Speech Anxiety: What Can You Do?

Speech anxiety is certainly very real. In previous blogs, we’ve explored why it’s a natural survival response to perceived fearful situations. We’ve also identified the 4 Rs to help you manage your anxiety. The purpose of this particular post, however, is to dive even deeper and help you begin to discipline your thoughts leading up to a presentation.

The challenge is that when we begin to focus on the fear of being center stage in front of a large audience, or focusing on what COULD go wrong or embarrass us, it’s counter-productive. These are all of our Ego’s attempt to self preserve and remain in tact. A worthy goal, but under the circumstances, it actually becomes problematic.

Now this isn’t to say that things never go wrong. They certainly can, but it doesn’t guarantee the presentation will be a failure. When things happen, solutions can emerge, and you simply need to be present enough to perceive an emerging solution and go with the flow.  For example, I once saw a keynote presenter speak live in front of thousands of people at an International Conference, when suddenly the technology that projected his slides stopped working. He lost all his visuals for several minutes. Technicians came on stage to remove the equipment to a backstage area, and then returned quite a few minutes later with the equipment working again. Throughout all of this, however, the speaker kept talking. He told us stories that he had experienced, and made it a seamless experience presentation-wise for the audience.

The point is that things can certainly go wrong, but solutions can emerge as well. There’s no need to focus on something, until the time it actually happens. Many of you have personally experienced technical glitches while presenting. Clearly, we need to do our homework and be prepared from a technical perspective, but what we don’t have to do is allow ourselves to become prisoners of fear before a presentation. You do not need to focus on all the scary possibilities that “could” occur, etc.

It’s exactly this kind of worrisome thought that gets us in trouble. You’ve been there. Remember those famous thoughts of “but what if,” “but this could happen,” “they may not like what I have to say,” or “I might forget.” Unfortunately, this all-too-familiar list is endless.

Have you noticed a pattern yet?

That’s right, these are all thoughts.

Pure and simple. Just thoughts.

Unfortunately, thoughts carry great influential power. They can influence our emotions, our physiological reactions, and even perpetuate more fearful thinking patterns. To make it even worse, the more we focus on something, the more it expands. So if you have any conditioning from prior life experiences to consistently focus on things that could go wrong, breaking this thinking pattern may be more challenging for you.

What we need to do, as it relates to giving presentations, is first become aware of what’s happening. When thoughts of doubt or fear about how a presentation could go wrong or how you might embarrass yourself in front of total strangers creeps in, see it for what it is. It’s just a thought. That said, you don’t have to listen to it. You don’t have to believe it. You don’t have to react to it.

In the old days, the Baby Boomers grew up believing that whatever Walter Cronkite said as a news anchor must be true, simply because he said it, he said it on television, and he was, afterall, the news anchor. Tremendous crediblity. However, just because a thought pops into your head, does not mean it’s credible and should carry the same tremendous credibility. For example, you may hear your voice in the head say “I’m going to embarrass myself,” “They’ll be bored listening to me,” or “I have nothing interesting to say.” These examples of interior monologue are non-productive, should be seen as “noise,” and dismissed from your focus as the popular theme song from the Disney’s movie Frozen suggests, “let it go.”

The other important aspect to watching your thoughts before a presentation is to realize that thoughts are usually reflections on the past or projections for the future. However, a presentation–as is true for anything in life–is really “in the moment.” You should be experiencing the magic of interacting with an audience in the moment, here and now. Now when thinking kicks in before a presentation, it’s almost always future projections. Rather, root yourself in what’s happening now. You’re standing. You’re backstage. You’re breathing. The cure here is to silence your thoughts. Go to the place of no thought, just being aware of your inner self and your surroundings. Then once you’re rooted in that, enjoy the ride.

Sure, it’s important to have rehearsed with a few individuals beforehand, intentionally and carefully prepared your presentation ahead of time, added supplemental visuals to clarify your message, etc. However, right before you step on stage . . . you no longer need to be rehearsing anything. Your preparation is complete by now. You do not need to have any thoughts about past or future at this moment.

All you need to do is place your attention on a few deep breaths, welcome a smile to your face for positive energy, and enjoy the magic of connecting live with an audience, who–much like yourself–is really there to enjoy the moment.

What say you?

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