Three Strategies for Easing Speaking Anxiety In the Moment

peachtulips

A bit of visual peace for you.

As I stood there on that stage, the only light was the one shining directly on me. Faces shadowed in the stadium seats of the theatre, silence screamed at me: “Say it! Say the next line!” I was petrified, racking my brain for the lines I had prepared so many times. All I could think was, “Oh, Gohd, make me disappear!” I wanted a trap door to open under my feet. Even a big hook from stage left pulling me offstage would have been better.

Speaking anxiety is a wild and burly beast, isn’t it?

 

I wish I had known these three strategies seventeen years ago on that stage in San Francisco.

They would have helped me recover from that moment. (In case you’re curious, I did recover – just barely. And learned a cool lesson, too. You can see me tell the story here.)

Let’s make sure you have these tools in your toolbox now so that next time you have the opportunity to speak and anxiety starts to interfere with your ability to be truly brilliant in that speaking, you can call on them immediately. Here are those three strategies:

1. Catch It Early:

Possibly the trickiest thing about anxiety is that the very thought of experiencing it can make us anxious. In fact you might even be feeling a tiny bit of it as you read this (if you do, go read point #2 below and implement immediately :) )

Here’s a classic example: You are given the opportunity (or assignment) to speak. Your heart skips a beat and your hands get damp (early anxiety arriving on scene). Without even knowing it, this reaction causes you to tuck away this assignment – to “deal with it later.” It’s in the back of your mind but every time it comes up again, that discomfort arrives with it, and you decide something else more pressing must get handled. (Is this sounding familiar? If it does, don’t feel bad. You are so not alone!) By the time you get to preparing for this speaking event, the anxiety has grown even more – and you are pressed for time to boot!

This also happens in the middle of speaking. It happens while standing at the front of the room or on the stage and seeing the first “sea of faces” – or when you realize you just told that last story wrong (even though they have no idea how the story was supposed to go anyway). These are moments when we can catch the anxiety rising early and head it off before it takes us over. The “catch it early” strategy is only about noticing. It’s recognizing in the moment that we are heading toward (but not yet in the spiral of) anxiety. We feel our heartbeat quicken, notice our attention moving away from our message and the audience and into our own heads. The only thing to do in that moment is to notice, stop and implement point #2 below.

2. Take a Belly Breath:

Immediately upon noticing signs of increasing anxiety in your body, take a breath slowly into your belly. You’re probably thinking that will look strange to your audience – stopping and breathing. Trust me, it will do a far better job of keeping your audience engaged and feeling peaceful than if you don’t do this. Of course, wait to finish your current sentence. But only wait that long. Then take a short pause, a deep belly breath – maybe while walking to the other side of the room or stage – then speak again. The calm and ease this will bring you is so good. If you aren’t familiar with how to take a belly breath (it’s quite different than most of us breath normally), here is a video I created last year that shows you how.

This works beautifully in the moment – and it also works way back when you first learn about your speaking opportunity. Take a few deep belly breaths and get started on the preparation immediately. Nothing will ease your anxiety as well as giving yourself plenty of time to prepare!

3. Stay Over with Them and Out of You:

This strategy leads directly from my own speaking mantra, which is: “This is not about me. This is about them and how I can serve them more powerfully.” Read that aloud, will you? This is the truth. This thing you are about to do – this sharing of your message (whether from the stage, as a contributor in class, or writing an article for publication) – it is about service. You are here to make life better for people with your message. The stage, front of the room or whatever other place through which that message channels – it’s just that, a channel for your service to them.

If you can remember this – that it’s all about them – then your “performance” is so much less burdened. Your need to be perfect doesn’t even make sense. Your perfection doesn’t inspire change in others,  human connection and contribution does. Thoughtful, caring, connected communication does. And that’s what you’ve got in you, ready to share with them.

Because you started early enough, prepared like crazy and now, you are here to serve it all up for them.

These are three of my very favorites anxiety-reducing strategies. What are your favorites? Will you share them so we can all add them to our toolkit.

Peace and Presence

What if Inner Peace isn’t actually a “project”?

It just occurred to me.  Maybe this Inner Peace thing is the opposite of a project. In fact, it’s feeling more and more like a

revelation.

                          An opening.

                                                       A letting go.

As I venture through Project: Inner Peace this summer, I realize that I actually have access to Inner Peace immediately, anytime I need it. It is just there, underneath a noisy, messy layer of thinking and doing. I’m amazed at its consistency and availability.

It only takes one move, one shift in my heart and mind.

One peeling back of a layer.

The process of accessing it feels like a parting of velvet curtains, an opening… into an ease and calm that is as solid as any personal state I have ever known. More solid and certain than any level of anxiety I have ever experienced, even during my three day panic attack.

And the move that brings forth this grounded, centered peacefulness?

Presence. Pure, focused presence.

