No Freaking Speaking: Managing Public Speaking Anxiety

we need to understand the source and when we understand the source and identify a technique to manage it much of our anxiety will abate so let me introduce you to the three sources academics tell us underlie our anxiety the first source is what is called situation based anxiety we are nervous for speaking because of the context or situation we are in let me give you an example some of you I recognize from outside in the corridor you were sitting with groups of friends or new friends and you were talking about some topic of passion that you guys were all interested in at no point during that interaction were you nervous however had I come up to you and said oh excuse me that sounds really fascinating I've got about an hour I'm supposed to present would you come talk for five minutes in front of the couple hundred people for me at that moment you might become very nervous why you're nervous is not the topic it's where you're doing the presentation it's where you're doing it so academics tell us that one source of anxiety is the situation and they suggest that the reason the situation makes us nervous is because we see it as a performance we see it as a right way and a wrong way to get our idea across that's why they call it performance anxiety actors singers they experience performance anxiety because there is a right way in acting in singing if you don't hit your mark exactly at the right time the lights and sound guys they don't know what to do the other actors don't know what to do you have to do it right or it confuses people the nice thing about speaking is there is no right way there is no wrong way there are certainly better and there are certainly worse but there is no one right way so what we want to do is to get away from performance anxiety we need to reframe the situation rather than a performance we see it as a conversation so this technique is called cognitive reframing it simply means real able it see it differently so rather than a performance we see it as a conversation most of us in this room are not nervous having conversations we are nervous performing so we need to make our speeches conversations how do you do that well it's a little harder than just saying oh I'm just about to have a conversation with two hundred of these people I don't know they're a couple things we can do first practice conversationally when you practice your presentation put yourself in a physical environment like you would when you are having a conversation do it around a dinner table do it around a coffee table sit and have a conversation about it second use conversational language many speakers feel that when they are speaking they have to be very formal in their presentation and they use formal language one must consider the ramifications of that's not how we talk in conversation we say things like this is important to you I once I recently just a week ago coached this guy who said the audience will recognize I looked around I was the only person in the room he should say you will recognize her he knew my name is should said Matt you will recognize so use conversational language the word you is the most powerful word in the English language say you it connects you to your audience it makes it conversational we practice conversationally we use conversational language and the last trick to becoming conversational is to use questions these can be rhetorical questions where you don't expect an answer but by asking questions I invite dialogue conversation is a dialogue so you can start with questions those three techniques practicing conversationally using conversational language asking questions turn your speaking into a conversation versus a performance so for those of you who think that situation is one of the causes of your anxiety try that technique out hopefully it will help the second source of anxiety is the audience who is it I'm speaking in front of audiences vary they vary in their knowledge of your topic their power over you their relationship to others in the room that can make you very nervous this is my source of anxiety who I speak in front of I often don't get nervous and getting up in front of groups but if you put me up in front of people who do what I do for a living professors of speech communication I get nervous and every year I go to a conference where I get up in front of my peers and I have to give a speech and I have to remind myself of all these techniques we've talked about so it's the audience that can make us nervous and to address the audience fear the technique that it works best and has been studied longer than any other anxiety management technique for speaking is called visualization research over thirty five years has gone into this technique how many of you have ever played a sport where a coach told you to visualize that sport getting the ball into the basket or the ball hitting so how many of you ever done that several of you have raised your hand visualization is where you see it in your mind you don't actually do it sports psychologists tell us the second best way to improve in a sport is to visualize the first best way is actually to practice but visualization can help so here's how it works before you give your presentation go into the room if you have access to it check out the room see the environment I came in here long before any of you did to see the room get an experience of what it's like think about who's going to be in the room often when you present you know the audience you're going to get you know who they are I don't know many of you but I know the type of people you are so I could visualize I've been around enough Toastmasters groups to know you're friendly you're