August 14, 2008

What are you really afraid of?

When people are afraid of public speaking, it's typically not "speaking" that they're afraid of. As I talked about in my post "What if your worst public speaking fear comes true?" if you break out the things that you're most concerned about and address them, a lot of that fear dissipates.

In the case of one my clients, speaking is her greatest fear. She fears that she will get stuck on a word as she's trying to speak, similar to stuttering, but in her head. Her brain will shut down and she won't be able to think of the word she needs. When's the last time she experienced this problem? More than 20 years ago.

Her other fears are more realistic, including not being fully prepared, but the one that overrides all other issues, and the most irrational, is the fear of stumbling over a word.

I asked her, "When you used to have this problem, how would you handle it?" She told me that she would just think of another word in place of the one she was having trouble saying. I asked her, "Could you do that now?"

In this case, she knows the problem and she has the solution. She also feels that she talks too fast and doesn't breathe. She knows that speaking slower, listening to herself talk, and taking the time to breathe will help with her stumbling problem, should it appear.

Now the trick is remembering this when she's preparing for a presentation. One addition to her preparation is positive self-talk and affirmations: "I can always find the right word when I need it," or "My words flow smoothly when I talk."

By narrowing down this one issue, planning what to do if it happens, and using positive self-talk to reframe the way she thinks about her speech, she is already less anxious than she was before we had this conversation.

What one issue can you break down and resolve before your next presentation?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

Hi Lisa,

I found your blog from the swimming comment you left on Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Work Week blog. It sounds like the substitute-coach did you a big disservice. I believe success in anything is all about finding good coaches.

Having been in sales I did many presentations. To avoid being nervous I did the following:

1. I knew I was prepared and speaking from what I knew to be true.
2. I knew I was an authority on the subject.
3. The only way to get better at something was to keep doing it.

As you know, most presentations are done over and over again. It gives you an opportunity to refine your message and learn what works and what doesn't.

Looking back at my list, I'd say it's about knowing what you know and not worrying about what you don't know.

See you at the pool,

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jim. Preparation and practice are key to reducing fear, but unfortunately, many speakers are unwilling to put in the time or effort to be truly well prepared and thus give a truly effective presentation.

I hear it time and time again, "I don't have time," or "I don't want to reinvent the wheel," or "This is how everyone else does it."

I'm always happy to find a client who's willing to dig deep and work on the issues that are underlying her fear. The preparation and practice then become so much easier!

Of course, this is only one post on preparation; you can find more here: and more on anxiety here:

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