Do you feel anxious when asked to speak to more than 2-3 people?
Do your fear of embarrassing yourself mean you avoid public speaking roles in class, church or at work?
Have you thought about running and hiding when someone asks you to answer a question or give an opinion in class or a meeting?
Social anxiety is common and fear of public speaking is almost universal. One weekend recently, I looked at my schedule for the upcoming week and realized that in the course of only FOUR days I was scheduled to testify in court, speak at a physician’s staff meeting and lead a training on evidence based practice for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). How on Earth did I schedule myself to have to speak to intimidating groups of individuals three times in a single week?!?
Social Anxiety Can Be Crippling!
If you’re anything like me, the idea of speaking publicly in three different settings in a single week makes you feel a little sick to your stomach. Maybe for you it’s just the monthly staff meeting at work that leaves your palms sweaty.
The biggest problem with anxiety related to public speaking is that your voice is often missing from important conversations. People miss out on the opportunity to hear your side of something and often what you could have shared would really have added to the dialogue. You may avoid meetings, shy away from volunteering or even suffer consequences (reduced grades in college, loss of promotion opportunities in career) because you either avoid public speaking together or bumble your way through as anxiety grips tightly around you. At the very least, your fear may be preventing you from being able to be present in the moment when you are speaking to groups of people. Living this way is extremely frustrating and full of disappointment.
Public Speaking with Confidence and Authority
The good news is I survived my recent public speaking filled week. Better news is I feel good about my participation in each of those situations. I may not love public speaking, but I am much more confident than I used to be. I’m going to share a few of the tips (and trust me, I had to use all of these tips to survive my week!) to help you too feel more confident when you are asked to speak to a group of people.
- Meditate the night before and morning of any public speaking engagements. Meditating helps turn off the mind chatter. Through focusing the mind in a non judgmental way you are able to let go of thoughts like, “Why would anyone listen to me?” “I’m probably going to mess up.” “What if I forget everything I was going to say?” There are a lot of different ways to meditate and I recommend finding one or two “go to” types of meditation that you enjoy. This may be progressive muscle relaxation, simple breathing exercises, using a MUSE headband, or guided visualizations. Try to discover what the best way is for you to be able to relax your mind. I recommend meditating the night before, because it will help you shut your mind down faster so you can get a full night of sleep. We meditate again the morning of to prevent that negative self talk from starting again.
- Use positive self talk. Give yourself a pep talk. My dad spoke in public a lot and loved it. Growing up he’d always tell us how his latest speech went and I was amazed by his ability to be such an engaging, fun speaker! As we started having to give presentations in high school and college, my sisters and I would ask for tips about how to prepare. My dad explained that before a big presentation, he would always go into the bathroom, look himself in the mirror and in a very silly way tell himself aloud (yes, aloud), “It’s going to ok! It’s going to be alright! You’ve got this!” He would move his body a little bit and snap his fingers at he did this to help loosen up. My favorite story was the time there was someone in a stall my dad didn’t see until the man came out of the staff and gave him a rather odd look. I personally don’t have that kind of courage to talk to myself aloud in a public bathroom, so my practice is to say similar positive statements out loud to myself in the care on my drive to wherever I am going.
- Practice, practice, practice. The most difficult speech I have ever given was when I spoke at my dad’s funeral. I already mentioned that he was a great public speaker and most people in the audience had seen one his engaging presentation in the past. I was emotional, but I wanted to make him proud. My speech was far from perfect, but I somehow made it through without getting overly emotional. This was the perfect example of the importance of practice. In the days between his death and his funeral, I must have practiced saying that speech aloud a hundred times. I took my notes up with me, but I had practiced so much I’m sure I had the whole thing memorized. Afterward, I remember telling myself that if I could get through that I could get through any public speaking. I’ve tried to apply that concept of practice ever since. Remember my recent anxiety filled week? I made up questions in my head I thought the attorneys might ask me in court and practiced answering aloud the night before. On my way to the physicians office I practiced my briefly describing each of the therapists in my practice and the ways we could help the doctor’s patients. And I never give an NASW without at least practicing the opening couple slides outlaid and reviewing every slide a few times.
- The Superman Pose. This one seemed really funny to me when I first learned it and I was hesitant to even try it. The idea is that if you stand in an open posture (typically putting your hands on your hips, planting your feet about should width apart and opening your shoulders) for about two minutes you will feel and act more confident by the end. After trying this a few times, I’ve become a believer. I almost always take two minutes to do this before a big meeting or any public speaking engagements.
About the Writer
Jessica Tappana, LCSW is the founder, director and a therapist of a Mid Missouri counseling clinic, Aspire Counseling. The practice now has several therapists and serves primarily ages 12 through retirement. Jessica values providing clients with a safe space that promotes healing and only brings on therapists who share her vision of providing counseling by getting to know you as an individual and then providing treatments that work. Aspire Counseling therapists each have a slightly different specialty and as a whole the clinic treats a wide ranges of issues including sleep disturbances, adjustment to major life changes, trauma, grief, anxiety and depression. If you’re interested in beginning your healing journey, you will find a safe and inviting space in our office.