There is a place inside all speakers that exists beyond doubt, anxiety, and stage fright. It's the same place where you feel the calling to share your message, your story, with others so that you can serve them and change their lives for the better. It's the source of all of your wisdom, and it's already inside of you – you don't have to hire a million coaches or gurus to help bring it out.

The question is: How do you tap into that place consistently?

When we speak from that place, we speak with full freedom. And there are ways to reinvigorate that sense of freedom when we're feeling confused about how to best share our message, worried about offending people, or just plain nervous about getting onstage.

In this episode, I'm sharing my experience with full freedom speaking and how I've learned to tap into my own inner wisdom. I talk about some common worries and roadblocks I see in speakers, why so many of us worry about making our message “perfect,” and how to align external coaching and strategies with your own internal compass. And, I'll reaffirm the importance of keeping your own inner wisdom front and center as you grow your speaking career.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How I overcame doubt, fear, and self-loathing to step into my desire to be a speaker.
  • How my passion for taking a stand and sharing an important message changed as I got older.
  • Why it's so common for speakers to feel that they have to be perfect with their message and delivery.
  • How to get quiet and in touch with your inner calling to serve through speaking.
  • The importance of listening to your inner wisdom and consulting it when hiring speaking help.

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Full Episode Transcript:

So when that movie started to play for me in my mind as I lay there curled up in that orange velour chair in my living room, I realized that I was completely stuck, that while I was telling my clients every day they needed to get out there and share their stories, their expertise, that that call to serve was the only sign they needed, I was actually hiding. I was in the background cheering everyone on and scared to death and paralyzed around my own expression, my own sharing of my stories and expertise.

As soon as I realized that, I knew that there was really only one next thing I needed to do in my own work in the world, and that was figure out how to tap the deeper place of freedom for myself inside myself. Because what I've also learned is true is you just can't … You can't give others, you can't show others what you don't have for yourself. The biggest thing in the way for most of us, me too, especially that morning, is that feeling of stuckness, that anxiety, that fear, and I wanted to have something I could share with my clients that actually truly, deeply felt like it would help them when they were feeling stuck like that.

Welcome to The Thought Leadership School podcast. If you're on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I'm Michelle Barry Franco, and I'm thrilled that you're here.

Hello, hello, my Thought Leadership friends. I hope you're having a fabulous day. I'm staring out at this windy, rainy day in the middle of May and wondering what happened to April showers bring May flowers. We do have beautiful flowers happening, but right now it looks like the middle of winter. I hope you have a lovely view out your window, whatever it is.

I am in kind of like that mix of recovery mode and deep exhaustion and really happy and delighted because last night we had our delivery day event. My speakers in my six-month group program, which is a deep dive, very high support speaking and thought leadership coaching program. One of the things that they do in that program is build their talk. Of course, they craft their rooftop message talk or what other people call maybe their signature talk. Then, we rent a stage, and I bring in these awesome videographers and photographers. We just create a whole event for them so that they can deliver these talks from a stage that feels safe and encouraging, and we all cheer them on. There is an audience in the room, but also just sort of like it's like a culminating event. It takes a lot of coordination and a lot of support, of course, for them, but it's super amazing to see these beautiful thought leaders take their expertise and turn it into a talk that is so transformative for the audience.

It was super exciting to see it. I'm happy to be on the other side, both having gotten to see the final round of their delivery. Also, of course, whenever you're on the other side of a big project, there's that kind of like, “Okay, now I can rest a little.” So what better way to rest and enjoy than to spend a little time with you, which I so, so love?

I want to talk with you about speaking, which I do a lot, right? But I want to talk with you about full freedom speaking. This has been such a lesson of a lifetime for me, and I know that it's going to continue to deepen for me. But I want to share with you what I've seen around freedom and how we tap the kind of freedom in us that allows us to express ourselves in the way we dream of. Because that's what I learned by being around thought leaders, like you, like my clients, that, yes, there's this desire to maybe build a business around the work that we're doing and maybe even a powerful drive to create great change through the mission that you're creating. And there's also a deeply personal element here. This part of us that knows we're meant to share our ideas and our stories in a way that really captivates an audience that changes things for them, and it's really … Yes, it's about service, for sure, but it's also about meeting that part of us that can deliver in that way, and this is … No.

