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Essential Speaking Skills
All about the art of public speaking.

Upping your Stage Presence Part I - White Dog vs. Black Dog

One time a Zen master shared with his students a story. He told them that he has two dogs. The first one is a white dog, benevolent and kind. The second one is a black dog, ferocious and wicked. Everyday the black dog will fight with the white dog. Out of curiosity, one of his students asked “Which dog wins?” And the Zen master replied “Whichever I feed the most.”

Inside us, we have two dogs too. The first is the white dog. Each time we are on stage, it will encourage us with its kind words. “You will be just fine!” or “Look, the audience love you! Keep doing what you are doing!” And every time we hear its soothing voice, we will feel much calmer and assured. Unfortunately, we also have the black dog. And more often than not, it is much stronger and louder. No matter how prepared we are, it will throw wet blanket at us and unleash negative comments that demoralize us. For example “You are going to screw up just like the other time.” or “Hurry up and get it done and over with, the audience has no time for you!” Ring any bells?

Unfortunately, we listen to the black dog more than we do with the white dog. We believe the black dog and distrust the white dog. This, my friends, is the root cause of our nervousness, and also one of the major barriers we faced as we try to upp our stage presence. The real reason why we are terrified on stage is not because of our nerves. It is the inner voices from the black dog that is causing us so much pain and fear. On stage, we become so focused on ourselves and our fears that we become paralysed. As a result, we fail to put our attention on our audience.

When we give your speech, we get distracted by the black dog - “You are going to forget your speech again!” As you attempt to look at your audience, the black dog barks at you - “Yeah look if you want… don’t blame me if you see the bored faces.” The more you listen to the black dog, the more control it has over you. Without you knowing, other symptoms will start manifesting itself. You either start mumbling like an old nanny or rattle on like a bullet train. You start getting more uncomfortable as times goes. Your hands will turn cold. Your legs will start shaking. And you begin to fieel out of place. Before long, your connection with the audience will break and there’s no turning back… all thanks to your black dog.

So how do you remedy it? How do you reduce your nervousness and focus on your audience? Simple! By feeding your white dog. The more you listen to it, the stronger it becomes. After a while, your black dog will whimper and fade into non-existence. Easier said than done of course! Especially since you have fed the black dog most of the time.

In the next post, I will share with you how you can effectively weaken your black dog and strengthen your white dog. For now, I want you to reflect on your past presentations and speeches. What are some of the words that your black dog says to you? List them down. The more the merrier. Talk soon!

“Upping your Stage Presence Part I - White Dog vs. Black Dog”