when Alan lived in Austin. I cannot remember now what he called these gatherings, but he hosted people in his home where part of the experience was standing in silence in front of people (most of whom were strangers), not doing or saying anything, just standing there with all eyes on you for several minutes. People applauded before and after, and in between, whatever happened happened. Some were visibly petrified and gradually relaxed. Some were comfortable the whole time. Most were in between.

It was wonderful to get up there, breathe, relax, and experience connecting with others. It became a sort of communion where fear fell away. I became curious, looking into the eyes of each member of the audience.

Also in recent years, I’ve taken a two-day class in public speaking through Austin Community College, for work. The class had a lot of lecture and required three brief presentations…and the main thing I recall now is the professor exclaiming (after my first presentation, in front of everyone) about my “charisma”.

I still don’t know exactly what charisma is and whether to be pleased or embarrassed about it. But perhaps my experience with Alan’s gatherings had something to do with that.

After all, if you can be comfortable standing silently in front of an audience, you’ll probably be okay speaking.

Recently I’ve been considering developing my public speaking skills. I could talk about health practices to counteract sedentary jobs, the benefits of massage and bodywork, self-care for massage therapists, trauma and recovery, meditation — you know, the topics that I’ve blogged about that are so close to my heart.

It’s not that I’m bad at public speaking any more. I deliver good material, include some fun stuff, and connect with the audience.

But I could be even more at ease.

A few weekends ago, I attended a workshop called “Authentic Public Speaking” from NLP Resources Austin. The presenter, Keith Fail, is a friend and teacher of mine. I’ve studied and later coached/assisted at NLP training that he co-taught, taken advanced NLP classes that he taught, and heard him speak at the NLP meetup multiple times (indeed, when I served as program chair and a speaker didn’t show up, he was able to wing it with ease, he’s that good). I’ve hung out with him and his wife, Katie Raver, a lot. We’ve traveled in Maui together. They are ohana to me: family of choice.

Keith is a warm, friendly, lovable, perceptive, smart man. He is familiar with Alan’s work and includes it, adding his own substantial and unique stamp to offer a public speaking class like no other.

He’s also an accomplished public speaker. Keith shared a story that illustrated his aplomb with public speaking even while in high school. It involved walking in just as he was being introduced and needing to pull up his zipper, with all eyes on him. Ask him about it! The man just knows how to tell a good story!

This class is not an NLP class. You don’t need any NLP training to attend, although a few of my fellow students and I had training in it. If it’s new to you, you will come away knowing more about NLP as it applies to public speaking. You may then be drawn to take NLP training — who knows?

The 11 students met in a comfortable North Austin home. (One student couldn’t make it; class size is limited to 12, and it usually fills up.) My fellow students came from a variety of backgrounds — software engineer, entrepreneur, new board member, several in real estate, insurance adjuster, academic adviser, musician/hypnotist/coach — all with an interest in improving their public speaking skills.

Our time was spent on a good mixture of Keith sharing information and stories, exercises with partners, feedback and discussion, a worksheet, a little homework, several very useful handouts, and, of course, getting up in front of everyone several times.

Yes, everyone does get up in the front of the room and stand in silence, and Keith will share how to make this easy. One woman (who said her business partners made her attend) balked at doing it, but she decided to do it anyway and was glad she did. By the end of the class, she was giving good presentations with apparent ease.

We did extemporaneous speaking illustrating one of our values. Whoa. That makes it sound very formal. Let me rephrase that: We got up and told a story about something important to us, and after everyone had spoken, we discussed what worked.

On the second day, Keith talked about the different energies that speakers experience and utilize. Keith led us through some experiential work developing and drawing on these energies. This was delightful and new to me in this context, and very useful.

Toward the end of the class, Keith pointed out that rather than being just a class about public speaking, it was actually training in perception and attention.

Keith videotapes your last presentation and afterwards, he emails it to you. Then does a follow-up call with you.

All I know is that by the end of the class, we students all felt much more at ease with each other and in the front of the room, thanks to Keith’s personal warmth and well-developed teaching skills.

It might even have felt like love, acceptance, and compassion for ourselves and for each other.

Just imagine. I will have that to draw on the next time I give a presentation. I can hardly wait!

If you are interested, Keith offers this class several times a year. You can get the details at NLP Resources Austin.

The presuppositions of Byron Katie

My NLP practitioner training included the presuppositions of NLP. They are the central principles and ethics underlying the body of work that is NLP. I’ve found them to be very handy guidelines in life.

NLP training does not require anyone to believe them.

Rather, it invites you to try them on as if they are true and discover what happens. If you like the results, you continue to act as if they are true.

For instance, the first six presuppositions as Tom Best taught them are:

  1. People are like mapmakers.
  2. People’s maps are made of pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, and smells.
  3. The map is not the territory.
  4. People respond primarily to their maps of reality, not to reality.
  5. If you change your map, you’ll change the way you think, feel, and act.
  6. Many of our maps are out of our conscious awareness.

I just attended a workshop with Byron Katie this past weekend, perhaps my fourth or fifth. I thought it might be useful to look at The Work and figure out what its presuppositions are.

