Public speaking is one of the perils of modern life. Whether at work, school or home there is hardly anyone who likes to do it. 3 out of 4 adults struggle with public speaking and around 74% of adults have an acute fear of speaking. Out of all the phobias out there, public speaking is basically number one. And it can be emotionally and physically crippling. At it’s mildest the fear of public speaking is like stage fright and the other end of the spectrum it’s full blown performance anxiety (also known as presentation anxiety) and the sufferer will need help from a therapist.
However, the good news about performance anxiety is that we can do something about it!
Firstly you need to understand performance anxiety.
So what is it? Performance Anxiety is what happens when you focus on yourself and your anxiety, rather than your presentation or performance. It stems from a tendency to resist and fight your anxiety, rather than to accept and work with it.
It’s the result of thinking of the performance situation as a threat, rather than a challenge.
Although it may feel quite the opposite, Anxiety is actually the body trying to protect you
Humans evolved to have a fight, flight, or freeze response to alert us to danger. It helps us to act in stressful situations via physical responses such as escaping the situation, acting impulsively, or freezing up.
People with performance anxiety can feel this type of intense physiological response when interacting in front of other people or in a situation where they may be judged, such as an exam. Their brains trigger a response meant to help in life-threatening situations for ones that aren’t actually dangerous.
When the body experiences performance anxiety it sets off a biological response filling your body with stress hormones and adrenaline designed to help your fight, flight or freeze response to help you survive.
It is this biological response that we can master to control performance anxiety when public speaking.
Here are my top 6 tips to help you control your performance anxiety and give the best speech of your life!
The 6 seconds Pause
One of the most important things you can do to take control of your anxiety is to pause before you react. This is particularly good to do just before your speech.
You basically take a 6 second pause.
- Put your hand on heart
- Take 3 deep breaths
- Tell yourself slowly and calmly ‘Everything is okay’ ‘you can do this’ ‘ You got this’
Movement is one of the most powerful ways to calm down the body and transform panic hormones to calming. If you can make the time to move your body. If it is pre performance anxiety do 10 sit ups or go to the gym or even dance for 5 minutes in the kitchen.
Hard spaghetti / Soft Spaghetti
Spaghetti has two states. Hard when it’s raw, soft when it’s cooked. In this exercise you basically over tense your entire body for 10 seconds representing the hard spaghetti and then relaxing like soft spaghetti.
- Visualise spaghetti just like you get them from the supermarket: hard. Imagine you are the spaghetti, your whole body is hard as a rock. Tense every muscle you have.
- Then imagine you are going to have a bubble bath of nice and warm water. And as your feet get in your body starts to feel wobbly. Soft and tender, your whole body begins to change from rigid to tender. Your feet, your knees, your legs, your back, your waist, your chest, your hands, your arms, your neck, your head. More and more tender, like spaghetti getting cooked for dinner. Let every muscle relax
Super simple and can be done anywhere.
Write it Out
If you have the negative thought cycle the night before a speech or exam put those fears somewhere by writing them out. You simply write down all of your fears, worries and then screw them up and throw them physically away. Then the important thing is to do something else. Something where you body needs to move. Like the washing up. Something that will take your mind away from your fears.
Nothing kills stress hormones like laughter. Watch a comedian or your favourite funny show or even have a pillow fight. All laughter will get the dopamine running and calm your body down.
Over thinking is one of the most common causes of performance anxiety. It is simply easier for us to imagine the worst case scenario than the best case. The realistic thinking process is a way to work with rationalising the thoughts. It works best with a conversation however if you do not have someone available to help, then you can write down the answers. Just work your way through the questions 1 by 1. Again this is a great process to do the day before giving a speech or presentation.
- Am I falling into a thinking trap (e.g., catastrophizing or overestimating danger)?
- What is the evidence that this thought is true? What is the evidence that this thought is not true?
- Have I confused a thought with a fact?
- What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?
- What would a friend say about my thought?
- Am I 100% sure that ___________will happen?
- How many times has __________happened before?
- Is __________so important that my future depends on it?
- What is the worst that could happen?
- If it did happen, what can I do to cope with or handle it?
- Is my judgment based on the way I feel instead of facts?
- Am I confusing “possibility” with “certainty”? It may be possible, but is it likely?
- Can I do anything about it/ Do I want to do anything about it?
- What am I going to do now? (Either make a plan for a solution or if you cannot do something about it then do something that gives you a success experience such as doing the washing up, sit ups. Make sure the activity occupies your body and your brain. )
These simple tricks will help you regain control of your body from the biological side effects of performance anxiety before public speaking. But if you do find that you anxiety is getting unmanageable then please do get help.
You can also find some more tips this Wednesday on the Re:Root Your Life Channel or watch last week’s video about what is going on with your body during performance anxiety. (Because if you can understand something you can do something about it.) Just remember your body is trying to help you out. You just need to work with it not against it. Take back the control and you will give an amazing speech