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Mental Exercises To Improve Your Fear Of Public Speaking

More people have a fear of public speaking that any other fear or phobia so it’s not surprising that almost everyone has some form of nervousness or even excitement when we speak or perform in public. For some it is fairly mild, for others it can be severe enough to take hold days or even weeks before.

As a result of the many people I have helped with a fear of public speaking, it has become very apparent that this fear is often a learnt behaviour. The fight or flight response is our own internal safety mechanism to ensure we can deal with a potentially stressful situation very quickly, bypassing the logical rational mind that will take that much longer to figure out the right response. Helpful when we have to avoid a bus careering towards us, not so helpful when standing in front of a crowd of people. I have written quite a lot about this in a post managing stress based on on our innate knowledge patterns and I’ve also written my top ten tips on public speaking.

So what can you do to help yourself detach from any negative emotions and thinking patterns that you might have inadvertently learnt?

Firstly it’s helpful to recognise which triggers set off your negative thinking or worrying. This is often an unconscious trigger and it may be something that can happen a long time before actually making a speech or minutes before hand. A picture might come up in your mind, the day before, of standing in front of people, or maybe it’s the email that pops through your inbox reminding you of when you are due to give a talk, or it may not be until you actually see the stage or audience in front of you that unwanted thoughts or feelings creep in? There will always be an unwanted emotion that starts the worry cycle, before any thoughts take shape. Interrupting and changing the emotions needs to happen first, before trying to change any thinking patterns.

The exercises- Anchoring 

I have detailed two exercises below for people who have a mild to moderate fear of public speaking. For those with a severe public speaking phobia please contact me for your free consultation.

So if you want to change an unwanted emotion the most important thing to figure out first is what type of good feelings you want instead! For giving a speech, confident, calm, focused, clear headed and energised are some of the more common emotions clients have told me.

Once you have your ideal emotions in mind think about when you have felt those emotions in the past. See if you can come up with lots of different examples from different times in your life. Then pick the ones that you remember most vividly and that were also the ones that had the most impact at the time, perhaps two or three examples, then close your eyes and allow yourself to go back and re-experience them in your mind again. Switch between each scenario a few times, imagining you are back there, and really focus on making the feelings strong and powerful, focusing on where the feelings are inside your mind or body. Then start to spin the feelings inside you building up more momentum and power and trying to expand it so it spreads to other parts of your body, almost like you are glowing. You might find the feeling takes on a particular colour when you do this. Keep going from one scenario and feeling to another, giving yourself space in between to adjust to each different example you have picked. Once you have got the hang of this you want to bring your thumb and forefinger together on one of your hands, when each feeling is almost at the point where it is at its most powerful, and feel the pressure of your thumb and forefinger, whilst simultaneously focusing on the good feeling. Then when the feeling starts to subside, usually after 20 seconds or so, release your finger and thumb . Do this a couple of times, for each example, each time layering and building the feelings on top of each other.

Next, if you were to give a speech to just one person, someone who will make you happy, who will be supportive, who will accept you for who you are and for any mistakes you might make, who would this be? It can be someone you know well or someone you don’t or indeed someone famous that you have never met but think will be a great person to be all of those things I mentioned. Make sure you can create a vivid picture in your mind of them, how they would sit down or stand, intently listening to you. If you find this hard try and focus on just one aspect of them and get a sense of them and the feeling they give you.

Now sitting down in a chair, imagine where you will be standing when you make the speech (this could be a real speech coming up for you or otherwise a hypothetical speech) and then also be clear about where your chosen person will be, how far away from you they will be, what they look like, what they are wearing etc. Now imagine you are standing just behind the you who is in the middle of giving the speech and imagine you have the sensation of being pulled quickly up to your feet. Stay sitting and go through each feeling as before, firing off the anchor every time the feeling is almost at its peak, taking as much to really enjoy each feeling. Now bring in the sensation of being pulled to your feet, before quickly standing up and taking a step forward. With this step imagine you have walked straight into and merged with the you that is standing on stage, bringing all the positive feelings with you and spend 30 seconds or so looking at your chosen person and really focusing on the feelings. If they subside and you want to bring them back just fire off your anchors again. Only spend a minute maximum doing this before sitting down and doing it all again. Each time the feeling of being pulled to your feet can become stronger and your ability to access the feelings will be quicker, so that after a few times you will feel that pull to your feet, accompanied with the great feelings by using your anchor and then imagining you are standing there giving your speech, with your chosen person to focus on.  This exercise can be very powerful at getting rid of pre speech nerves, especially if practised regularly.

By Lawrence Michaels

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