This can feel like a big deal, and it can be a lot of what gets us up in our heads. We want to do this in a way that honors what we want to say that meets us in this vision that we have for ourselves and the way that we would be on stage. You know how you just sort of picture yourself up there blowing their minds with your awesome delivery or your deeply connected delivery, however, it shows up for you? Well, this was for a long time for me … And I know this comes up for a lot of speaking coaches because I get to be part of some of these conversations. I even get to coach a number of speaking coaches. It's a struggle to talk about speaking anxiety, and fear, and what gets in the way of that kind of powerful expression. Because while we absolutely have tools, and strategies, and things that we can do, things that I've taught for decades around how to minimize speaking anxiety or release it on some level, honestly, there's nothing that we know of that works for everyone.

It's this sort of … It's swimming around in my mind. How do we find, how do we tap that place in us, that full expression when we have this brain with this human brain that we've been given? How do we reconcile that so that we can know that feeling that we've imagined of standing up there and delivering in that way that we believe we're called to deliver? I want to share with you a little around my own path on this because it's been a very deep learning process for me, and it will continue to be that for me over time, I'm sure.

It was 3:30 AM, and I was curled up in a ball in the dark in my favorite orange velour chair in the living room. I'd been up for a long time, actually. I left my bed so that I didn't wake up Jim, my husband, with my sobbing. The strange thing was that nothing really had happened. I just woke up in my bed into this body already full of anxiety and fear. It was kind of nameless, but I could feel this familiar self-hatred that had become just such a regular part of my daily experience. It would ebb and flow, but it was just always there, it felt like, but it had never quite taken this intensive a path.

I'm in this orange chair in the living room, and it's totally dark out. I whisper out into the room, “What the hell is wrong with me?” And as soon as I ask that question, this little movie starts to play in my mind. It starts out as an image, and then I recall this memory from the day before. I was talking with a client. I was telling her that she could totally do this, and this is a woman who was a high-level executive at a Fortune 50 company and had decided to leave that company and embark on her own business. Yet, after all of this work, she was having these doubts, like, “Can I tell this story?” I was saying to her, “Oh my gosh. Your story is going to serve so many people. So many people are going to be able to catch themselves so much earlier. They won't have to fall as far as you. That's the beauty of us sharing our stories and the solutions that we've often found through lots of trial and error.”

As I played this movie in my mind there in that orange chair in my dark living room, I thought, “Oh my gosh. You are such a fraud, Michelle.” Every day I told my clients that they needed to step up, share their stories, get on those scary stages, yet I was hiding and full of fear. I hated myself for not living into what I deeply wanted for my own life. So here I was, cheering everyone else on around the exact same thing that I was paralyzed around.

For most of my life, I've known I'm called to say something. For a long time, I actually had no idea what that feeling was about. I wouldn't have been able to name it. It came across as a kind of intensity in communication, really about whatever topic caught my attention. So when I was in high school, we had a family tragedy. We lost my brother to alcohol overdose, and I learned about Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I became an advocate for their organization, walked around to classrooms with gory car crash scenes, tried to convince my fellow classmates not to drink and drive. I was passionate about that. Then as I got into college, it was mental health, and sexuality, and safety around HIV and AIDS. I took a stand in every conversation that I could, and I did it with passion and this sort of like a lot of confidence. Although, honestly there just wasn't a lot of thought around it.

It was clear to me that these things mattered and that people just didn't know about it. It was kind of simple, and I just needed to let them know. I just needed to share it with them. But somewhere along the way, I became really afraid to use my voice with that same kind of conviction. What if I said something that offended somebody? What if I actually didn't have all the facts and someone called me out on it? By the way, not something I worried about earlier, in spite of the fact that I probably didn't have all the facts. What if I shared one of my stories, one of my own vulnerable and personal stories and then wished I hadn't shared it?

All these thoughts just started to kind of … You know, They would just start to visit, and then they'd visit more regularly. Then, they started taking up serious residence in my brain. Then later, when I totally unexpectedly became a speaking coach, because that is absolutely my story, I never imagined that I would be a speaking coach or a speaker. In fact, I never called myself a speaker or thought of myself as a speaker even though I spoke in high school, I spoke in college, and I've spoken many times on behalf of other causes and organizations that I cared deeply about through those years.

But years later, when I became a speaking coach, the thoughts got even more intense, like “What if I blew it as a speaker? What the hell kind of speaking coach would I be if I wasn't brilliantly captivating on stage every single time?” Which is a pretty high standard. You can just hear this tangle that I got myself into.

