How To Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking
Your heart races, you feel dizzy, your mind goes blank and you begin to shake all over. Is this a life or death situation you are facing? No...you have been asked to speak in public. It is called glossophobia and it is one of the most common fears we humans face.
Researchers believe that the reason we fear public speaking comes from our evolution. It has always been important to our survival to work as a group and one of our biggest fears is being ostracised from our fellow humans. Public speaking brings that fear to the forefront as we worry about standing in front of a group feeling vulnerable and being judged. Read more about our reasons for this common fear.
Public speaking can take many forms. Of course, it could be that work presentation that is worrying you or a speech you've been asked to give at a party or wedding. Or, it may be that you fear asking or answering questions in class or in staff meetings. Maybe you worry about expressing ideas or opinions for fear of how others will respond. If so, your career could be suffering. Some people don't take certain jobs or promotions because they will do anything to avoid having to speak in public. Yet, they are experts at what they do and have so much to teach others that this is a real shame and such a waste of talent.
If you do fear public speaking and are forced to make a speech, what do you do to overcome your fear and get through it? I have heard many tactics, including:
Speaking as quickly as possible to get it over with
Clenching your fists
Avoiding eye-contact with the audience
Skipping parts of the speech or presentation
Reading the whole thing so you can focus on the paper in front of you
Have you attempted any of these? Maybe you have other strategies that you feel help you to cope? However, if you make a list of them and then examine each one in turn, do they actually help you to deliver a better speech and enjoy the process more? I would say the answer is "no". It is unlikely that you can relax while doing any of the above and avoiding eye-contact and ignoring your audience is going to create a negative experience for both you and your listeners. You would be better of focusing much more intently on those listening and much less on yourself.
So, how can hypnosis help?
Hypnotherapy can help you take control of those thoughts and feelings. Instead of getting that feeling of dread every time you think about giving a speech or presentation or even speaking up in class or in meetings, you can retrain your mind to imagine a positive, successful experience and instead feel excited about the prospect of connecting with others and sharing something you are passionate about. A great way of doing this is through positive visualisation, which has been studied and tested and proved to help people overcome their fear of public speaking.
Try This Exercise
1. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable to relax. Put on some quiet background music if it helps or just sit in silence for a few moments.
2. Take a deep breath in and, as you breathe out, close your eyes and just focus on your body. Notice the beat of your heart, the rhythm of your breathing. Notice the feel of the chair or bed supporting you and the feel of the clothes on your skin.
3. Relax your body from head to toe, letting go of any tension.
4. Remember a time when you felt really confident, knowing that you were doing a really good job at something. Really take yourself back to that situation, using all your senses. What did you see around you? What did you hear? Spend some time soaking up that feeling. Where in your body did you feel that sense of confidence? Notice that feeling and let it spread through your body now. Smile as you remember what was seen and heard.
5. Now, bringing that feeling of confidence, imagine yourself in that situation that used to make you anxious. It could be speaking up in class or meetings or giving a speech. Imagine yourself doing that sometime in the future. Put yourself there now and imagine how well it is going. You could look at yourself from the audeinece's point of view. Notice how they are really interested in what you are saying and how impressed they all are at your level of knowledge. See how confident and relaxed you look. Listen to how well you know your subject.
6. Step into your body now and feel yourself making that speech. Notice how confident and relaxed you feel, just as you did when you remembered a job well done. Imagine you have finished your speech and people are coming up to you and telling you how great you were.
7. When you have completed step 6, end this exercise by counting to five and then opening your eyes.
8. Repeat this over and over again as much as possible so that when you think about speaking in public, you actually begin to automatically feel that sense of confidence, relaxation and pride.
Try this out and let me know how you got on.
Of course, even more effective would be to come along and have a course of sessions combining NLP, CBT and hypnosis so that we can work together on this and really banish that anxiety once and for all. Please do get in touch if you think you could benefit from this. How much more could you achieve if you could confidently and happily speak up in front of anyone?
References and Further Reading
Joe Ayres (1988) Coping with speech anxiety: The power of positive thinking, Communication Education, 37:4, 289-296, DOI: 10.1080/03634528809378730
Graham D. Bodie (2010) A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety, Communication Education, 59:1, 70-105, DOI: 10.1080/03634520903443849
Glenn Croston Ph.D. (2012). The Thing We Fear More Than Death, Psychology Today.