In the public speaking classes that I teach, I tread a delicate balance. I recognize that many students are afraid to speak in front of a crowd, yet I still hold them to high standards on their speeches.
Each semester I issue one tip that probably sounds counter-intuitive. I tell my students to fake it. Not their preparation or research, mind you, but their confidence. I tell them to go to the front of the room, ground their stance, and speak with authority, even if they're terrified. Even if they're having an out-of-body experience. Even if they sit down after the speech and can't entirely recall what happened during the last 6-8 minutes.
I give this advice because it works.
We all know that our feelings -- say, nervousness or fear -- can be revealed through physical actions, like when our hands shake or our voice quivers. But the phenomenon works in the opposite direction, too. Our physical actions don't just reflect our inner feelings; they also can impact those feelings.
When I tell my students to act confidently (even if they feel nervous on the inside), eventually their internal feelings catch up with their external display. They become confident. Over the past eight years I've listened to over three thousand student speeches (let that sink in for a minute), and I've witnessed some striking transformations.
This advice doesn't just work for public speaking. In regular life, how I feel internally impacts how I respond externally. I'm feeling lethargic, so I lay on the couch. Simple, right? But sometimes I lay on the couch and then feel lethargic. (Of course, sometimes I lay on the couch and feel amazing, but that's another message for another post. It's all about balance, people.)
At any rate, this week I tried an experiment. What if I applied this principle to my parenting? What if I took one day and acted like I have energy, even when I don't? What if I brought outward enthusiasm to every task, no matter how ordinary?
What if I acted like I was delighted to play Strawberry Shortcake figurines with my two-year-old? Or like I couldn't wait to turn the page of the book that we've read over a dozen times before? What if I made it my job to lead Simon Says? What if I appeared like I wanted nothing more than to crawl in circles around the family room floor and give my kids pony rides?
And the results? I discovered that pretty much everything -- with the exception of playing make-believe with those Strawberry Shortcakes, which always sucks the creative life-force out of me -- wasn't acting.
I wasn't faking enthusiasm just to fake it. I was faking it until it became real.
And then I pretty much felt like this:
If you'd like to hear the science behind how how our body language shapes who we are, check out this TED talk by Amy Cuddy. I show it to my students each semester.
Enjoy more from Robin Kramer with her book Then I Became a Mother.
"Hilarious and spot-on!" (Jennifer Mullen, Mosaic of Moms)
"I got so caught up in it, I couldn't put it down." (Stacie Nelson, Motherhood on a Dime)