June 1, 2012

Focusing on the Positive: Guest post by Ryan Rivera

While I'm at the World Tea Expo this weekend, speaking on business networking, I have a guest post for you from Ryan Rivera, editor of the site Calm Clinic, a site for anxiety and panic sufferers.

Public speaking anxiety tends to be self-sustaining. There's a tendency for speakers to focus too much on their mistakes, paying attention to every "um," pause, stumbled upon word or unsatisfied looking audience member and dwelling on it until it affects not only their happiness, but also their anxiety on the next speech.

For those that want to cure their public speaking anxiety, this is a serious problem. This type of mindset is going to create a constant cycle of anxiety and will reinforce your fears every time you make a speech.

Changing Your Mindset

Ideally you need to focus on the positives. You need to be able to come away from your speech not worrying about the mistakes you made, no matter how badly you feel you did. You need to find a way to accentuate every area you thrived and keep those successes in mind for your next speech.

This is easier said than done. That's why you need to develop a strategy for dealing with your own emotions after a speech. One recommended strategy is to create what can best be described as a "positive thought journal" – a place that you write down positive thoughts related to the speech you just gave.

After your speech is over and your mind is worried too much about what you did and did not do, take out the journal and do your best to make a list of only the most successful parts of your speech. Make it a goal to try to come up with a very high number – more than 10 different items, preferably closer to 20 or more. There should be no negativity on this list and no personal passive aggressiveness ("you did a great job at saying 'um' a lot").

In a way, this activity is meant to work much in the same way as positive affirmations. In some circles this is known as "Cognitive Restructuring." To many this sounds like pseudo-science, but the reality is that this task is a form of brain training. Your mind is looking for positive aspects of your speech so that it can fill out the list, rather than obsessing over the negative qualities.

Looking at the Bright Side

There is no such thing as a truly terrible speech. Even if you walk on stage, start crying, and find that your entire outfit has magically disappeared leaving you standing in front of a large audience in your birthday suit in tears, you can still come up with at least five things you did correctly that you can carry over to the next speech (for example, successfully making eye contact with the crowd as they gasped in shock).

Focusing on the positives isn't likely to be a true cure for anxiety, but it's a good start, and an important part of learning to handle your speeches with more positivity. After each and every one of your speeches, take out a journal and try to come up with as many real, specific positive qualities that came from your speech. With any luck, your public speaking anxiety will quickly disappear.


Ryan Rivera struggled intensely with his public speaking anxiety and tried multiple strategies to help him become a better public speaker. He writes about anxiety and relaxation at www.calmclinic.com.

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