Monday, May 20, 2019
I hate public speaking. It is, perhaps, one of my greatest fears (that and snakes....). So, when I took a job teaching, I wondered what on earth I was doing in a profession where I had to talk all the time. Over seven years later, I still get occasional nerves the first day of class or when I am doing a big speech to an outside group, but that crippling fear that made me want to pass out or throw up (or both), is largely gone. What has helped me the most has been practice, preparation, and more practice. By practice, I mean continually accepting speaking engagements or volunteering, for example, to help the dean read names at the awards ceremony.
I know that I am not alone in my fear of public speaking, even among lawyers. Professor Heidi K. Brown, the Director of Legal Writing at Brooklyn Law School and author of The Introverted Lawyer, recently published an article in ABA Journal that recounts her own struggle with her fear of public speaking. For Prof. Brown, the advice to just prepare more or to "fake it till you make it" didn't work. However, she found success in "adopting new mental and physical strategies for stepping into performance events authentically."
First, she rejected the "soundbite messages to simply overprepare, overpractice, fake it and view our nervousness as the world's greatest motivator." Instead, she identified and wrote down the nasty self-talk that she heard when she did performance events, like "they're going to think that you are incompetent," and identified the sources of those messages. Once the messages were identified and sourced, they could be recognized and deleted as "outdated and no longer relevant."
She then identified areas in her life where she felt she had "swagger." Now, when she feels that old, outdated, abusive self-talk come in, she replaces it with the swagger that she feels at those positive times.
Third, she adopts a "power pose" that helps calm her down. While she still might get nervous at times, she no longer "obssess[es] about outcomes," but rather "assess[es] whether [she] satisfied [her] 'performance process' checklist."
I appreciated Prof. Brown's perspective, and have already shared it with a student who seemed extra nervous during oral argument practice. I plan on reading Prof. Brown's book soon, to get other tips. While I will still tell my students to prepare, since I think that a lack of preparation is often their source of nerves, it is helpful to know that for some people that mantra doesn't work.
Do you struggle with oral argument nerves? Feel free to share in comments your best tips for overcoming those nerves!