October 30, 2008

Four steps to controlling your fear

In an episode of "Life in the Fab Lane," Kimora Lee Simmons is asked to speak in front of 30,000 people at a large trade show, to promote her new cosmetic line. She fears public speaking and especially the size of the crowd, but agrees to do it.

She says, "I've never had to speak in front of this many people in my life, and I'm going backstage like I'm Michael Jackson or something. And I am freaked out."

Later, she has a revelation:

"I'm getting ready to take the stage at Market America and it really bugs me out to do the speech. But I feel like the more I say it's my fear, I'm embracing the fear, and I shouldn't do that. I should break the chains that bind me."

She gives the presentation, for which she's written her notes on her hand. She doesn't seem to have prepared, but then again, it's a heavily-edited reality show and who knows if she prepared or not?

Backstage after the speech, her colleague asks, "Did you see how much they loved you?" and Kimora says, "I know -- I wanna go back!"

Finally, she says "I can't believe I did it. It was like the best worst thing of my life."

This is a typical reaction when people aren't used to speaking. They build up and create drama out of the fear and anxiety. When they receive a positive response from the audience, that scary rush of adrenaline suddenly starts to feel like excitement instead of fear! Afterward, they feel great and want to do it again.

Here's a way to get that feeling before you speak instead of waiting until afterward to enjoy the benefits of the adrenaline rush: control your fear instead of letting it control you.

If your mind can create fear and make you feel the physical sensations of anxiety, your mind can also create positive sensations and turn anxiety into excitement.

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 forward to your conscious mind is an important step.

2. Once you are conscious of your negative thoughts, you are then able to replace them with positive thoughts

You might say the following to yourself, "People want to hear what I have to say. I'm going to have a great time! I'm excited about sharing my expertise." You choose the words that work for you; the important thing is to say them to yourself. This is the first step toward believing your positive thoughts.

3. The next step is visualizing yourself being successful at public speaking

Using your imagination, close your eyes and see yourself in the venue, speaking to an attentive audience. They are smiling and nodding. They are fascinated by what you have to say! Visualize yourself standing confidently, smiling and delivering your presentation clearly, concisely and with passion and enthusiasm.

Most importantly, visualize the physical sensations in your body. Imagine feeling calm and relaxed. Or imagine yourself feeling energized -- whichever works best for you. Feel it while you're imagining it.

Imagine the audience applauding at the end (why not have a standing ovation while you're at it?). Imagine people seeking you out afterward, expressing gratitude and appreciation for what you've just taught them.

4. Finally, you will want to prepare physically for your presentation

On your way to the venue, warm up your voice by singing along to your favorite music. Breathe deeply, but don't hyperventilate! Once you get there, stretch and massage your back, neck, shoulders, chest, jaw and face. Continue deep breathing to bring oxygen to your brain and muscles, improve blood flow, and reduce tension that can make your voice weak or quivery.

Keep up the positive self-talk with the words that work for you. It's important to keep reminding yourself that the jittery feelings you're experiencing are positive, not negative, because we're so used to believing that nervousness is bad.

Using these techniques will help you reframe the way you perceive the adrenaline rush. Your brain will tell your body that it's a good thing, and you will eventually start to believe it -- just like you believed it when your brain said it was bad.

More posts on anxiety and nervousness:

Cool as a cucumber or sweaty like a racehorse?

Visualization in action

Concentrating or worrying?

Visualization is for the body as well as the mind

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