Try it right now. Right this instant, shift your focus from reading and analyzing this post to simply noticing something beautiful in your environment – the curve of your coffee cup and the colors that mix on its exterior (we can make anything beautiful with presence)… the quivering leaves on the branch that brushes against your window… the sound of that brushing branch in the space of the room in which you sit… Feel the bottoms of your feet on the floor and the place where your shoulders rest onto your back.

Inner Peace. It’s just there waiting.

For me, it’s still fleeting. I lose my focus regularly and quickly, but I’m learning how to bring it back when I need it.

Simple Presence.

 Now you – tell me how you cultivate presence? Do you have ways you stay present, when distractions begin to pull you away?

Grateful photo credit here.

The Power of Story – Use it in your public speaking!

I was standing on a stage in San Francisco, just me and the bright spotlight shining down on me. All I could see were the silhouettes of heads and shoulders in the audience. I was about to do something I had never done before and I was petrified… watch this video to find out what happened next.

How to decrease your public speaking anxiety

Your hands get sweaty. Your throat tightens.

Your gut turns into a knot. Your head is too full and too foggy to think clearly. Your heart is racing… no, you aren’t about to step into a Nascar vehicle, or being chased by a large black bear. You are preppin’ to step on stage.

I have spoken in front of a room full of people hundreds of times. Hundreds. I am very familiar with this feeling.

For a long time, that’s exactly how I would describe my physical experience before speaking. Things have gotten better for me, after hundreds of presentations, but I still remember… and I still get hints of that anxiety when the stakes are high.

I still totally get it.

The cool part is, I am also powerfully aware how immense the public speaking opportunity is. I have felt the energy in the room shift in meaningful, positive ways because I got on that stage. I have heard the inspired stories of those who took extraordinary action because they were inspired by my speech. Those stories, that energy shift, my own little way of changing the world via the stage is why I am so compelled to get up there. I don’t engage in public speaking because I want the fame or notoriety.

I get on stage because it is a powerful medium for change.

In order to keep getting up on those stages, in spite of all of that anxiety, I had to gather some power tools for dealing with all of that public speaking anxiety. That’s what this post is about.

I want to give you my favorite tools for decreasing public speaking anxiety.

Today, I’ll share my three very favorite speech anxiety strategies: 1. breathing, 2. positive visualization, and 3. audience connection and rapport.

Breathing

You probably know that our minds are inextricably connected with our bodies. Consciously pulling in a deep belly breath – the kind that makes your belly button push outward – and then releasing all of that air and then some, slows the mind. That process of pulling in breath, distending your belly, releasing the breath deeply, automatically decreases your physical anxiety sensations. Use it anytime you are nervous. It’s amazing.

Positive Visualization

Did you know that you can actually increase your “experience” with positive public speaking events by simply imagining yourself delivering that fabulous presentation? Research has indicated that our imagination of a particular event can actually increase our effectiveness at such an event in real-life (here’s one description of such research.) This means that when you actively close your eyes and imagine yourself delivering a brilliant, amazing presentation, you are that much closer to delivering that brilliant presentation in real-life. We also know (from other smart researchers), that positive visualization significantly decreases anxiety. I often spend at least a few minutes each day I prepare for a presentation, imagining myself on stage delivering a riveting, engaging public speaking presentation – totally connected with the audience, watching their heads nod in agreement, smiling – and it makes me actually quite excited to get on stage and have that experience. Try it!

Audience Connection and Rapport

Speaking of watching the audience nod their heads, smiling… there is nothing more effective for decreasing any public speaking anxiety I might be experiencing than feeling genuinely connected with my audience. When I spend a solid amount of time thinking through what they need, what I can share that will truly make their lives better, I feel awesome getting up on stage and adding that kind of real value for them. Spending that time thinking about them, caring about their lives and needs, and then delivering my speech or training with that approach make me feel really great. It makes me forget that I am “on stage” and allows me to just dive deeply into making a difference in the world.

I have a list of great strategies for decreasing public speaking anxiety that I would be happy to share with you.

Click here to download the list: Strategies for Decreasing Public Speaking Anxiety (no opt-in required.) Let me know which are your favorites.

And please, if you have other strategies that aren’t on that list, share them in the comments or send them to me via email so I can share them with our community.

Thank you, jjjj56cp, for sharing this cool black bear photo for all to use and enjoy.

Got Public Speaking Anxiety? Of Course You Do – And That’s Okay

At a recent speaking event, before the festivities were officially underway, a woman in the audience asked me: “So, are you nervous at all right now? Because you certainly don’t look nervous. I bet you’re not nervous at all, are you? I can’t even imagine”, she streamed.

Well, I can’t even imagine either. I am always nervous before I do a public speaking presentation.

