6 Tips for Anxious Public Speakers

On the first day back after summer, I led an INSET session to around 50 adults at one of the fabulous schools that I work at. And honestly despite a good dose of anxiety beforehand, it went smashingly.

On my drive home, I was really thinking about what it is that’s caused this change.

Because honestly, it’s a incredible change and a real testament to the concept growth mindset. If you’d have seen me before… seen the anxiety, depression, insomnia, loss of appetite etc. that came for a month before, during and after speaking, not to mention the horror of the actual event itself… you wouldn’t have believed what I can pull off now.

Heck – I can’t believe it!

So how have I done it? 

  1. I’ve attempted to take the emotion of out it. Previously, if I wasn’t great at speaking, my story was – “you’re a weak and pathetic person and everyone sees it now.” Now, it’s just a skill, like learning to tie a knot. I know that I can practise speaking, pausing, breathing. I know that I can develop the skill of confident and effective public speaking. If I mess up, my story is: ‘what can I learn from this? What do I need to do next to grow from this?’
  2. I utilise what used to terrify me. My fears around public speaking were all about being seen to be nervous, and the audience judgement that I presumed would come with that. Now, I’m determined to own it. Of course, it’s helps massively that I’m talking to people about overcoming discomfort using mindfulness-based strategies, so being able to reference my own struggle – to be able to demonstrate myself in fight, flight or freeze at the beginning of a talk, to being calm and relaxed after a few minutes of breathing, is probably the best way I could ‘sell’ my message. And to my mind, showing this kind of vulnerability is a brilliant tool for connecting with my audience.
  3. I practise. Again and again. Now, this session I led was an hour and a half, so I clearly didn’t have the time to do this so many times. I very roughly went over everything about 5 times, namely because I haven’t done this particular presentation before and I really cared about the impact with staff, and through them the kids throughout school. If I taught a similar presentation again, one or two run-throughs would likely suffice.I also practised the first minute or so about 30 times – I said it to myself when I was driving, showering, making a cuppa. This is the bit that throws me – the bit where fight, flight and freeze kicks off, and my conscious brain checks-out. So I practise this enough times that my auto-pilot ‘gets it.’ That way, even when my heart is racing and my lips are trembling, my auto-pilot knows what to say. Hearing myself speak in a loud, assertive tone, fuelled further confidence and I find I’m in the swing of things very quickly.
  4. I really think about my audiencehow can I hook them in? How might they respond to this? What kind of explanation will have the most impact on them? Previously, it was all about me and how I could protect myself. Now it’s about how I can serve, connect and share my message with my audience.
  5. I get excited about discomfort. When I feel the ‘bubble’ of anxiety drop in my stomach, I remember that this is a sign – a sign that I’m about to be courageous; that I’m about to do something amazing; that I’m crushing that ‘I can’t’ neural pathway; a sign that I’m alive. I welcome that feeling, being as it is, so close to excitement.
  6. Lastly, I look after myself. If I’m exercising, limiting caffeine, eating wholesome, colourful food and maintaining daily habits like mindfulness/visualisation/gratitude… then my anxiety is naturally lower and my confidence is naturally higher.

If you’re suffering from stage fright, try one or more of the tips above. Let me know how you get on in the comments below! x

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