This, of course, is a work in progress that I will be revising as I get more clarity, and I invite anyone to add to the list and to clarify anything that isn’t clear. Just post your thoughts in the comments. I am re-reading Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, and I will be clarifying these presuppositions as I progress.

  • Thoughts flow through the mind because that’s a function of the mind.
  • My thoughts produce my reality.
  • When my mind is silent, it experiences pure awareness.
  • My true nature is pure love.
  • Knowing what is true and real is important.
  • Only I cause my suffering.
  • Suffering is optional.
  • Just because I think a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.
  • When I believe a thought is true, I feel and behave in certain ways.
  • What I believe is what hurts me.
  • Questioning my beliefs is a way to relieve my suffering.
  • I can know whether a thought is really true.
  • I can notice what happens when I believe a thought.
  • When I drop a thought that causes me suffering, I can change my experience of who I am.
  • There are three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s.
  • Suffering comes from living outside of my own business.
  • God’s business includes anything that’s out of my control, your control, and every else’s control.
  • Other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are their business.
  • My thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions are my business.
  • When I pay attention to my business,  my life runs perfectly well on its own.
  • Everyone including me is innocent.
  • Everything that happens is for my own awakening, enlightenment, and joy.

NO HOSTAGES BEYOND THIS POINT: Teaching Magical Viewpoints to female sex offenders

A sign on the main entrance gate to the Hilltop Unit, part of the Gatesville, Texas, prison complex, says “NO HOSTAGES BEYOND THIS POINT”.

It appears twice, on each side of the gate, so visitors see this message as they enter and as they leave.

These signs provide a strong clue that you’re entering a different world at Hilltop, and that you will leave it changed.

Ann, the social worker who runs the Sex Offenders Treatment Program (SOTP) for women, escorted my friend Peggy Lamb and me to the dorm where the women in the program live. Peggy is a facilitator for Truth Be Told, a nonprofit working with women behind and beyond bars. She teaches movement and also brings in presenters for Truth Be Told’s Exploring Creativity workshops at the Hilltop Unit.

I was there at her invitation to teach an Exploring Creativity class called Magical Viewpoints, a basic skill in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) where it is also called “triple description”.

Ann led us through the dorm. I’ve visited prisons several times over the past 10 years for Truth Be Told events and graduations. This was the first time I’ve seen the inmates’ living quarters. It’s about as basic as you can get at Hilltop. In one big room, each inmate has a space about 6×4 feet in which there is a single bed (looked like 3-4 inches of mattress on a wooden platform), a storage locker under the bed, and perhaps a small table and chair. These “cells” are separated by wooden partitions about 3.5 feet high, so there is very little privacy. Everything looks old and is painted white. There is no decor. There is no air conditioning either.

We walked to the common area behind the sleeping quarters where the women were waiting for us. The inmates wear white uniforms and choose from a couple of styles of standard-issue shoes (sneakers or short boots). Those who wear eyeglasses wear a plain no-nonsense unisex style that harkens back to the men’s eyewear of the 1950s. No one is wearing makeup. Hairdos are plain and simple.

This room had murals and posters on the white walls, which I was told is not so in other units at Hilltop. A humongous fan was blowing, making a loud racket, along with a couple of smaller fans. We turned that big fan off and used an old, temperamental PA system to make ourselves heard.

Peggy introduced me, and it was obvious that these women love Peggy. (I’m feeling very pleased that I brought Peggy into Truth Be Told. That worked out well. She has made the most of it.)

I taught the women about using first, second, and third position to understand an event from their own eyes and through another’s eyes and to view it as a camera would. First they remembered looking at a piece of art they had created in the previous Exploring Creativity class taught by Peg Runnels, seeing it through their own eyes. Then they remembered seeing another artist creating their art and making those same movements. Finally, they imagined seeing the art, with the artist putting the finishing touches on it, and seeing themselves viewing it.

I did a demo using these three viewpoints on a conflict situation with a wonderful volunteer, Carla, and then I led them as a group through the process, watching them step into imaginary circles for each position. I watched very carefully, and it appeared to me that each woman got it.

Then they journaled about the experience, made art about it, and a few of them shared their art and their experience of doing the exercise. Their homework was to do it with a different event in mind and journal about it for Peggy. Their six opportunities to learn and deepen this skill will serve them well, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

I asked them for their feedback on the three magical viewpoints. Which one gave them the most new information? It surprised me that second position was so powerful for them. I had expected that third position would be the real revelation (the cool sense of detachment often is), but Ann told me that a major goal of the SOTP is learning empathy for the victims of their crimes, and so learning about and experiencing second position strengthened that goal.

Then our time was up. They honored Peggy by giving her a sweet, gigantic homemade card on which each woman had written a personal thank you to her for volunteering with them.

I’ve heard many women tell their stories at TBT graduations over the past decade. Chaos is in every story. Prison provides the security to examine their lives, something many have never done or even been exposed to before getting involved with Truth Be Told’s programs.

That’s the first step toward true rehabilitation. Then there’s the support and learning and accomplishment they get through connection with Truth Be Told.

