Too Shy To Speak Up?

Whether presenting a TED talk, pitching a new client, providing feedback during a conference call, or helping someone who has collapsed in general public, you wouldn’t be surprised how many people have social anxiety and/or dread public speaking.

That fear manifests differently for various people- sweaty palms for some, shallow breathing or butterfly- like stomach spasms in others- but it’s often a form of social anxiety because, in many cases, we may fear unfamiliar situations or judgment from others.

Sadly, we aren’t very engaging or dynamic speakers when we’re nearly paralyzed with anxiety.

That person can’t really be present for the listeners because they’re worrying about their performance so much. It intrudes on their ability to be themselves.

Even though the nerves that creep up on you when you’re public speaking don’t really just disappear, there are certainly ways to control it and build one’s confidence.

How to not “freeze” or panic in a nerve wracking situation?

Mindfulness can be effective at calming these fears. Recent studies found that mindfulness techniques helped professional hobby musicians deal with stage fright or musical performance anxiety. It also was effective at reducing signs of social anxiety disorder.

Techniques like visualization and focused relaxation can help you gear up to give a presentation or speak in a meeting, but breathing should be the main focus. The fast, shallow breathing we often do when we’re nervous can create a shaky or high-pitched speaking voice, while deeper, more measured breathing can help bring confidence and steadiness to the voice. Plus, breathing helps calm and center us.

Breathing is the basis for our ability to settle ourselves and work against the physiological effects [of nerves] like rapid heart rate or shallow breathing. It’s really hard to be present and connecting with the moment when you’re physically feeling bad. Breathing always brings us back to the present, it settles us, it allows us to connect with the moment.

Directors and actors often use the term “in the moment” to mean that someone is engaged with the present scene instead of robotically reciting lines or thinking ahead to what they’ll make for dinner. For public speaking, it means you’re connecting with and reacting to your audience, whether it’s a packed auditorium or a handful of coworkers in a board room.

Ideally, your audience is also in the moment, but it’s much easier for the audience to be present because their sense of vulnerability and exposure isn’t activated when they’re just sitting.

Of course, it helps if you’re in the habit of meditating and being mindful rather than trying these techniques for the first time right before a big presentation. If you can get in the habit of doing that, then when the speaking situation arrives and you need to be mindful, then it’s not too much of a leap. The hardest time to be mindful and centered and focused is when you’re in front of an audience and you feel like you’re in a tailspin. That’s the worst moment for you to try that.

But if you’ve already developed mental memory around breathing, visualizing and noting, it’ll hopefully feel like second nature, even in a high-pressure situation.


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