Presentation skill training: Overcoming public speaking anxiety with NLP

An interview with NLP Trainer Jonathan Altfeld

Jonathan Altfeld - presentation skill training

Too late for presentation skill training.
You have to present tomorrow morning.
That's ten hours away but you're already there, living out the fear.
You feel sick. You're flip-flopping between wanting to call to cancel and gritting it through...

It was to shed light on that self-limiting pattern of 'Yes I can, No I can't' thinking that I contacted Jonathan Altfeld, whose website describes him as an NLP Trainer, Modeler, Innovator & Master Practitioner.

Jonathan's presentation skill training focuses on developing strategies to bypass negative self-belief and replace them with success. He trains frequently in England & Europe, Canada, Australia, and all around the USA.

The questions I asked Jonathan are bolded. His answers are below.

Jonathan, you say on your website that your presentation skill training can move people from scared to present, to ready and excited. How do you do that?

Thanks for inviting me to do an interview with you, Susan. I love what you're doing and hope this helps your website viewers develop themselves and live more enriched lives!

Regarding moving people out of their fear of speaking, I do that in a variety of ways, because each person does their fear differently. There isn't only one form of fear of public speaking, right?

With some people, it's a sweaty-hands, run-away-now full-on phobia, so that requires one sort of indirect intervention. With others, it's just a mild anxiety or nervousness that can potentially color or hurt the beginning of a presentation, and then THAT makes things worse than the fear did, so that requires a unique process or solution. With still others, it's the rampant internal dialogue asking negative questions that makes it difficult or impossible to stay on track with our material, and there are amazingly easy solutions to those patterns. And there are many more sorts of patterns.

The "world" has grouped all these different fear patterns into one category -- the "fear of public speaking" -- which then makes any and all "one-size-fits-all" solutions -- at best only slightly helpful, and at worst, useless.

So with each person, in order to break through or work around their pattern easily, naturally, and enjoyably, I first begin by identifying each person's unique pattern(s). I figure out or unpack how they specifically do "their fear" -- as if it's a skill they do. And then I create targeted pattern interrupts for each person, and teach them a new way to be. I use "tasks", or exercise drills, to get them to try out the new way of being, behaving, thinking, & speaking.

The end result, every time, is that the fear disappears.

I'll give two examples, so you know I'm not just making crazy claims here!

If someone's unique way of getting scared begins with some external sensory trigger that causes their internal dialogue to go crazy asking themselves awful questions (like, "What if I'm not good enough?" or "What if they hate my presentation?" etc)... then that's what starts their fear cycle. If I make it impossible at the right moment for their internal dialogue to start spinning up and out of control... then the person doesn't kickstart their fear response. Without the fear, they begin building a new pattern (which is why I like to be there not only for creating the pattern interrupt, but also to train a new behavioural result at the right moment).

If someone's unique way of getting scared begins with making enormous pictures in their minds of people having an undesirable response to their presentation, if they blow those pictures out of proportion, that might make them feel small, and that might kickstart their fear. If I make it impossible at a key moment to make those undesireable pictures/movies appear "large" in their minds, then the person doesn't feel small, and the fear doesn't start cycling. That creates a new behavioral and emotional option, a moment of potential power. Being present to train a new choice and use a new skill at that moment is then absolutely key.

What is NLP?
(A simple answer please, one that someone not familiar with the jargon of NLP will understand.)

NLP is the study of patterns of excellence -- in behaviour, cognition, and language. Over time, this has resulted in an ever-growing collection of success strategies, coaching methods, and accelerated learning systems, that is sweeping the world. As a result, NLP can be used to learn almost anything, better, more thoroughly, and faster -- than many other approaches offer.

Consider this: As an NLP trainer who's been actively training on 3 continents since 1997, I recognize that about half the books on the self-help bookstore shelves were written by people who've had at least some NLP training. They're not all referencing NLP, but they've learned at least some along their own paths.

Many, many, many coaches around the world consider NLP to be one of their best tools in creating desired changes for their clients. Largely because NLP was originally born from efforts to study extraordinarily effective therapists.

Put this into a public speaking context, and NLP can help make anyone a more gifted presenter than they currently are -- in a very short period of time.

There are many methods recommended for getting rid of public speaking fear. What is different about the NLP based approach?

We'd probably have to compare each such other method with NLP to more accurately identify what's different.

