Public Speaking Skills: Rituals vs Crutches

by | 10 May 2012 | Public Speaking

Yesterday at one of our City Business Library seminars I was asked my thoughts about using a ritual to help overcome nerves when public speaking. My response was that rituals can certainly help but to be cautious about developing one that relies on something or someone else to achieve success. A lucky pair of socks can get lost! There is a fine line between a ritual that can helps you prepare you and a crutch which supports you but that can easily get knocked away.

The question was really good so we thought it a good idea to expand on it here.

As a good example of a ritual, I spoke about a city-based client of ours who imagines a large friendly dog jumping up and licking his face before high-pressure meetings. Thinking of the dog makes him smile, which relaxes him and allows him to work through his nervous adrenaline.

One of the most famous rituals is that used by Jonny Wilkinson the England Rugby player whose distinctive movements pre-kicking caused several reports he was looking to trademark the movement. His series of movements culminating in a prayer-like gesture with his hands helped him to overcome his nerves. Like our client’s imaginary dog this is a ritual that helps him take a moment to breathe and focus on the job in hand, rather than worry about past or future concerns. Because the ritual is reliant on him it is less likely to go wrong.

Looking into this however I found an article by Jonny where he talks about wearing the same t-shirt under his shirt. This is less of a ritual and strays more into crutch territory, which means should the t-shirt get lost in the wash it could cause him some stress that isn’t wanted (although he insists that it wouldn’t)!

We often tell our delegates on presentation skills courses to plan that anything that can go wrong technically will go wrong. If your presentation is reliant upon Youtube streaming well or your iPad to function properly we always counsel making sure that you can still deliver the goods if they don’t work. If you have made technology your crutch and have decided that your presentation will go well because of it, you can feel very adrift if they let you down.

Having a pre-public speaking ritual is therefore a good idea if it works for you and helps you to take a moment, acknowledge your nerves, breathe, smile and then go and do it. But beware the crutch that can let you down at the crucial moment and could plunge you deeper into your nerves and worries.


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