Lisa Braithwaite is an author, public speaking coach and trainer. She helps creatives, entrepreneurs and professionals create memorable and engaging presentations. Her goal is to help you break out of your shell and emerge as a fully expressed version of the real you—which is already who you are all the time when you’re not in front of an audience. Before launching her public speaking coaching business, Lisa worked in the nonprofit sector for sixteen years as an advocate, educator and trainer. She has a B.A. in Theater and an M.A. in Education. Her philosophy of public speaking is that it’s fun, that it’s an awesome way to express yourself creatively, and that passion and enthusiasm are worth more than a thousand techniques.
CIGDEM KOBU: Could you tell us a little about your work? What led you to the work you’re doing today?
LISA BRAITHWAITE: I help entrepreneurs and professionals create and deliver memorable, engaging presentations. I do this because I want my clients and audiences to learn to love public speaking and enjoy the energy and connection that comes from engaging with an audience. (I also think audiences deserve better than what they’re getting probably 75% of the time.)
I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, teaching, training and any form of being on stage. It was natural for me, although I still had to learn how to give good presentations, just like everyone else. My “trial by fire” was speaking to high school students for six years for a domestic violence organization and teaching myself on the job how to keep their attention, gain their trust and make learning enjoyable for them.
Because all of my jobs in the non-profit world included outreach, speaking, teaching, and training of some sort, I taught myself how to do it, and I became good at it. And when I was laid off for the third time in a four-year period, I decided to strike out on my own—turning my jewelry-making hobby into a business. It wasn’t until a classmate in my entrepreneurship training program saw me speak and asked if I could help her that I realized I could teach other people how to do this and do it well. I launched my business in October 2005.
CIGDEM: What has your biggest challenge been and what was your approach to dealing with it?
LISA: My biggest challenge has been dealing with panic attacks. I was in a car accident 22 years ago which was traumatizing and triggered panic attacks. At the time, I got them under control through short-term therapy, and I almost forgot about them for 18 years. But in 2008 they ramped up again, due to several things that happened that year, including a renovation, a house fire, getting rear-ended, and having one of our kitties diagnosed with cancer. At the beginning of 2009, the “big one” put me in the emergency room when I was unable to get it under control through my own means, and I completely fell apart for several months. I went on medication for six months and had two years of therapy to get myself back on track.
I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that breakdown, but developed many tools this time around with the help of my health care professionals, my own research and my own trial and error. My best approach is always optimism. No matter how bad things get, I know that there’s nowhere to go but up. When I have a panic attack (which are fewer are farther between now), I approach it with all my tools and all my weapons. And then I get back on the bike.
What helps me fend off anxiety is a healthy lifestyle, mostly: getting enough sleep, keeping stress low, eating well, staying hydrated, and exercising. Also, I don’t avoid the things that might trigger a panic attack; I just face the possibility that I might have one, and I go ahead and live my life.
“The way to impact your audience with a memorable and engaging presentation is to step out and stand out from the crowd, to embrace and celebrate what makes you special and share that authentically with the audience.”
CIGDEM: In the past, you developed a media literacy program for inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold. Today, how do you inspire creative women to be stronger, smarter and bolder?
LISA: In working with my clients, there are several ways I encourage them to be strong, smart and bold.
The first is to encourage them to embrace their uniqueness. Many speakers want to fade into the background and not be noticed. They want to get their presentations over with as quickly as possible and go back to being invisible. But the way to impact your audience with a memorable and engaging presentation is to step out and stand out from the crowd, to embrace and celebrate what makes you special and share that authentically with the audience.
The second is to help them put aside fears of being judged. Most people who are anxious about public speaking do not actually fear the speaking itself. They fear making mistakes, being imperfect and being judged. I teach people that they will indeed be judged, but not in the way they think. Audiences “judge” speakers because they are trying to get to know us and figure out how we fit into their perceptions of the world. The audience is trying to determine what their relationship is with the speaker. Can they trust us? Will we listen to them and understand where they’re coming from? Is this relationship worth their time and money? Once we realize this, we can forget about the fear of being judged and just be.
CIGDEM: In your opinion, what are the key elements of building self-confidence?
LISA: Taking risks. Trusting in your own abilities, knowledge and experience. Picking yourself up after failing, and trying again.
CIGDEM: Do you believe understanding your personality type may help you become more self-confident?
LISA: I don’t think understanding your personality type helps you become more self-confident. In fact, I see people every day who use their personality type as a crutch, as an excuse not to do things or try things because it’s not “natural” for them. The book Mindset by Carol Dweck, addresses this issue to some degree. Here’s a quote from her website:
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”
“If you can dig down and find the thing about your topic that matters to you, you can make it matter to your audience. The audience doesn’t care about your gestures and your facial expressions as much as they care about connecting with you on a human level.”
