Dr. Judith Wright | September 18, 2018

Own The Room:
How to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

When I speak and give presentations, people often joke about how I “own the room.”

When you speak or give presentations do you know how to own the room? There’s a secret to standing out and attracting positive attention in every situation.

After years of appearances on TV and radio, hosting, and teaching events at the Wright Foundation and publicly speaking, it’s probably assumed that I’m over any fear I have of getting in front of others.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Even I occasionally feel stage fright.

I’ve always been outgoing for the most part. I was a cheerleader back in high school. I had to talk my way through many presentations and situations in college and throughout my career. Yet, I still occasionally blush when I’m standing in front of a room. Occasionally, I’ll trip on my words or worse—trip on the stage—and yes, I get embarrassed.

The first secret to confidence on stage or off is simple: treat yourself with self-compassion. Look at embarrassment or fear as a chance to learn and grow.

The Secret to Getting Over Fear

Fear isn’t a negative emotion. In fact, for many years as human beings were evolving, fear kept us alive. Think of our ancestors in their caves. Fear kept them from getting too close to mountain lions. Fear kept them from foraging near the edge of the cliff. Fear protects us.

Fortunately, nowadays many of us don’t need to avoid mountain lions or forage for food. Most of us live relatively safe lives but we still experience fear. Whenever we feel those familiar feelings of dread coming on, it’s important to acknowledge it and extract the message. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling a “bad emotion” (remember, there are no wrong or “bad” emotions). Instead, acknowledge and examine it. Tell yourself, “I’m feeling afraid. Why am I feeling this fear? What is stirring up these feelings?”

When we’re afraid, it’s difficult to feel engaged—and if you want to own the room, you must engage with your audience.

Avoiding Engagement Blockers

Some blocks to engagement include poor affective forecasting, loss aversion, dread, pseudo-engaging (a.k.a. escaping with soft addictions), fear of being hurt or rejected, and what we call a lack of self-efficacy. As you can see, a common thread in these engagement blockers is feelings of fear.

Poor affective forecasting is when we play the “worst case scenario” game. How many of us play through all sorts of terrible outcomes when we’re faced with a challenge? We imagine we’ll fall off the stage, throw up, or something even worse. When we do this, we imagine that the risk far outweighs the reward. Fortunately, this is rarely the case.

Loss aversion is when we would rather avoid loss than to risk going for a potential award (even if what we have isn’t satisfying). In fact, this concept commonly comes up in marketing scenarios. Marketers learn that customers would rather “not lose” money than “save” money (even if the dollar amounts and the end result is the same). Simply by reframing the statement to imply loss, the customer will avoid it. Many of us experience loss aversion that blocks our growth. We may resist taking a more rewarding job because we’re worried we’ll lose money, for example. Or we may risk giving up a familiar activity even though it doesn’t bring us happiness.

Other engagement blocks like pseudo-engaging can also lead to soft addictions. We may lose ourselves in an activity like scrolling through social media, under the guise that we’re connecting with people. In reality, we’re using these time-wasters to avoid actual engagement in real life.

Dread and fear of being hurt and rejected are also blocks to engagement, driven by the emotion of fear. We may worry about moving outside our comfort zone. We may fear that people will reject us or laugh at us (which again, also goes back to poor affective forecasting).

Another engagement blocker is what we call a lack of self-efficacy.

A lack of self-efficacy can best be understood via the children’s story of The Little Engine that Could. In the story, the little engine was able to make it up a steep incline by repeating to itself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” As with many universally beloved children’s stories, there’s a lesson for all of us in it. Self-efficacy is more than just self-confidence or self-esteem. It’s not just a generalized feeling that we’re okay, but rather it’s a specific belief in our ability to take effective action. This belief is accompanied by engagement; it is not some idle thought or superficial self-dialogue—if you are not doing, you do not really believe. When we lack self-efficacy, we tell ourselves, “I don’t think I can do it. I’m not capable. It’s just too hard.”
We doubt our ability to travel to a foreign country, to take on a new career or job, to establish a relationship with someone who seems “out of our league,” to reestablish a valued relationship with a loved one, or to awaken the spiritual part of ourselves. We resist, therefore, because “we think we can’t, we think we can’t, we think we can’t.”
In our coaching, we occasionally encounter folks who think they have self-efficacy but are continually making excuses. Excuses are a sign you lack self-efficacy. The little engine took action. Even though the hill was steep, it kept going.
-Transformed! The Science of Spectacular Living

Engage with Those Around You

If you want to have more confidence when you speak, present, or network at an event, the key is to engage with your audience. Even if you find those fears and engagement blockers cropping up you can still own the room.  One of the ways to shift into a more engaging mindset is to act like the host.

What does a host (or hostess) do at a get-together? They greet each person warmly. They make eye contact. They ensure everyone is comfortable, has a chair, and a drink. A great host makes an effort to connect with each person. When they’re hosting a meeting, they know what they want to talk about. They steer the conversation and help others navigate (quite different from dominating the conversation or lecturing).

A great host engages in dialogue. They smile. They light up with aliveness and energy. A host owns the room.

Now, you may not coordinate every meeting or every presentation that you attend, but you can still shift into your host mindset. This means speak up and share your opinions. Engage with everyone in the room.

Remember that you are a worthwhile person—a gift to the world and those around you—and you have an important voice. Rather than sitting back and letting the event unfold around you, shift into host mode.

If you’re presenting or speaking, think like a host as well. Many of us feel much more comfortable in our own living room than on a stage. Imagine if you were in your home, speaking to friends or family. If you know your material and speak from your heart, you’ll connect with an auditorium just as intimately as you would a dinner table. Own the space and rather than telling yourself you’re the stoic presenter, teacher, or lecturer, put on your host hat and engage with the people in your audience.

Often when we’re being the host, there’s no room for fear or lack of self-efficacy to creep in. We’re too busy shifting our mindset to meeting the needs of our guests. We’re telling them what they need to hear, we’re listening to them, and helping them feel engaged and valued.

If you want to own the room at your next event or presentation, try this simple method to shift your focus toward your audience. All of us feel stage fright and fear from time to time, but when we’re the host our mindset shifts and we’re often more confident and comfortable.

For more ways to live a vibrant life visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for a networking event where you can connect with others who are growing and learning. Many of our courses are now available for download. Don’t miss this great opportunity to check them out at a special introductory price!

 About the Author

Judith Wright receives the Visionary Leader Award from Chicago NAWBO.

Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.