I’m feeling very lucky and grateful to have had the good fortune to connect with Truth Be Told when it was an infant nonprofit, to have helped nurture it into stability, to step back when life had other plans for me, and to reconnect via teaching a useful life skill.

I want to thank Keith Fail, NLP trainer at NLP Resources Austin, for his support. He and I (mostly he) taught Magical Viewpoints at the Lockhart prison in the fall of 2011. He was training people in Europe when this teaching opportunity came up. I winged it as well as prepped myself, learned a lot, and had a blast!

Book reading: Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree, stories of compassionate communication, July 7

Mark Andreas, son of the eminent Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) innovators Steve and Connirae Andreas, has published a book of stories called Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree. He’ll be in Austin on Saturday, July 7, reading from his book. You’re invited to attend. Details are below.

Click the link above to read a couple of stories on

NLP and story-telling go hand in hand. We study two different language models (meta and Milton) in practitioner training, and of course, NLP arose in the mid-1970s from modeling the influential, effective linguistic patterns of Milton Erickson, Fritz Perls, and Virginia Satir (hypnotherapy, gestalt, and family therapy, respectively), none of whom were slouches at using a good story to great effect.

Sweet Fruit includes 61 stories by numerous authors, including Erickson, Steve Andreas, Robert Dilts, Tom Best (my dear late NLP teacher), Marshall Rosenberg (Non-Violent Communication), Muhammed Yunus (banker, Nobel Peace Prize winner), and many more.

These are real-life stories, not fiction. They are stories about people experiencing conflict both with others and within themselves, about how to stay connected through difficulty, about drawing on creative inner resources to resolve conflicts.

The book has received all 5-star reviews on One reviewer says:

This book is a moving page-turner that brought me to laughter and to tears, but the best thing about it is the way the stories settle into your consciousness and keep surfacing over the days and weeks after you’ve read them. I’ve found myself applying principles I read about in the stories to situations in my own life without even noticing until I’m reflecting back later. “Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree” isn’t overtly trying to teach anyone how to live peacefully, but it goes ahead and does just that through its artful sharing of such varied human experiences of connection and conciliation.

Another reviewer wrote:

As a bodyworker, a big part of my job involves communication, so I started telling all my fellow bodyworkers about this book. Then one of them mentioned to me that no matter who we are or what we do for a living, our lives depend on compassionate communication. Good point. These inspirational stories help me think of different ways to view potentially harmful situations, and re-define what can lead to peaceful conflict resolution. These stories will make you laugh, make you cry, and above all get you thinking about your fellow human beings in a different way.

A friend of mine who got the book on Kindle says it reminds her of Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom. Every story expands your capability of being a more resourceful, generative human being.

There’s not much I love as much as listening to someone read a really good story aloud or tell a great story from their own experience. My parents read stories to my siblings and me when I was a child, and I’ve loved it ever since. I’ve been blessed to hear some really great storytellers tell some really great stories.

I’m going to an afternoon of readings from the book on July 7 sponsored by NLP Resources Austin. There will also be some exercises and discussion, followed by a book signing.

If you’re interested in attending, click here for details. You can bring your own book, buy one at the event, or just listen.

Hope to see you there.

Perceptual flexibility, the large self, the small self, and feeding the wolf

If you are trying to understand a negative experience, step outside of yourself first. Visualize yourself as a person in a situation and ask, “Why did s/he feel that way?”

Chances are you will discover some new information about yourself, the other person, and/or the situation. Your point of view is larger.

This is a way to gain insight. I don’t know about you, but I find insight to be very valuable.

The less effective strategy is to remember the experience as if you are re-experiencing it, feeling the negative feelings again, and ask, “Why did I feel that way?”

Often your emotion can overwhelm the understanding. People often replay the tape of “he said x, and I felt y” over and over again.

Guess what that does for you?

I dare you to try this now! Think of a recent situation in which you felt an unpleasant emotion. Please pick something with a small to middling emotional effect and not something intensely painful.

For instance, if someone made a remark that you perceived as insensitive and you felt hurt, review the situation as if you are seeing it occur on film. You are one of the characters. See the other character make the remark and see your character reacting.

Now ask, “Why did that remark get to her so much?”

Then notice what happens.

You might need to do this several times to practice if this is new for you.

It’s pretty amazing how such a shift in point of view can make a big difference. Research has shown that people who self-distance from situations that result in unpleasant emotions feel less distressed later, ruminate about the experience less, and are less likely to be hostile when future disagreements arise.

It is amazing to me how many people live decades of their life immersed in either their own point of view, feeling everything intensely, or distancing from everything and not taking anything personally without knowing they can do both — and can choose which point of view to use when.

And…you can review past events and change your point of view. You can actually change your feelings about the past!

We all have a range of emotions. Like the Native American story says, which wolf do you choose to feed? The one with less suffering or more, your own included?

I call this skill perceptual flexibility. It’s worth practicing and cultivating, in my opinion.

By the way, this is elementary Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A scientific study confirmed what NLPers have long known works. I read about it on Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog in case you’d like to read my source.