I have a long standing problem with public speaking. I managed to avoid it for most of my career, but recently I got a great opportunity which will include public speaking.
I accepted the role and now I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do it and that I’ll make a fool of myself in front of everyone.
The times I’ve tried to do this my heart starts pounding long before I have to get up and speak, it’s so bad that even having to say my name in front of people in large groups can trigger a great level of anxiety. ‘anxiety.
Once my heart races my hands get really shaky then once i start talking my voice starts shaking and i can hear it this makes everything worse i start getting red and in previous times , I almost wanted to run out of the room.
I really want to take this opportunity but I’m now so worried that I can’t do it and I will look really stupid in front of everyone.
I can really relate to what you wrote, so many of us share feelings of anxiety when speaking in public, ranging from butterflies to outright panic responses.
You’ve described your past response as a strong fear response – with all the physical hallmarks of anxiety. It’s really hard in the moment to understand the thoughts that might be causing your fears and that’s probably where I’d start.
Your body is reacting to a perceived threat and you may have hidden thoughts and worries about your public speaking role.
Try spending some time before asking yourself what you’re afraid of, what public speaking makes you anxious?
For some people it’s the pressure to do a good job, others find eye contact difficult to manage and for some it’s the responsibility of being in charge of content delivery.
Once you have started connecting with the fears that create the body’s responses (pounding heart), try to work with them.
I encourage you to take a look at some CBT techniques like thinking traps and see if any of your worries fall into those categories.
I wonder if we could reverse the way you perceive the experience. There is something very positive about taking a first step in an area that worries you, it shows great courage and gives you a chance to create a different outcome.
If you tell yourself it will turn out like your other presentations, you’ll be communicating to your brain that the upcoming presentation will be a failure, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I would really like you to try different visualizations, trying to imagine that the presentation is going well, focusing on a positive audience reaction, connecting with how you feel when you convey your information in full trust.
By doing exercises like this, we can help the brain move away from its programmed fear response.
There are also some handy tips and tricks you can try:
Familiarizing yourself with your gear ahead of time can help you feel knowledgeable and confident, make sure you are familiar with any technical equipment being used and that all gear is ready.
Have an outline of what you want to get across and practice speaking through your presentation a number of times before the agreed date.
Make your hardware the center of attention
It can be tempting to focus on your voice or people engagement, for that next presentation try to focus on the material, on the content you provide, connect on why it’s important to get it across people, what difference will it make to them. People may notice that you are nervous, that’s okay, many of us get nervous during the presentation, their attention and focus will be drawn to the new material you are presenting and your anxiety will only be one basic awareness for them.
Body language is a great way to communicate confidence even if you don’t feel it, use your hands to gesture or to enhance what you are saying, adopt a confident posture, be as relaxed as possible in your body, the audience will pick up cues from your body language that can override your nervousness.
If you have time, or even to improve in the future, the toastmasters (https://www.toastmasters.org) have local public speaking groups whose goal is to help you overcome the nerves and develop a confident public speaking style.
It can feel like the whole world is noticing when we are anxious, in fact, our anxiety is usually visible to very few people. Good luck with your presentation
All the best wishes
UKCP Clinical Psychotherapist