What I want to share with you today is … What I want to share with you is what it took me years to discover, and that is that freedom, that freedom to express yourself with the kind of almost like surrender and abandon, it lives within you right now. It always does. It's always there, even when you've got all those thoughts that we actually don't even have to do anything with those thoughts. That freedom is always there, just like it lived within me that day in the orange chair and all those other days as those thoughts started to accumulate and take over my mind. But I couldn't see it. I couldn't see that place where that freedom lives. And I especially couldn't see it when everything felt so high-stakes. That's just one of the thoughts that plays out in thought leadership all around, this idea that if I'm going to step into leadership, everyone's going to be looking at me. I'm going to be highly visible. Then, what if I blow it? It's this sort of like push-pull. I want to do this. I want to step into leadership. I want to serve in this high-level way, but oh my gosh, I have to do it perfectly. So wait, I better go make it more perfect quietly over here in the background before I get out there and share it.

Here's the thing, when you connect with the message that you feel called to share, that deep message … And this is really where that alignment around your message is so essential and that no one talks about. I don't mean this in a high-stakes way, by the way. Your brain could be saying, “Uh-oh. I better get my message perfect.” This can be a little messy for me to say this this way, so I want to say this clearly. There is something you want to say in this moment, at this phase during this season of your life. That's why you're called to step into leadership in this way. That is in there. The world will tell you that that message isn't good enough, or useful enough, or you need to speak to a different audience because that's how you'll make more money. They're going to do all kinds of things innocently out of love and desire to help and all of that. But the truth is you know. You know what it is you feel called to share.

Right next to that call, swirling within that call, actually, in that same place is the absolute freedom to share that message in fullness. So when you connect with that place in you that holds that message, that freedom, you'll nourish that part of you that knows that you're meant to serve with your voice in this particular way, that part of you that knows you were meant for this. This is what I've seen to be true. Some of us are called to share our stories and our life experiences to serve others, but we just have no idea how to meet that call. It's confusing out there. So we try all kinds of things that seem like they're going to show us the way, but they actually confuse us more and they take us further from what we really are wanting.

Full freedom speaking, that picture you have of yourself just sharing authentically and powerfully, it comes from a different place. It's a different place in you that no one points us to, that we are so rarely directed toward by all the experts, and the strategies, and all of that that's out there. So I want to talk about that more. When we're quiet and we're willing to listen in, we can hear that call within us. That's really the first part. Some of us are called. Not everyone feels the call to share their voice, which can make meeting that call confusing.

I grew up in a family with seven brothers and sisters, not all in the house, in one house at the same time, many of us in one house at the same time, but not everyone was always there at the same time. There was a lot of chaos. I think that my parents, their way of handling that chaos, understandably, was kind of like chaos management. It was like putting boundaries around things and trying to hold down the intensity. Sometimes this came out in the form of sort of minimizing or quieting. I know that some of this came from their own backgrounds and their own upbringings, things like, “Hey, nobody here is more special than anybody else. You're not special.” There was some kind of … Again, it wasn't exactly the way they said it. I love my parents. They're awesome. But there was just … There was this sort of like we're a huge family, and everybody needs to contribute, and we can't spend a lot of time and energy managing any one person's feelings or needs too much.

Over the last 11 years working with so many speakers and thought leaders, I've actually learned that my experience is not unique in that way. Many of us who have something to say and really want to share it, we've felt that way for a long time, and we often … Now, this isn't always true. I've also worked with many people who were quiet and actually came into their voice and their message at a later point, so this isn't a distinguishing factor. But in case you have a similar experience, I want you to know you're not alone. Me, too. This is somewhat common that we were told to be quiet, that we were told we were too much, that our passionate ideas, our conviction around our ideas was more than other people could handle.

These messages, they can linger in our psyche. They play in our brains, and they even sometimes play wordlessly. So it might be if we've done some good work or some self-help that the words don't come out as negative. It doesn't look as much like negative self-talk as it used to. But, there's this feeling that we need to not be so much. We need to be smaller, and that actually wanting to be in the spotlight is something to hide from and to try to shift or change about ourselves.

But, I want to say two things about that. First of all, I don't really like the spotlight. Not that there's anything wrong with loving the spotlight. I work with lots of people who absolutely love it, and it's awesome. I love seeing them enjoy the spotlight. The truth is, once I'm out there and I'm in conversation through my talk with my audience, I too love it, but I'm not like, “Hey, get me on any stage. I can't wait to talk about whatever you've got for me.” But whether you love the spotlight or not doesn't really matter because we often have these thoughts in our minds that say we shouldn't want to rise up and step into leadership. We shouldn't want to be special in this particular way and that we're supposed to minimize these feelings.

