Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fear of Speaking

The following is supposed to be the first article for my newspaper column with a local English Daily. However, due to some unforeseen circumstances, the column never really took off. Anyway, since it has been written, I just thought of sharing it with you. Feel free to comment. Thanks.

I was pleasantly surprised to read in the newspapers recently that University Malaya has revived its Speakers’ Corner to allow students to voice their opinions publicly after an interval of so many years. Although there were mixed reactions (justifiably so) from the public as to the purpose and effectiveness of setting up such a channel of communication, I believe the intention was right. We need to produce more graduates in this country who can speak English in public effectively. Now, if only more local institutions of higher learning would follow suit and set up their own Speakers’ Corner, too, as a platform to encourage more students and even teachers to speak more eloquently and confidently in public.
The ability to speak in public has always been highly regarded by men and women since time immemorial. From the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who attracted large groups of men to listen to them speak in ancient halls to the modern day orators such as Barack Obama who mesmerised people all over the world during his presidential election campaign (but not necessarily after), it is evident that great speakers have been immortalized by their speeches. Who could ever forget Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” or John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country could do for you”? Or our beloved Bapa Kemerdekaan Tunku Abdul Rahman’s “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” These were speeches that defined their era.
Yet, public speaking remains a skill which many people wished to have but wouldn’t really believe they could have. It is as if the world is divided into two groups: public speakers and non-public speakers. When I conduct my public speaking workshops, I would ask the participants, “Please raise your hand if you are a public speaker.” Ten times out of ten, no one would raise a hand. “Well,” I said, “I know that we Malaysians are extremely humble. So, do you hide yourself in some corners first when you want to speak to someone?”

Of course not and that’s exactly my point! None of us is a private speaker (if such a term actually exists). We are all public speakers even though we may be speaking to an audience of just one. However, many people believe that public speaking occurs only when one addresses a large group of audience. Actually, that’s just one of the many types of public speaking situations. Other examples of public speaking situations include a teacher teaching a class, a manager conducting a meeting, a salesperson making a sale and even a parent disciplining a child. In fact if an office receptionist applies the techniques of public speaking when answering the phone, she would be a more effective frontline customer service personnel for the company. Simply put, mastery of public speaking skills will certainly benefit you.
I honestly believe that anyone can learn to speak in public. Even though a lot of people whom I’ve met revered those who could speak eloquently in public as if they possessed some forms of magical abilities, there’s really no magic involved. And I have some good news for you. Public speaking is a type of skill and as with all types of skills in the world, it can be learned. Just like you can learn how to ride a bicycle or play the piano. However, just because it can be learned doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. A lot of people can ride the bicycle but not everyone wants to be like Lance Armstrong.

When it comes to public speaking, the first obstacle to overcome can be found in the grey matters between the ears. Sir George Jessel, a 19th century English judge hit the nail on the head when he said, “The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public!” Those of us who have had the honour of suddenly being asked to deliver a speech during an official function would readily agree with Sir George Jessel. “My mind just went blank.” We hear that a lot, don’t we?

Comedian Jerry Sienfield once commented about a survey in the United States which showed that the fear of speaking in public ranked higher than the fear of death. He noted that according to the survey, if he were asked to deliver a eulogy, he would rather be the one lying in the coffin instead. Just how true this is, you might ask. Well, I’ve seen people’s faces literary turned green just before they spoke before a group. And some would rather call in sick than run the gauntlet. Perhaps the popular TV show ‘Fear Factor’ should consider adding public speaking as one of the challenges to be overcome. If the survey result was accurate, the participants would readily swallow the fat and juicy larvae than stand up to speak before a crowd!
So, how do we overcome the fear of public speaking? Just like if you were to go sailing, you would set the sail first, and so you must set your mindset right first before you could speak in public. The human mind is very interesting. It could think of positive and negative thoughts but not both at the same time. You must make a choice about what thoughts to think about regarding public speaking. If you think “I can’t speak”, “I’m not qualified enough” or “I’m so nervous I’ll forget everything I want to say” you will certainly freak out even before you start to speak.
Instead, since you are already thinking anyway, choose to fill your minds with positive thoughts such as “I’m a public speaker”, “I like myself”, “I’m an interesting person” or “I’ll touch someone’s life today”. By focusing on these positives thoughts, we would be in a more ready state of mind to deliver a speech. Anthony Robbins taught that what the mind focuses on grows. And my personal experience tells me that it’s true. A more confident person always outperforms a nervous wreck.

This week, choose to think positive thoughts about yourself speaking in public. The ancient Chinese sage Confucius said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well, this is the first step that you are taking in this long journey of personal growth. Now, raise your hand if you are a public speaker.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing with you on other tips of public speaking and personal growth. Feel free to email me at

Luke Bong is a trainer with Lighthouse Education and Training in Miri.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Get Out of A Rut

"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow." Helen Keller

I came across this quote last week and it really had an impact on me. One of the biggest reasons was because this very sentence came from someone who was physically blind. Yet, despite her blindness, she was able to utter such words of wisdom about human sight.

Often times I get into a rut thinking about something that I either don't like or don't want to happen. Well, guess where that leads me to. Definitely not a very motivating state. Just recently, I was asked to do something at the very last minute. To make matters worse, I already promised my son that I would stay at home that night to spend some time with him. Imagine the guilt I felt for letting my 4 year old son down.