CIGDEM: What is your best advice to a woman who wants to build self-confidence?
LISA: My advice would be to reframe the negative thoughts she has about herself into positive thoughts. When we do this exercise around public speaking we might make a list of negative thoughts like “Who would listen to me?” or “Public speaking is scary” or “I’m going to mess up” and turn those into positive thoughts like “I’ve got a lot of great material to share,” and “I’m nervous about public speaking because it’s important to me to do a good job,” and “If I mess up, it’s not the end of the world. I can make a joke and keep going.”
Change your thoughts, and your behavior will follow.
CIGDEM: You believe that passion and enthusiasm are worth more than a thousand techniques. Could you explain that?
LISA: In some models of public speaking training, people are taught to hold their hands a certain way and move a certain way and do certain things with their voices. I’m of the belief that if you can dig down and find the thing about your topic that matters to you, you can make it matter to your audience. The audience doesn’t care about your gestures and your facial expressions as much as they care about connecting with you on a human level. If you can build that relationship with them and share your enthusiasm for your topic, the delivery (unless highly distracting) is less important.
That’s not to say that delivery is unimportant. However, your authentic connection with the audience trumps the stuff you do with your body.
CIGDEM: How do you go from idea to action? And how does the level of your self-confidence affect this process?
LISA: I am very slow to go from idea to action because I’m a perfectionist. I have to take classes and read books and watch webinars before I’m ready to try something new. So, for example, I will often drag out the launch of a new program for months before implementing it because I want everything to be “just right.” I’m getting better at this and have recently set some program deadlines for myself that I can’t go back on. I’m sure that if I had more self-confidence about attacking new challenges, I wouldn’t take so long to get from point A to point B.
CIGDEM: Where do you find the inspiration and power to keep going when you face difficulties?
LISA: I have an innately optimistic personality. I can get pretty down when things don’t go my way, and I’ll have my little pity party for maybe a whole day. But tomorrow is a new day, and there’s always something that raises my spirits enough to move on from the wallowing. I just find it incredibly hard to believe that things won’t get better. And they always do.
CIGDEM: What methods have you found to deal with your inner critic?
LISA: My husband is really good at setting me straight when I get too hard on myself. He reminds me of what I’m doing right. A lot of the time I just don’t listen to my inner critic at all.
CIGDEM: In business, what is the correlation between one’s self-confidence level and her knowledge of her audience?
LISA: One has to be humble enough to understand that there’s always something new to learn. If you have enough self-confidence to be open to learning, then you will be willing to do the research necessary to learn about your audience and not just make assumptions about them based on arbitrary factors.
CIGDEM: What is the best method for becoming good at articulating what you do precisely?
LISA: Practice. Period. Most of us do not practice enough before speaking either one-on-one or to a group. If you want to articulate what you do, you need to do some work at accurately describing who you serve, what you do for them, and what are the benefits or results. Then once you have that written down and it’s clear and concise, you have to practice saying it to people to make sure it flows, isn’t too long, and isn’t “speechy.”
CIGDEM: What is a practical exercise for getting out of your comfort zone and working your self-confidence muscle? Could you share one with our community?
LISA: My practical exercise for getting out of my comfort zone is, ironically, underpreparing. Because I am such a perfectionist and prepare everything to death, my best method for getting out of my comfort zone is just doing something. Lately, it’s been shooting video.
I used to spend so much time worrying about the lighting, the position of the camera, my makeup and clothes, etc. Now my plan is this: if I’ve just seen a client or given a presentation, I’m already in makeup and I’m already dressed, so it’s time to shoot a video. I usually have a couple of topics in mind. I will come home, set up the video camera where the lighting is decent, and just start talking it through. I will give my 2-3 minute presentation maybe 20 times before I feel that it’s right, but this doesn’t take longer than an hour, and then I’m done. I do a little editing to add titles and eliminate any egregious mistakes and I upload that sucker to YouTube.
One day I got inspiration while I was getting ready to work out (topic: if you don’t exercise your speaking skills, you won’t build speaking and confidence muscles, just like if you don’t exercise, you won’t build physical muscles). I pulled out the camera and shot the video without makeup and in my workout clothes. So maybe I should have powdered my face, but overall, I was happy with the message, and the important thing was that I did it. It’s very freeing, and the more I shoot quickie videos, the more comfortable I become. Which means I’ll need to find a new challenge soon to push me out of my comfort zone.
CIGDEM: Are there any tools, books and other resources you would like to recommend on the topic of building self-confidence?
LISA: I’ve written a book called Presenting for Humans: Insights for Speakers on Ditching Perfection and Creating Connection. I also offer various workshops and services.