Getting Past the Fear of Public Speaking

Sometimes when we’re giving a speech or presentation, we’re really in the flow and it seems like nothing can go wrong.  Other days, it seems like nothing can go right.  What makes the difference?  Even more importantly, if we start to give a speech and feel like it’s going downhill, how can we access that part of ourselves that really is capable of doing a great job?

The key is the unconscious thoughts that run in the background that either empower us or lead into a stress reaction.  Our thoughts are triggered by our beliefs and they lead to our feelings and actions.  If you believe it’s going to go badly, that can become a self- fulfilling prophecy.  Let me show you how that works.

There are two types of stress reactions that you’re all familiar with:  fight or flight.  Of the two, it’s typically the flight response that haunts us in public speaking.  The flight response does not mean that we run out of the room, necessarily, but it can show up in lots of other insidious ways that we wish we could avoid.

Let me demonstrate what happens when a flight stress response is triggered in public speaking.  Consider this thought running through your mind:  “I suck at public speaking” or maybe you think “I’m going to blow it”.  How do you feel when you think you suck?  Or you think you’re going to blow it?  What do you experience?  You might feel nervous, worried, fearful, anxious, defeated, or embarrassed.  We’ve all been there!  When you have all of those negative feelings, what action does that lead to?

  • Talking faster so you can just get it over with
  • Ahh, umm, so, and, repetitions surface – all the fillers show up
  • Freezing or forgetting what you planned to say
  • In the long run, if this happens a lot, you might just stop volunteering to do speeches at all rather than risk embarrassment; you could start to tell yourself a story that public speaking really isn’t for you

This really does make perfect sense, doesn’t it?  When we feel disempowered, we shut down.  How creative at solving a problem can any of us be when we’re feeling worried, fearful, anxious, defeated or embarrassed?  That’s not really the energy that leads to great problem solving.

In order to shift out of the stress reaction, we need to connect with the feeling that we have when we are “in flow”.  To get there, think of the opposite thought.  Instead of “I suck”, what would the opposite thought be?  Try this alternative:  “I improve every time I give a speech.  It’s always worth it”.  If you really believed that, how would you feel?  Maybe a little more relaxed, more confident, more fully present and less in your head?  When you’re feeling more relaxed and confident, what do you do?  It might be different for each of us.  Maybe you glance at your notes to help you get back on track, or remember the prep you did.  You might take a deep breath or any other action that helps you feel centered, or just go with your gut about what really matters and keep talking.  You might make eye contact with someone in the room who readily shares an encouraging smile.  Maybe you have a mantra you repeat to yourself, like “I got this.”  It can be different for each of us, but inside we have the answers that will work for us individually.  Pay attention and start to discover what actually works for you.

No matter how experienced we are, there may be times in public speaking that we struggle.  Planning pro-actively for the kinds of stress reactions we run into really does help; expect the stress reaction and have a game plan to work through it.  Take time to think through the negative thoughts, feelings and actions you’ve had on a day when you didn’t feel your speech went as well as you hoped.  Challenge yourself to see the opposite thought, feeling and resulting action and develop your own game plan to manage your stress response.  You might also reflect on a time that you gave a successful speech.  What were the strengths and strategies that helped you succeed and how can you leverage those strengths and strategies on your next speech?

Finally, pay attention to the story you tell yourself about your potential for public speaking.  Is it “I’m never going to be good at this” or “I’m going to keep getting better and better.”  Mindset is a choice; you decide.  Let me know how it works out for you!

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