Life after public speaking anxiety:
the key to a calmer mind
In retrospect, my mother must’ve been a witch. Either that or she was a naturally gifted exponent of conversational trance. I can still hear her words as I let go of her hand and followed the nurse into the peril that is the dentist’s chair: “Don’t worry”, she’d say “You’ll soon be here coming back”. And do you know what? She was right. Sooner than I had thought, I was back in the waiting room with tooth filled and bribery-cum-reward lollipop clutched firmly in hand. Little did I know this childhood experience would form the bones of a technique that calms an anxious mind: there really is life after public speaking anxiety.
The focus of an anxious mind
There’s a presentation, (speech, meeting, or other speaking event of your own terror), on it’s way and nothing can stop it. You’ve semi-seriously thought about being ill on the day or calling in other members of your team because ‘it’d be good experience for them’. But deep down, you know it’s going to fall on your shoulders. You’ll have to stand up and talk. No matter how much you tell yourself it’ll be OK and it’ll go well, no matter much you reassure yourself that you’re up to it, there’s a part of you that’s scared whitless (I’ve left the mis-spelling deliberatley. Does your spell-check remove the ‘h’ or swap the ‘w’ for an ‘s’?).
Anyway, there’s a more ancient part of your brain, (often referred to as your reptilian brain), that’s highly tuned to spot danger and throw powerful avoidance strategies at you to keep you alive. The problem comes when the ‘danger’ is something like public speaking. Your mind reacts as if it’s a physical threat that could kill you. (To be fair, several studies have found that people fear public speaking more than they fear death, so your reptilian brain’s working overtime on this one).
There is, however, a neat little mind-hack that can unwind this ‘death-by-public-speaking’ notion.
When your mind spots a threat, it focuses on it to the exclusion of all else. Why? Because if you don’t survive the threat, ‘all else’ becomes irrelevant anyway. This is why, when public speaking anxiety hits, all you can think about is how everything’s going to go wrong & you feel like you want to make it not happen please.
The solution? Remind your mind that there’s life after public speaking.
The Six Step Re-frame
- Go stand with your back to a wall, (yes really). It might be an office, kitchen, living room, bedroom, hallway, outside wall…it doesn’t matter. And yes, the analogy helps.
- With your back to the wall, imagine the future’s stretched out in front of you. How close does the speech/meeting/presentation seem to be. Place it out there in front of you.
- Tune into how anxious you feel.
- Now consider something else even further in the future. Something completely unconnected with the speaking event. Perhaps a birthday, holiday or Xmas. Place this out on your future-line after the speaking event.
- Walk from the wall over to where this unconnected future-event lies. (Note: you’ll walk straight through the speaking event to get there). Imagine being in this place with family & friends. That speech is now way back in the past. Over & done with. Turn around and look back at it from here. Notice how it feels different from here. The difference that tells you how much less scary it is afterwards looking back.
- Now walk back to the wall. Look right through the speaking event to your Xmas/birthday/holiday event. Remember what it was like being there. Notice how your feelings about the speaking event have shifted and how much they’ve eased.
How does it work?
By taking advantage of our innate ability to mentally time-travel, (it’s known as age-progression in hypno/NLP circles), you remind that reptilian survival brain that there’s a future after the speech. And if there’s a future after the speech, then the speech can’t be fatal. If the speech isn’t fatal, you can come down off Defcon 1.
Here’s the thing: whilst the 6 step reframe can be surprisingly effective & sometimes stops anxiety in its tracks, all it needs to do is get you back to a manageable state of mind. Once there, there’s a human back in the driving seat and the reptile can go to back to sleep.
Try it out. You may need a little practice, so do keep at it. If you’ve any questions, share it below or get in touch here: contact
Find out more here: getting rid of public speaking anxiety.
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