eager so I was able to visualize it so what I do a few days before my presentation is I think about the room and the people in the room and I see them responding positively to my presentation what this does is it desensitizes us so that when I get up here it's not new I've seen it before in my mind's eye now I'm often asked a couple questions the first question I'm asked is what happens if you can't see the room or you don't know what people who's going to be in the room and there are situations where that might be true but with with the internet and with a little sleuthing you can do a lot of reconnaissance you can find out the layout of the room you can find out what people looked at look like go to Facebook go to LinkedIn you can see who your audience is you can do a lot to learn who they are and I challenge you to do that so visualization works by simply seeing the situation and seeing it go positively notice I did not say that we actually spend time visualizing our presentation seeing the words we say that gets you in trouble because that leads to performance anxiety we talked about that a moment ago what we visualize is simply a positive response to our presentation and decade's worth of research shows that visualization helps many people feel more comfortable and less anxious that leads us to our third source of anxiety we talked about situation we talked about audience the third source is our goal what it is we're trying to achieve often when we speak we have a purpose and that purpose is to communicate an idea to motivate an audience to not get fired to get a good grade notice those goals by definition are all future focus they're all in the future and it is that future concern that makes us nervous so here's what we do we become present oriented if you become present oriented you're not concerned about that future consequence has anybody ever heard of flow experience or rapt attention these are psychological terms for that being in the moment and there are lots of ways to get yourself in the moment if you watch athletes they listen to music that music brings them into the moment I know a professional speaker he's paid $10,000 a speech before he gets up he's nervous when he gets up in front of people before he gets on stage behind the stage he does 100 pushups you can't do that physical exertion and not be in the present moment yes he's out of breath and yes he's sweaty when he takes the stage but that's part of his schtick right I know another professional speaker she plays a video game a handheld video game it's a very engrossing engaging video game she sets her watch alarm she gets up plays the video game when the alarm goes off she walks on stage again brings her in the moment you can do simple things sudoku count backwards from a hundred by some tough number like thirteen that brings you in the moment my favorite and I'm going to ask you to help me do this is to say a tongue twister you can't say a tongue twister right and be worried about something else I hope you'll indulge me I'd like you to repeat my favorite tongue twister I'll say it you repeat it after me and the reason I like this one so much is if you say it wrong you say a naughty word so I'll be listening okay begin follow me follow me I slit a sheet a sheet I slit and on that slitted sheet I sit nobody said the naughty word good for you notice I want you to notice a couple things first while you were saying that silly tongue twister you weren't worried about the fact that you were saying silly words in front a bunch of strangers right you were in the moment you were focused that's that present orientation the other advantage of doing a tongue twister is it causes you to verbalize nervous speakers often don't practice out loud they practice in their head and we all know what we think doesn't always translate to what we say so it warms up your voice and it gets you verbalizing so the way we combat goal based anxiety is we become present oriented so what we've talked about are the three sources of anxiety the situation and we said that's about reframing to a conversation we talked about audience based anxiety we said that's about visualization and then we talked about goal based anxiety and that's about becoming present oriented each of you can reflect on your own anxiety and identify what source it comes from it might be multiple sources but often it is predominated by one and you can try one of those techniques the technique might not work for you but there are others everybody has their own feeling when it comes to different techniques and you have to find the one or two that work for you


  1. We watched this in my speech class today and it legitimately bothered me so much that i found this video just so i could say:

    He looks like Toby from the Office

  2. I'm a great fan of you, love your techniques which are more realistic. Like GIVING A GIFT..
    Need more tips from you…

  3. Thank you Mr. Abraham for your lovely talks … you know what !! I like the music in your talks … I like the way you speak more than what you say 🙂 … your audios are played in my car when I travel … I accept that they are music to my ears.

  4. Fantastic presentation. Getting a lot of value out of it. Love the idea of being "in the moment". I personally crack my knuckles and neck and that gives my brain the "let's do this!" queue.

  5. Practice – Conversational – Questions – Noted that, very very good source! Thank you Matt for this video!

  6. Asking questions is very important, creating dialog really helps defusing anxiety. Another point for me was that I would often say I hate speaking, saying this all the time really creates an unnecessary anxiety.

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