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The Power of the Mind: Reduce Your Fear of Public Speaking
An acquaintance of mine recently told a story about the public speaking experience that paralyzed him mentally for five years.
As the teacher of his high school class, he prepared a speech entitled “The Power of the Mind”. He was not worried about the speech, as he was an experienced speaker and speaker. He began his speech with a confident, powerful opening.
Shortly before the speech, he found himself wondering, “what if I pass out?” It didn’t make any sense, since he wasn’t afraid of public speaking, but he began to question whether he could finish the speech. As this thought took hold, he began to see spots in front of his eyes. He started to feel dizzy. He gripped the counter with all his might to keep it from collapsing.
He finally got a hold of himself, took a few deep breaths, and was able to finish his speech. He didn’t get it the way he had hoped, but he was able to do it without falling.
For the next five years, every time he had to give a lecture, he panicked, and this fear—which he literally created from his own mind—took over him.
Most of our fears and anxieties about public speaking are based on ideas that have little or no basis in reality. Sometimes a person actually has negative experiences that trigger these fears. But it’s just as likely that someone who dreads public speaking has never had a bad public speaking experience.
I had a similar experience of creating fear and anxiety in my mind, but it wasn’t about public speaking. Here’s another example of the amazing power our minds have to create – and control – fear.
In 1990, he was hit head-on by a car while driving a scooter. I wasn’t wearing a helmet; my head and the front of the car met in the middle of a busy intersection. I was lucky that nothing was broken and I didn’t suffer a serious head injury. Recovery was slow and she began having panic attacks shortly after the accident.
I couldn’t sit in a crowded restaurant. I couldn’t stand the middle seat in the cinema. Elevators made me anxious, and my biggest fear was being in an airplane for ten hours and not being able to get off. Since we already planned the trip to Europe, it was going to happen whether we liked it or not.
I was referred to a therapist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder. He taught me breathing, visualization and relaxation techniques. I started to find myself reversing the panic attacks. If I felt one coming on, I could close my eyes, imagine a calming scene, breathe deeply, and overcome the anxiety. It was a powerful tool.
However, I have found that just thinking about the trigger can trigger a panic attack. So now I could be sitting in the middle seat at the movie theater, but I started to worry, “what if I have a panic attack?” If I let the idea settle in my head, I could create a panic attack out of thin air. Now I had the tools to defeat the attack, and I had the tools to create one from scratch.
To this day, I feel more comfortable in the aisle seat. I know I can handle the claustrophobic trigger, but I still avoid giving in because I know what my brain is capable of. At the same time, when I have no other choice, I know my brain can handle it. I recently attended a Cirque du Soleil traveling show. Anyone who has ever been to a show knows how tight the audience is. The big top is crowded, dark, hot and literally defines claustrophobia! I made it through the show – in a middle seat! – and he had a great time, never once did I feel the dread (or allow it) to take over me.
If our mind is powerful enough to create fear out of “nothing”, it is also powerful enough to reframe our thoughts to move us in a positive direction. Many books have been written about the power of positive thinking – the best known being Norman Vincent Peale, which was first published more than 50 years ago. The latest medical research shows, for example, that a positive expectation of a drug actually has measurable physical effects (not just the psychological “placebo effect”) on our health.
How does this apply to you as a public speaker? you you can control the level of fear and anxiety you experience while speaking in public. you it has the power to transform negative and fearful thoughts into positive ones. How do you do?
1. The first step is being aware of your negative thoughts. Many of these thoughts are subconscious, but becoming aware of them and bringing them into our conscious mind is an important step. If you are aware of these thoughts, you are able to replace them with positive thoughts. You might say to yourself, “I’m a great speaker. People want to hear what I have to say. I’m going to have a great time. I’m excited to share my expertise.” You choose the right words for you; the important thing is to tell yourself. This is the first step to believing your positive thoughts.
2. The next step is imagine being successful in public speaking. With the help of your imagination, close your eyes and see yourself on the spot, speaking to an attentive audience. They smile and nod. They will be impressed by what you have to say! Imagine yourself standing confidently, smiling, and delivering your presentation clearly, concisely, with passion and enthusiasm. Imagine the audience applauding at the end (why not clap along with you?). Imagine people coming up to you afterwards and expressing their gratitude and appreciation for what you just taught them.
3. You will want it eventually prepare physically for the performance. On the way to the venue, warm up your voice by singing along to your favorite tunes. Take deep breaths. Once there, stretch and massage your back, neck, shoulders, chest, jaw and face. Continue to breathe deeply to deliver oxygen to your brain and muscles, improve blood flow, and reduce tension that can make your voice weak or shaky.
If you have severe and crippling fears, it may help to see a therapist to get you started, but most people who fear public speaking are not paralyzed or phobic. These simple tools may be all you need to turn your perceptions around. It won’t happen overnight, but if you commit to changing your negative thought patterns, you have the power to make it happen.
After five years, my friend finally got over her fear of public speaking, and so can you!
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