Last week, we unpacked two schools of thought regarding the use of critiques to improve your public speaking skill. It turns out that although there are people who thrive when being critiqued, the majority of people who find speaking to be a challenge thrive under very different circumstances. This week, we’ll explore how that works in the first of two parts.
First, let’s define the term “Unconscious Trap.” I created it because I wanted to capture what happens to us when we feel “stuck.” Whether we want to admit it or not, we can all get stuck in a variety of circumstances that are unique to us. Public speaking is simply one very common variety.
The experience of being stuck is a lot like getting caught in a trap. The typical trap my clients describe resembles your standard bear trap—big, unyielding and painful.
Bear traps have a lot in common with Unconscious Traps. Both come from out of nowhere. Both stop you in your tracks. The only difference between them is that when you’re caught in an Unconscious Trap, you can’t see what has you caught.
There’s a biological reason for that.
So before we explore some of the common Unconscious Traps that lie in wait for you when it comes to speaking, let’s talk about some biology for a moment. (I know. It seems random—yet it has a huge payoff for you, so stay with me here.)
Here we go: everything you’ve ever learned to do becomes an automatic response as soon as you master it. That means it simply becomes a part of your Personal Operating System, which is invisible to you, because it’s (you guessed it) unconscious.
Think of all the things you know how to do—without thinking about them. It’s expedient—things are so much easier—when you don’t have to give them much thought. In behavioral terms, we call that Unconscious Competence, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Unconscious Competence is the reason your car makes it home from a late-night party on a Saturday—or gets you home from work late on a Friday after a really trying week—and you have no idea how it happened. The technical term for this is “automatic pilot.”
Everything we call “skill” has its roots in this biology. Walking around on “automatic pilot” is so common that everyone knows what it is. You could say that being unconscious is so common that it’s “a thing.”
The only challenge we face with being unconscious is that it’s a breeding ground for Unconscious Traps. They manifest when we’re unconscious about the behaviors, beliefs or thoughts we learned in the past that no longer serve us. They turn into traps because they begin to hold us back—or stop us.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea that Unconscious Traps exist—even when they get caught in one. Whether you know what it is or not, you can still get caught. That’s exactly what happens when, for example, you’re faced with the possibility that someone will critique your speaking.
And that’s how you get stuck.
The good news is that now you know how Unconscious Traps work. You’ve already taken your first step at addressing them by shining the big light of awareness on them.
Let’s take your awareness a step further as we take a look at three very common Unconscious Traps that lay in wait for unsuspecting speakers. These come from almost two decades of PowerSpeak participants. Each one is a variation that shows up in every single class in one of our first exercises. The goal is to uncover the participants’ biggest Unconscious Traps so we can interrupt them, which we do—100% of the time.
See if any of them look familiar—because that’s your first clue that you’re not alone in this experience. Just being aware that these outdated beliefs or behaviors are traps can help you to avoid them.
Unconscious Trap #1: Feeling “less than”
This outdated belief often has roots in the experience of being compared to someone else in your class, or your family, or your community, and coming up short. “Someone else,” you are told, has the speaking talent that you do not. Unfortunately, being told that speaking is a “talent” that you don’t have, especially when you’re a kid and you don’t have the experience to know any better, makes that belief very hard to shake. Just thinking about speaking can leave you feeling physically ill—yet its root remains invisible to you, because it’s unconscious. This is the reason that speaking is the #1 Fear—and Death is lagging behind at #6.
Unconscious Trap #2: Thinking I need to be an expert/feeling nervous about being challenged by an audience member
This outdated belief has its roots in the old-fashioned practice of the speaker/teacher/presenter as “The Authority.” The only reason they’re up at the podium is because they either know all there is to know about the topic—or they’re in charge. The audience in those circumstances was less likely to push back than 21st century audiences, who have Google to supplement their knowledge. This trap keeps you stuck in the past, when there was a fraction of the information to which we now have access.
Unconscious Trap #3: Afraid that I won’t be able to hold an audience’s attention to the end of my presentation
This outdated belief has its roots in the notion that there is only one way to hold an audience’s attention because speaking is “all about the speaker.” This takes our first trap up to another level, one that is at the root of 80% of stage fright. In this one, the potential speaker is so wrapped up in speaking “the right words” and having “the right content,” the s/he misses the 93% of what truly engages every audience every time, globally, with a wide variety of topics and speaker personalities.
(That 93%—the ability to connect with an audience even before you reach the podium—is the foundation of every PowerSpeak class. It’s the reason it’s helped thousands of speakers to transform their speaking experiences as they energize their audiences. More about that next time.)
Leave me a comment and tell me about your speaking experiences!