Well, thank goodness for the quote by Ms. Keller. I quickly focused my attention on the 'sunshine', i.e. the possible solutions rather than focusing on the 'shadows', i.e. the guilt and consequences of this situation which I have suddenly been dealt with. And surprisingly, when I started to focus my attention on the solutions, I was able to come to a real solution where I could execute the last minute assignment effectively and at the same time had a great time with my son right after that.

Well, the next time you face a situation which you don't like, just do what Helen Keller suggested. "
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow."


Monday, March 15, 2010

Dealing with Setbacks

Every now and then, life throws us a curve ball. And it can be a painful experience. For example, you are really looking forward to something (e.g. relationship, business venture, opportunities) and everything seems to be going right for you when suddenly, you get a rejection or an answer which is contrary to what you have been expecting. I know how that feels as I have had my fair shares of the curve balls thrown at me.

Before we start trading curve ball stories with each other, let me get something straight. This post is not about inviting readers to write in their 'curvest' (if there ever was such a word) ball story to win a carton of Premiere tissue paper. This post is about how to handle the curve ball so that we can still be in the game. One of my favourite movie heroes is Rocky Balboa and he has a saying that I love a lot. "It ain't over till it's over."

So, how do we deal with a curve ball? Firstly, recognise that it's exactly what it is: a ball (metaphor you can use to substitute with 'events', 'problems', 'situations') Don't give it more value that it deserves. By giving it more value, we are magnifying it so much that we feel helpless about situations in life. Many times, people give themselves excuses such as "I can't do this because something or someone did something to me. Life is just not fair." And they burst out in tears.

Well, I'd love to humbly suggest an alternative way to deal with this curve ball situation. It's a principle in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) called reprogramming. The next time you get served a curve ball say something like, "Because something or someone did this to me, all the more I'm going to get (what you want) in life." Sure, it may be just a sentence. But don't our sentences and words give meanings to our lives?

I'll share a personal story with you about how Lighthouse Education was started. Ken, my wife and I had this idea that we needed more capital to set up this company. So, I approached SME Bank in Miri to apply for a start-up loan. We did a lot of hard work to prepare the proposal, presentation, business plan and we even gave a 30 minutes business presentation to the bank manager. Throughout the presentation, the manager gave us the impression that things would be positive and we would have no trouble getting our loan. By the way, we only wanted to borrow RM50,000 as start-up and initial working capital. The waiting period was 30 days so during this time, we went about our respective duties, eagerly anticipating the much needed cash.

1 month later, the moment we have been waiting for arrived. I called up the bank only to be told that we didn't get the loan. At that moment, I felt like I've just been hit by a stun gun. I politely put down the phone and I called my wife. I told her, "Our loan application has just been rejected. Because of that I'm sure Lighthouse will be a great success! Let's make it happen." Now that I think of it, my wife would have been pretty worried about my logical senses at that moment. Next, I called up Ken and told him exactly the same thing. And guess what, the pain of knowing that there won't be RM50,000 waiting for us as we start our business was not that painful anymore and a sense of pride was slowly building up inside of me. It's like a voice in my head telling me "Hey! You can do it! Now, make it happen!"

Well, to cut a long story shorter, we just went ahead with Lighthouse Education & Training and we are so glad that we did exactly that. The joy of knowing that we no longer needed the loan gave us a strong boost to our level of confidence.

I'm not writing this to impress you but rather to impress upon you that when you get served a curve ball by life, the immediate response from you is crucial. Make the choice to say the following: "Because something or someone did this to me, all the more I'm going to get (what you want) in life."


Thursday, March 4, 2010

The most powerful tool in the world is...

the human brain, of course. Yet, it is also terribly under utilized. I read in a book by Tony Buzan that people only use 1% of their brain to memorize things. I wonder what the other 99% is used for? Well, I know the brain is responsible for controlling thousands of bodily functions which we take for granted so that must be keeping it busy everyday.

In today's Borneo Post under the comics section, there was a very cute comic strip entitled Zits. Below is the conversation between Jeremy and his brain.

Jeremy: C'mon, brain! You have all of the knowledge I need for this final and I need it now.
Brain: Sorry, I don't work well under pressure.
Jeremy: Fine. I'll take the exam without you.
Brain: Wouldn't be the first time.
(After a moment)
Jeremy: At least help me with the multiple-choice questions!! (and proceeded to strangle his brain. I did say it was comics, didn't I?)

The brain is capable of great creativity but we tend to subject it to what Anthony Robbins called "Learned Helplessness". What do I mean? Answer the following questions quickly:

When you are wearing your pants, which leg goes in first? Left or right? If you were like most people, you would probably not be able to answer that instantly. Don't worry. Now go and try it and see which leg goes in first.

Done? The next thing for you to do is this. If your left leg goes in first, now try to use your right leg and vice versa. (This is when people start losing their balance and start falling down)

What's the purpose of this exercise other than finding out which is your preferred leg? Well, it's to show us that we don't challenge/ question the norm enough. That results in what my professor friend says 'square thinking'. And it also explains why people have predictable behaviour and habitual patterns.

To have a breakthrough, first start with breakthrough thinking. To have breakthrough thinking, start by challenging your own thoughts and ideas. That's what people teach in creativity classes. And it works! Try it.