Consider this though.
NLP is all about process, not about content. In other words, we're not concerned with WHAT a speaker is going to say, with WHAT's in their hearts, minds, or mouths. We're concerned with HOW a speaker behaves, speaks, thinks, and feels. And we have methods for very rapidly optimizing those behavioral, mental, and communication patterns.

In my 5-day speaker's training, I literally only spend about 4 hours on the first day getting people past their fears/concerns. That's all I ever need -- all they ever need. Because their fears are gone very early on.

Once people aren't running their fear patterns anymore, then we can move on to spending the rest of the 4 and a half days on topics like how to learn to influence audiences emotionally. How to be inside your head thinking about what comes next, while still having your attention externalized enough to pay attention to how your audience is responding.
How to package one's information in a way that creates action in audiences. How to manage one's own emotions so that they remain flexible but in a leadership role the entire time (and the list continues).

I don't and won't train all those amazing skills in anyone until they're through or past their fear patterns. Many other systems don't care whether someone is done with their fear patterns first, they have an agenda to follow. But people color their lessons with their emotions. So if someone learns effective speaking skills while they're nervous, then they learn how to do all those skills, nervously. That's horrible!

So I well know that for many people, the fear is all-encompassing, or debilitating. But getting through the fear fast and easily (and often, in surprisingly fun ways) is only the first step into an extraordinary learning process.

I believe most methods for dealing with people's fear... deals directly with the fear. That's no fun.

I'd rather show people incredibly effective and blazingly fast ways to rewire PAST/AROUND their fear. So they never have to "deal with it" -- it just disappears.

I will say this: Not every intervention I come up with works perfectly the first time; it's not magic, it just seems like magic, because it's fast. If one method doesn't work, it doesn't mean the student can't be "fixed" or can't "get it." To me it means I hadn't yet learned enough about how they personally do their specific version of their fear, so my first task/suggestion/exercise didn't fully interrupt their pattern. My fault, not theirs. So, if one approach doesn't work, I make it my immediate business to learn more about their unique pattern, until I can design a better pattern-interrupt & exercise drill. I do always solve it though -- for everyone -- and always sometime during the morning of day 1!

That's why I limit my speakers courses to 15, though. I can't guarantee the above result in one morning for more than 15 people at a time.

Is NLP suitable for everybody or a particular type of person?
What are the common backgrounds of the people you most frequently work with?

NLP-based coaching or training is suitable for absolutely anyone -- and at any point in their development, because when NLP coaching is done well/right, the solutions the trainer/coach comes up with are targeted to each person's unique personality, as well as unique mental, behavioral, and linguistic patterns.

Now that said, not all NLP trainings or trainers are suitable for everyone. It depends on the course offering, what the course aims to deliver, and what audience a course is targeted for.

E.g., not everyone would be suitable for an NLP Master Practitioner course, nor would they even be ready for one (there are usually pre-requisites).

Some NLP courses aim at teaching NLP itself, rather than *using* NLP to train a specific area/skill more effectively. I have both types of courses. The difference here is that some courses teach NLP *content*. Whereas some courses use an NLP-based *process* to train a specific skill-set more effectively.

My 5-day presentation skill training course (Speaking Ingeniously) is one of the latter -- public speaking and presenting is the skill, NLP is simply the process for training it better. Also, that course is intentionally kept to small groups of 15 people maximum, because it's a coaching course, not a huge group for me to do all the presenting. In this course, I train and coach, I don't just lecture. So that is truly a one-size-fits-all speakers course.

As for common backgrounds, it runs the gamut. Salespeople, attorneys, marketers, academics, negotiators, public speakers, business owners, and more. It's fascinating, that everyone bringing their own different *content* to the stage doesn't make it harder to teach my material. If anything, it makes it easier for everyone to learn my process, since each person sees, hears, and feels my NLP-based methods growing within each student's delivery.

What are the typical problems or challenges people come with? Are they freed of them after a training?

You've raised a great question here, because while I do occasionally get something really unique to work with, there are definitely some more common challenges people face in public speaking. Here are some examples of the kinds of things I regularly work with, train *out* of people's behavior, or *optimize* within their behavior.

