EP 11: How To Transform Fear Into Your Superpower with Alex Merry

 

Having spent the first 20 years of his life actively avoiding public speaking, Alex found himself co-running a charity fundraising organisation where public speaking was at the very heart of the growth strategy.

He was delivering hundreds of presentations to universities across the UK and within a few years they had recruited over 250 people and raised over £12.5 million in the process. It was during that time Alex founded TEDxClapham, an offshoot of TED talks, where he helped the speakers prepare for the big stage. Some of those talks went on to change legislation, raise finance and lobby the United Nations. Others have been seen by millions of people across the world.

That was when he realised the true power of writing and delivering a talk that has the potential to inspire change. Since then Alex has been coaching business leaders, entrepreneurs, athletes and academics to create and deliver presentations on some of the biggest stages in the world.

 

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  • The first time it would have been at school and I wasn’t expecting to be feeling the way that I did. From there I associated public speaking with that fear.
  • It took a long time to get over, to learn to manage and cope with those fight-or-flight responses that we all get when we stand up on stage and get put on a pedestal.
  • I’ve been teaching people to do public speaking for the last 3ish years full time but ironically when I became a public speaking coach I started speaking less and less. What happens is when you don’t speak regularly all of the stuff that happened when I was 12 years old came back. So the first time I gave a proper speech I remember standing up on stage right when the event was about to start and my hand was going mental.
  • What really helps people in terms of managing their nerves more than anything else is exposure therapy. Little bits of exposure regularly will help your body start to adapt to these feelings of fight-or-flight. The more you speak the easier it gets.
  • The big thing for me is exercise because it changes your internal bio chemistry. You know that feeling that we get of butterflies in our tummy? The reason why is because the fight-or-flight response happens which is essentially caveman instinct which is there to protect us and keep us safe for thousands and thousands of years.
  • In the past if we came up against something that our bodies perceived to be could put us in potential danger we had two options, we could either attack and fight the danger or we could run away as fast as possible. But the reality is that both exercises, wether you decided to confront it or to run away require a lot of energy. So that feeling of butterflies in your stomach is all your glucose and glycogen stores getting ready and building up and building up so that if you have to get up and fight you've got all the energy ready to go and make that stuff happen.
  • When we are nervous in the lead up to giving a talk what we tend to find is that slowly these glycogen stores start building up and building up, particularly if its been an speaking engagement that has been in the back of our minds for the last 2 or 3 months, and it tends to build and build and the best way to release that its to give the body what it wants and that’s some exercise. I tend to go on a run.
  • Exercise lowers your cortisol levels, gives you endorphins which are feel good hormones, hopefully you can use some of the buzz from exercise and take that to the stage so you come across really enthusiastic too.
  • The two most common causes of stage freight are: not knowing what you are going to say because you haven’t prepared what you are going to say. The other fear is that those who have prepared what they are going to say, their fear is of judgment, whether what they have created is actually any good. By practicing your talk it will start to create muscle memory and you improve the way you deliver because you have to think less about what you are saying. 

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed there’s a third strand of stage freight and fear of public speaking and that is the fear of saying what you really think because of the potential backlash that could come out. What am seeing are on one hand people who literally do not care, they will say whatever they want and they are divisive, you either love them or you hate them. There’s no-one who sits on the fence with these people. But then you got everyone else who has a really flat message that just quite frankly doesn’t land, it's not memorable, don’t have any impact at all.

 

  • The fact that out messages can travel further than ever before means you are going to come across people that don’t necessarily like what you’ve got to say. The second someone says something that could be slightly misconstrued social media jump on it like a pack of wolves and people worry about their reputations and their jobs and so forth. This has consequences on freedom of speech, it has an impact on our ability to debate which is so important yet people don’t feel they can debate or can have disagreements with people.

The world isn’t black and white, the world is lots of different shades of grey and we need to get better at having the courage to say what we really think but probably more important than that being open to listening to views that are not the same as your own.

 

  • Public speaking is an incredible medium to share a message and to create some sort of change. The problem is these days not enough people are using the medium for the right reasons.
  • You have to ask yourself what is the audience going to gain because public speaking is everything about your audience, is has very little to do with you.
  • We’ve forgotten as adults what is like to learn.
  • There’s no correlation between how extroverted you are and how persuasive you can be, how well you communicate with other people, the level of relationship you can build with other people, courage, there’s zero correlation. 
  • There’s a lot of power in silence and in speaking quietly too.
  • Speaking is just like emailing, it’s another form of communication. It’s not about the medium is about what you are using the medium for that’s important.
  • The secret at the heart of any good leader is empathy. It’s not possible to have empathy for every character or person but the more empathy you have for people the more of a chance you have of persuading them and influencing them in the right way.
  • Our inability to express ourselves is a huge problem. The better people can get at saying what they really think to the people that need to hear that message the world would be a happier place. That would help on loads of individual levels because not expressing ourselves leads to mental health problems.

Express yourselves unapologetically and listen to others openly.

 

Connect with Alex:

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