These messages, as I said, they linger in our psyche with words or wordlessly. They play in our brains. The problem is not that those messages or those feelings show up. That's not the problem. The problem is we listen to them. The thing is we're good people. We want to be liked, and we want to not be seen as egotistical or self-serving, so we try to do other things. We try to do something less visible, but it doesn't work. And here's what I want you to know. This is so beautiful. It's so beautiful how our system works. It's not supposed to work because you are meant for this. You are meant for this.

Even with this confusing start, the drive persists, so we look for ways to use our voice effectively. We try all kinds of things to help us make a difference with our ideas. I started speaking in high school before I even consciously knew I wanted to use my voice to make a difference, as I told you. It's only looking back that I discovered that I started speaking that long ago. Actually, it was years into my business when I was tired of not knowing how to answer the question, like, “How did you become a speaking coach? How did you even start on this path?” I finally just really, really looked honestly at my path over time and went, “Oh my gosh. I started speaking in high school.” Isn't that fascinating?

I have way too many clients who wrote a book, often not exactly the book that they really wanted to write, as a first attempt at encapsulating what they wanted to say because it's amazing to start somewhere. See, we all start somewhere, and starting is the best thing that you can do. Then, we start to sort of search around. This is how it usually goes. I mean, back in high school, I didn't know to look around for better strategies except we just had this really natural ecosystem around it. There were other people doing it, too. We had a teacher who would talk through how we do these presentations. It was kind of that simple. That was the same through college. It was really as I started to think, think, think about all the ways that I was supposed to be better and better than it started to feel more complicated. Then, when I think about my clients, for example, who went out and wrote this book and then wanted to start taking a stand for those ideas out in the world and they realized, “Oh my gosh. This isn't even what I really want to say.” It doesn't mean it was the wrong book, right? We do what we do in the moment when it makes sense, but then we start to look for strategies to help us get clearer, get more focused, be better speakers, be better writers, those kinds of things.

I got to say, for every time someone asks me how many slides they should have for a 20-minute talk or whether they should move toward the audience when they make a point or walk across the stage, I can feel the years of seeking out information and guidance on how to be a better speaker. Some of the most struggling clients that I've worked with have been those who've tried all the things. They've taken all the courses. They've been a member of Toastmasters. They did local workshops. They listened to other speaking coaches. They listened to my coaching. They listened to people who call themselves speechwriters of various levels of experience and knowledge. And it can really mess us up. I'm saying this as a speaking coach and someone who actually teaches this stuff.

But here's the problem. They get so wound up, we get so wound up in our thinking, that we can't access what we know to be deeply true, the very thing that brought us to step into thought leadership in the first place. As I said, me, too. This happens a little less about speaking because I just started so dang early that I didn't know that there were all these other places to learn from. But I've done all the things around business growth. I did a lot of that even around writing my books. If I download one more copywriting guide or free funnel, take my passwords away from me. I'm telling you.

But here's the thing. In this thought leadership world, we've got Toastmasters, speaker workshops, turn-your-blog-into-a-book courses, and so many of us try them because it matters so much to us. I read this statistic that over 10% of people love public speaking. They can't wait to get on the stage. 10% are terrified. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle. It's my personal experience that we don't have to love public speaking or feel awesome about it to feel called to do it. That's my story.

But if we want to make an impact when we speak, we do have to figure out how to do that. We do all kinds of things to try to feel awesome while we're speaking because we think that if we figure out how to feel awesome up there that that will allow us to be the most compelling. We hire these branding coaches, consultants so that we have this clear, compelling message. Then, we bring in the copywriters and the speechwriters to help it be even more amazing. We read all the books, as I've said, all these things that we do. What we're really looking for with all of this is a feeling. We think that getting up there and sharing our ideas from the stage or writing that book and finally publishing it, or having that article go out in that industry publication that is so well respected, that that's going to feel incredible the whole time. Here's the truth. This is the secret. It doesn't. It actually doesn't feel incredible the whole time, and that doesn't mean anything. It actually just means that yup, you're having a normal human experience about sharing your expertise in a really visible way.