  • fear of speaking
  • excessive internal dialogue
  • too much random foot movement or nonstop leaning
  • excessive gestures
  • random access to content (no flow)
  • too much time in negative states (depresses an audience)
  • not enough time in negative states (doesn't connect us to you!)
  • not enough emotion when we need it
  • too much emotion (or the wrong ones) at the wrong time
  • unclear transitions
  • not enough motivational development -- ending fizzles out
  • language too complicated / frozen internal representations
  • nervousness makes people go too fast
  • not enough stage presence and stage ownership
  • insufficient audience awareness
  • insufficient audience interaction

Visit this page for my "Speaking Ingeniously" course and you'll see 4 sets of before/after videos.

Read through the descriptions of those case studies. You'll see a number of the above challenges faced & overcome there!

Would you say the focus of NLP is more about delivery , that is how you say it, rather than the content itself?

Absolutely. How I view/phrase it if you were in the presentation skill training room now is... you have something incredibly rich inside you that you feel a need to share with others. You envision yourself sharing that rich gift with the world, and you desire to do it, but for whatever reason, that inner vision isn't being met with an equally powerful external result or performance. Or there's fear in the way. Or you feel your skills aren't ready yet. Whatever it is for each person right now -- it's some form of hesitation or block, or maybe there's no hesitation but the words and the sequence of the words aren't coming out optimally -- YET.

But none of that diminishes the incredible value of the richness inside each of you. So you bring to the presentation skill training room what's inside you, what you want or need to share with others.

What I bring is a better method of delivery, as well as an incredibly powerful presentation skill training process for helping each person to learn to be more masterful with themselves, on stage. It isn't about acting. It's about being more of who you want and need to be, AND pair that with good platform skills, thoughtful information packaging strategies, and effective emotional influence.

So you bring that rich content inside your heart and mind; you bring the WHAT.

I'll help shape up your process; I'll bring the HOW!

Which is the best way for people to learn and apply NLP techniques? In person or online?

In person is far and away the absolute best method for using NLP to learn anything. Yes, I'm offering some courses online, and that's largely a result of market pressures heading in that direction, but that's not my optimal preference. Because what ends up happening is, when someone comes to a live event, they really do shut out the world and focus on their development. People shut off their cellphones, they travel to a place, and they immerse themselves in investing in their own growth.

When people learn online ... sure it's incredibly convenient for all of us because we don't have to put time and money into travelling. I don't have to rent a big training space and put time into setting up equipment, etc.

But then I can't fully control the whole training room to keep the training space optimal for all students, upbeat, energetic, well-lit, appropriate temperature, quiet (or with music at key moments!)
People have kids running around in the background sometimes. Not everyone shuts off their phones. People get up and go to the bathroom at odd moments. It's not what I'd call an optimal training paradigm.

More importantly, I run a LOT of small-group exercise drills in groups of 2-4 people at a time. I can't do that as easily online. My online training room does offer break-out groups, but it's just not the same as in-person.

Could you share one or two presentation skill training techniques that readers can try for themselves?

Here's something to do with gaining control of your emotional states, such as if/when you're nervous.

While NLP does have trainable ways to learn to change a negative state literally as quickly as snapping one's fingers... for people not-yet-trained in NLP, the fastest way to change your state is to change your breathing. And not just slow your breathing down, though that can work for many people.

Try this to calm your state anytime you're nervous or agitated:
Breathe in quickly through your nose or mouth (nose preferred but both work here), then breathe out Very Slowly through your mouth. A count of 1 during the inhale, then a count of 4 or 5 during the exhale. Not only will this calm you down, it'll slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure.

Here's another fun presentation skill training technique:
Next time you're about to begin to talk to someone, whether 1 or 1000 or anywhere in between... before you open your mouth, imagine you've got a secret that you haven't yet decided whether or not you're going to share with them -- feel it for real, not just acting -- and allow yourself to start feeling playfully sneaky emotions.

Then watch as their faces immediately start showing more curiosity. Which in turn makes them hungrier for whatever you choose to tell them.

Emotional influence is pure gold.

Your website is chock full of information.
What's a good place to start to get an overview of the presentation skill training that you offer?

Thanks for asking!
I recommend beginning with this page, which is my recommended starting point for exploring how NLP can help anyone in certain areas of study.
How to learn NLP

Here's a link further down the page above specifically for speakers, which provides recommendations for developing public speaking skills.

In addition, people should definitely be aware of the extensive free areas of my website where they can do lots of exploring & learning!

Thank you Jonathan for your taking the time to share your expertise. If you want to find out more about his presentation skill training, voice training or any of his courses get in touch with him through this contact form.
He'll respond as soon as he can. I know because he came back to me within 24 hours!