Most people are more afraid of public speaking than death.
I grew up very confident speaking in front of groups. So confident, that right before I gave a speech at my university class "Drugs and Society" on why marijuana should be legalised, I puffed on a joint that was handed to me. Forgive me, this was Northern California in the 90s and I was an idiot. The California Kush didn't kick in until I stood up in front of over 100 students and started to speak.
I remember this horrible feeling of dread washing over me, my mind going blank, my mouth completely dry and my carefully crafted speech was quickly erased from my mind. As I stood there gaping like a goldfish, the students started to laugh, and someone yelled out "I think she’s stoned" I ran out of the class like I was being chased by a tiger while making a horrible guttural sound you only make when you are scared out of your mind while the students howled with laughter.
After that, the thought of even saying my name in a group was terrifying. So much so, I would write my name on my hand since I would forget it if I had to introduce myself to a group. I took me years to get over my fear, but now I genuinely love presenting and do it all the time.
Here are my top tips to get over your fear of public speaking for good:
1. Prepare, Prepare, And Prepare Some More
I don't believe in winging it when it comes to public speaking unless you're incredibly confident in your ability to speak in front of groups. I've seen experienced presenters choke when they haven’t prepared. Write out what you want to say and practice it over and over again. Don't try to memorise it word for word but practice getting your points across so sounds natural.
I find a great place to practice is in the car. You can record yourself reading the speech on your phone, and then play it back while driving - talking along with it helps commit the main points to your memory. Write down the five main points you want to get across and practice talking about those points. The more you practice, the more natural you will sound.
2. Don't Try To Calm Down
Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooks did an interesting study with what worked to help people improve their public speaking. She asked people to give a presentation on what would make them good colleagues while videotaped and a group of peers would rate their speech. 50% were told to tell themselves “I am excited”, and 50% were told to tell themselves “I am calm.”
When asked which strategy they believed would help more in giving a good speech (to calm down or be excited) before the speech - more than 90% of people said the best strategy was to calm down. When the speeches were evaluated, the people who tried to calm down were rated to be lacking confidence and persuasiveness compared to the group that told themselves they were excited.
Your brain is like a bartender, and it makes cocktails depending on what you tell it. Telling yourself that you're excited helps you to channel your nervousness into a much more energetic and charismatic energy. I even jump up and down and pump my arms in the air while I tell myself “I’m excited!” before I speak in front of large groups.
3. The Tail Technique
I learned this technique on a public speaking course, and while it sounds weird, it’s one of my favourites. It’s an ancient tantric technique, and it doesn't matter if you're sitting or standing. You can use it in any situation where you want to feel more confident.
Take a deep breath and imagine you have a long fluffy tail growing out the base your spine and onto the floor. Imagine swishing it around the floor behind you.
It's hard not to smile when you do it, and it instantly shifts your energy into a more playful and relaxed vibe. From a tantric perspective, it grounds your energy, getting you out of your head and back into your body. You can’t help but smirk and feel a bit naughty. I find people also respond in a positive way when you use this technique. They tend to smile back at you and seem intrigued without not knowing why. Sounds crazy but it really does work.
4. Rewind Technique
If you've had an embarrassing experience speaking in front of a group that causes you anxiety at, the rewind technique or fast phobia cure it's also known as is the most effective for getting over the fear.
Your subconscious records everything that happens to you and makes playlists out of it which become programs that you operate from. We want to delete the old program of feeling anxious with public speaking so you hardly ever even think about it.
Imagine a screen in front of you and think of the time or times when you've been embarrassed or had a bad experience with public speaking. Imagine that the memories of that event playing on that screen like an old home movie. At the same time, also imagine that there are monkeys and cartoon characters dancing around, superimposed over the memories, while circus music played in the background making the memories as silly, and as ridiculous as possible.
Rewind and fast forward the memories, making the memories blurry and scrambled. Then watch the screen float off in the distance until it’s a tiny little speck and watch it explode into a million little pieces and then blow away in the wind. This visualisation is like putting a scratch in the record and corrupting these memories, which in turn, clears the trauma and negative associations triggered by those events.
Know that the fear of public speaking is normal
I still get butterflies every time I'm going to speak in front of a group. But I tell myself I’m excited, and I look at that heightened energy as a tool to be more compelling and persuasive. Telling stories is one of the most effective techniques to be an interesting speaker as we are hardwired to become emotionally engaged when we listen to them. When we share our pain, as well as our laughter - we help each other heal. I know you have some great stories that people would love and may really need to hear. Deep down, you know they are funny and touching, and you tell them well. Now, go out and share them with others, it’s selfish of you not to.
Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz. Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.