In fact, almost everyone gets nervous before they do a public speaking presentation. Mark Twain (who it turns out made most of his income from speaking, not writing), Aristotle, Winston Churchill, Bono of U2 – they all experience fear of public speaking, aka speech anxiety. (Thanks to Scott Berkun in Confessions of a Public Speaker, page 16, for the excellent summary of the public speaking anxiety these speakers, and many more, experience.)

The major difference between my anxiety about speaking in the early days of my speaking adventure and now is that I expect the anxiety – and I know what to do with it.

As Edward R. Murrow so quotably said, “The best speakers know enough to be scared… the only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have learned to train the butterflies to fly in formation.”

If only butterflies could be trained. Oh, damn, I guess they can be trained a little. Maybe that’s the point: yes, you can train nervous butterflies some - and yet you can’t totally control fear of public speaking. The best you can do is employ some really powerful strategies for: 1. bringing peace to your nervousness and, 2. harnessing that extra energy into some exciting presentation delivery skills.

Let’s take ‘em one at a time:

1. Bringing peace to public speaking anxiety

We’ve established that it is unrealistic to expect to remove entirely any fear of public speaking, so let’s not waste time on that. However, we can bring that nervousness down considerably with a few simple tools: breathing, walking/running, meditation, and preparation.

Breathing: Take three deep belly breaths, way into your belly and then releasing every single bit of air, while you wait for your turn to speak. Do less dramatic versions of this anytime your anxiety starts to ramp up – even while you are speaking (no one will suspect a thing!) This is my favorite use-it-anytime anxiety soother.

Walking/Running: Don’t use up all of your energy on a 10-mile run an hour before you present! Remember, we want some of that extra energy for an exciting presentation delivery. However, a good 2-mile run (if you are a regular runner) or a fast-paced walk about an hour or two before your presentation can do wonders for your public speaking anxiety level. (This NY Time article tells why you might want to actually start this regular exercise thing 3-6 weeks before your presentation.)

Meditation: Our minds are powerful, dangerous places. A vacation from those taunting thoughts – the ones that have no basis in reality but still dominate at the least opportune times, telling us we are doomed to failure – is a glorious, peace-generating gift right before you present. You don’t even have to be into meditation for this to work. Just sit quiet, breathe deeply (see the first description) and gently refuse to grab onto any one thought that might float by in your consciousness. Beware: you may start wanting to do this even when you aren’t presenting. It’s a brilliant, freedom inspiring way to spend some time.

Preparation: Nothing brings peacefulness to your public speaking presentations like hard core preparation, not even the fabulous stress-reducer, sex. So, research, organize and prepare your heart and soul out. Then practice at least three times all the way through with an audience. Ask your audience for specific feedback, like: did you get what I was saying? Did I do anything distracting with my movements or language? Were you inspired to listen throughout? What questions arose for you? What went really well (don’t forget this one! You want to know what you should repeat in the real version!) I’m serious – don’t nod and move on from this one. Do it. (It also doesn’t hurt to, ahem, “do it” the night before as per the article above, incidentally – but just don’t that kind of do it in place of preparation.)

2. Harnessing Extra Energy & Channeling it into Exciting Presentation Delivery Skills

So, you’ve followed a bunch of advice from point one and you are feeling better, the anxiety is mellower. But it’s not gone. Of course not. And guess what? You don’t want the public speaking anxiety completely gone. That extra energy is what inspires you to move around more, gesture more emphatically, speak louder and with more vocal variety. Unless you don’t channel it into those activities, in which case you might use it to obsessively push your hair away from your eyes, visibly shake as you stand still presenting, or jingle the keys in your pocket the whole time. Let’s not let that happen, shall we? Here are some strategies for channeling your extra energy:

Visit the speaking location at least once before your speaking day and practice at least some of your content while walking from one end of the stage (or open space in the front of the room) to the other. Walk slowly a bit, stop and talk to the crown, travel more that direction, stop and talk to a different section of the (currently empty) audience.

Practice looking out into the audience and imagine speaking to one person at a time. Use your hand to gesture toward them as you refer to something the audience may be thinking or feeling (if this isn’t in your content, then it’s time to take another look at your content. More on that in a future post.)

Practice like crazy. I know this is already part of number one above, but it’s really the best strategy for dealing with public speaking anxiety, hands down. When you know what you are going to present, you are automatically way less nervous. Then you can concentrate on just connecting with the audience while you are speaking, allowing natural movements and conversational style speaking to show up. This is the kind of delivery that makes audiences feel like they know you, they have a better reference for liking you and the authentic approach inspires trust. People are drawn to people they know, like and trust.

Now, your butterflies are in formation and you’ve harnessed your extra energy to create exciting delivery. Will all fear of public speaking be totally removed? Nope, probably not. You’ll feel way better, though. And please remember, it is courage that inspires great things in the world – not fearlessness.

Go forth and Change the World, my friend, with Courage as the driver.

Now tell me… how do you want to Change the World?
Thank you, KimRose, for the butterfly on the nose picture. It was perfectly freaky and cool for this post.