I cannot tell you how many times I hear from a client after they've done something highly visible, a talk, publish their book, gone on book tour. And from the outside world, everything looks so exciting and great. It looks like they just couldn't be more thrilled. Me, too. That's what it looks like when I … I'm sure that's what it looked like when I was sharing about my book. They're countless mornings where I woke up going, “Oh my gosh. Am I doing this right? Should I be doing more? What if I had written this book this slightly different way? Oh my gosh. I just learned a new thing. It should have been in the book.” All the thoughts just start showing up.

Here's what I want to share around this. Experts, classes, online courses, speaking coaches, we can be helpful, but only when were sourced by the right place in you first. Only when you have tapped that place in you that actually has all of the most essential answers, then the strategies, the techniques, all of that can serve that deep knowing within you. Because what really matters, the fundal element that is so often ignored is that one that's the most essential. Full freedom speaking comes from a different place than all of that strategy training and expert advice.

You have incredible wisdom within you. What you want to say and how you want to say it is actually living in you right now. The very best way to learn how to create a greater impact as a speaker is actually to open your mouth and speak. Share your story and your lessons learned. Watch their faces and learn from them. Invite conversation after you speak so that you can hear what they ask. You can learn what they loved.

I'm not saying the other strategies, and message clarity and all the stuff that I too teach isn't valuable. It is, but not if it stops you, not if it gets you caught up in your head and blocked from that deeper place, that essential place that could serve right now in this moment without any of our help at all. I also want you to know that that peaceful centered feeling that you're looking for, I'm not saying that you're going to experience it all the time, but it is available to you all the time right in you right now. It's always there. That peaceful centered feeling lives in you right now. It always does.

The world's going to keep pointing you to your brain. Classes, courses, experts, everybody's going to say, “You've got to do something with your brain. You have to change something about your brain in order to serve in the most powerful way. You've got to analyze your audience even more.” I say this: That's not where the real answer is. That's not where the essential answer is. That's the next thing to do after you tap into that place in you that already knows what you want to say, why it matters, and who it will best serve.

Yes, you want to think about your goals for speaking, for sure. I talk about that, too, but only after you have consulted with the wisest, the wisest consultant that you have available to you, which is that divine, that universal intelligence that lives in you all the time that no one else knows as well as you do. You can tap away your fears with emotional freedom technique, EFT. You can meditate. You can exercise. You can imagine yourself being successful on stage. Great. Fun. I do some of those things sometimes, less and less, though. So if they help you, if your wisdom tells you to use a strategy, or a technique, or an expert, or a coach, fabulous. Just never forget that that deep knowing is the most essential place. That is where all of your answers live. That's the foundation of your most beautiful work in the world.

You were made for this. You've got something to say that matters that's meant to serve and be shared. It doesn't feel great all the time. That's a misunderstanding. It doesn't mean anything. Freedom is the ability to do what your heart wants to do. Full stop. Sometimes that feels awesome and exciting. Sometimes it feels like a thousand flapping butterflies filling the cavity of your body. The confusion only comes when we make those feelings mean something that stops us. What if they don't actually mean anything at all?

We live in the feeling of our thinking all the time, so those feelings are related to some thinking in your brain. It might be words. It might be wordless, might be passed down through generations, but that's all those feelings mean. There's a place in you that always knows, that same place that keeps this call rising up that keeps you doing this in spite of all the challenges that can show up along the way. That's the place that matters. So if you're looking for meaning, look there. Don't look to your thinking. Don't look to the feelings.

We have an incredible GPS system within us, but our sensitivity to the system is off sometimes. We're pointed to the wrong control panel. Your brain is not the control panel, your wisdom is. Your heart, let that guide you. Because if you're called to share your stories and lessons learned in service of others, you know. You just know. And that really is all the sign you need.

So, my friend, you who can feel the resonance of this within you, please remember this: You were made for this. You know how I know? Because you know. Now, go find yourself a stage, a room of any size, and light it up with your brilliance. That is where freedom lives. You know I always want to help you with this in any way that I can, so you can get my Get Started Speaking Guide right away if you go to michellebarryfranco.com/start. You can download that and get started. This is your sign. That feeling that might be rising up in you right now, that's your GPS system shining its bright light and saying, “This is the right direction.” Follow it. Let it guide you. And I can't wait to be here with you next week cheering you on. See you then.

Thanks so much for being here with me on The Thought Leadership School podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book, Beyond Applause: Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking , at speaksoitmatters.com/freebook.


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