How to push through your fear of public speaking:
Imagine, you’ve been asked to speak at a meeting at work or to a local group. What would be your response? Would you raise your hand with enthusiasm, or try every excuse you could think of?
How would you react emotionally? Maybe with panic – heart palpitations, dry mouth, hot sweat. But imagine if, despite the fear, you could still rise to the challenge and get your message across with clarity and confidence.
Fear doesn’t have to paralyse you. Instead, transform it into energy that will drive you!
Take charge of those controlling emotions with mindfulness
Prior to you being called upon to speak, practice this mindfulness of breath/body-awareness exercise below. Use it to anchor you in the present moment, to reduce your mind-chatter – your inner critic that ruminates about past experiences of failure and worries about the future failure that hasn’t happened yet.
Notice your breath. Bring your attention to what’s going on in the present moment. To do this, just spend a few minutes observing your breath. Don’t try to change it or breathe in any particular was. Simply watch your in-breath, your out-breath and the pause in between. You’re not trying to achieve anything other than an awareness of this moment.
When thoughts try to hijack your mind
You may find that thoughts begin to drift into your mind. This can happen from the outset, or those thoughts can hijack you within the first few minutes. That’s okay, don’t try to control your thoughts or empty your mind. Once you realise you’ve been distracted, simply acknowledge and allow those thoughts to be present and come back to your breath.
Your body’s reaction is a physical expression of emotions
Drop your attention into your body. Ask yourself, “What’s going on?” Can you name the emotion – fear, panic, stress? How does that feeling manifest itself physically? Notice your body’s reaction to the situation: rapid heart rate; tension and knots in your stomach; nausea; tightness in your chest or throat; dry mouth; trembling; sweating; blushing?
Now focus in on one of those areas, maybe the rapid heartbeat. Don’t fight the feeling, that only serves to fuel it. Instead, turn towards it with love, kindness and compassion, allow it to be present and to ‘soften’ – then after a short while notice if anything has changed. Repeat the words, “Soothe, allow, soften…”
Build resilience as you stretch your comfort zone
With practice, over time your body will begin to settle and the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response will subside to a more comfortable level such that will enable you to continue and give your presentation. Remember, you’re not trying to calm yourself down. It’s important not to get attached to any outcome, “I must relax – must calm down…” Simply learn to drop the resistance and learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That way you build up your resilience and your stress response will diminish and may eventually fade completely.
Take charge, go at your own pace
As you are introduced and called up to speak, take your time, focus on your breath as you walk to the lectern, podium or speaking area. Breathe and pause until you are ready to open your talk. Don’t be rushed. Notice your body’s response and drop in those words, “soothe, allow, soften” and let it settle a little before you begin. If you appear nervous or anxious, but remain in charge of your emotions, your audience will be surprisingly respectful, patient and supportive of you.
During your delivery
Remember, if you lose your thread or your emotions hijack you during your presentation, pause, return your attention to you breath and pick up as you take charge once more and continue. Your listeners will usually be fine when you respond with a pause rather than react by getting flustered and apologetic. They’re just glad it’s not them having to get up and speak!
Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back
After you’ve spoken, return to your seat and be kind to yourself. Notice that judgemental voice in your head and let it pass. Bring your attention back to your breath and body. If it went well give yourself credit; if the inner critic kicks in, still look for ways to give yourself credit. Public speaking is top of the list of fears, so congratulations – you found the courage to confront it.