Soothing Public Speaking Anxiety


Picture of my self compassion monster, a wonderful creative helper.

I started this blog on wordpress in 2012 and did four postings in all the time between then and now. I am terrified of public speaking and writing and sharing art is in that category for me. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health the number one fear, even over death is public speaking at 74% of the population. I am in good company on this one.

I am also a frequenter of public speaking. I have presented at universities, public schools, mental health agencies and national conferences on various topics on mental health and art therapy. I have been in art shows, am building a social media presence and am now writing more frequently, this all terrifies me on one level and excites me beyond words on another. I am constantly working my own uncomfortable edges on the fear of putting myself out there and being seen. I am hoping this blog post will also help me with my fear of writing and publishing; as you will see in step four naming it publicly is part of the process of working with the fear.  

 I hope these six strategies can be of benefit for you:

1. Visualize success

I am a firm believer that the key to success in most things is visualizing. Everything starts with an idea, a dream. We have to allow ourselves space to daydream the scene. Mentally preparing yourself for the setting, what you will do and say, what you are going to wear, who will be there is a way to prepare as well as manifest. Dream big! However, it’s also important to hold this loosely as you don’t want to have expectations where you create rigidity. This can cause more anxiety later if you spill breakfast on that fabulous presenting blouse the morning of. Or if your computer crashes at a national conference minutes before you present in front of almost 100 people. (True story, I lived to tell the tale through deep breathing, improv humor and announcing my dilemma. Someone got up to help me and rescued the day.)  It’s always a combination of preparation and flexibility.

2. Practice with posture

This is a no brainer on some levels. You need to practice. Get up in front of the mirror, your dog, your friend, a small group and give it some trial runs. Ask for constructive feedback, what is working well, what can be changed? (Please  feel free to give me some helpful feedback or encouragement!) Part of practice and visualization is posture. There is a great ted talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy on how you can change confidence levels through your body posture. I practice this often and have found it to be very helpful, at the least make sure to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, shoulders back so you can breathe, and head up to face the audience….and smile. Smiling also helps release endorphins that can help. Check it out:

3. Make friends with your inner critic

Here’s an ongoing one, and how you do it is key. We all have internal bullies and story lines we like to run. A favorite of mine is that I’m full of crap or that nobody cares what I say, or that I don’t make any sense. I run this so much that I sometimes finish sentences with a desperate check in of, “does that make sense?” In writing I like to obsess that I am horrible at spelling and grammar and that everyone is going to find out. (My facebook memes have been helping with that as I have put out several with typos and to my inner critics surprise no one called me a fraud or told me I suck. Amazing!)

You need to get to know what that dialogue is for you and then start making friends with it. I often tell folks, “What would you say to a good friend?” I would tell her, “Hey, you just do your best. If you have a typo or bomb a sentence that’s okay. Your content is more important anyway. It’s a good opportunity to learn more about the nuts and bolts of writing and to experience feeling vulnerable as you put it out there. It’s better to try and fail then not put it out there at all.”

Along with this friendly pep talk it’s important that you find out what your inner critic needs and is feeling. Mine is feeling vulnerable and scared, she needs some empathy, encouragement and probably a hug. Maybe chocolate. You get where I’m going with this. BE GENTLE AND NURTURING WITH YOURSELF. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up that you are beating yourself up….this common tactic will only make it worse. Added points if you make art about making friends with your inner critic or to remind you to be gentle. (See picture of my adorable self-compassion monster that is sitting on my desk right now as I type to remind me to be gentle.)

As another resource here is a video I watch repeatedly for encouragement by Brene Brown on working with your critics:

4. Name it to soothe, be personable, and model behavior

Whenever I get up in front of people I introduce myself and immediately say, “I’m so nervous!” This does a few things. As Daniel Siegel, a well known psychiatrist and writer says, “Name it to tame it.” It actually helps to regulate your nervous and limbic system when you name what you are feeling. Doing this out loud with witnesses adds to the experience of soothing. The other thing it does is breaks the ice and makes you human. I find that every time I do this I get empathetic looks, understanding nods and people seem to listen more and try to be supportive. The final thing it does is model healthy behavior. Most people with a fear of public speaking don’t even try. When you put yourself out there and say, “Hey, this is scary!” It shows what is possible to others, you create inspiration.

5. Breathe and Fidget

There is a lot of good research out there on how anxiety effects the body and how moving the body can help regulate it. Did you know that at least 5 deep breaths start to release endorphins in your brain that help calm you? Did you know that when you engage in sensory activities of any kind they can help regulate your nervous system and affect?

Well, it’s all true and extremely useful. Practicing deep breathing before and even during a presentation can make all the difference. I also like to wear a scent that is pleasing and calming like lavender and carry a small piece of clay in my hand. Yes, I fidget while presenting much to the dismay of my college speech teacher. I figure it’s healthier than Xanax. (Although medication can have its place with anxiety and I have tried that too, always review with a professional.) As I talk I gently knead the clay or squeeze it in my fist and it has helped greatly in giving myself a body focus other than the shaking and profuse sweating. It is calming and helps me focus on my hands instead of my legs, which want to either buckle and fall or run out of the room immediately. Often I have clients with anxiety of any kind carry clay or a rock with them for this exact purpose, to fidget and regulate.  

6. Accessorize

This last one is a bit of a personal priority, but really….I am believer that one can accomplish anything with the right accessories. Wear something meaningful for you that gives a sense of protection or confidence. If nothing else, just make sure your shoes are comfortable so you can feel your feet on the floor and you feel fabulous in your ensemble.

As I renew my intention to blog regularly I will try to keep these in mind and to remember what Wayne Dyer says, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I write because I have lots to share and if it is of benefit to even one person, that would be success. Even if that one person is me.

I appreciate any feedback or comments!

Create courage to express!

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