If you suffer from panic attacks due to public speaking, you know how devastating such attacks can be. You can't think your way out of such a predicament. And the realization that you really know this stuff doesn't help either when your courage is dissolving in the face of the World's #1 Fear. (To learn how to connect with listeners and feel less nervous, download our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
In fact, just thinking about it may have you imagining the entire scenario in your mind ...
[Scene: Your Town, USA]
Today is the day of your big presentation, and you’re a nervous wreck.
You’ve been preparing for the past month. The whole company will be there as you explain the marketing plan for the new product. You’ve been chosen to speak because your team has done all the hard work on this project. It’s definitely your moment to shine. And yet you’ve been thinking, over and over, of all the things that could go wrong.
It’s been a steady drip-drip-drip of anxiety since your boss left the company unexpectedly and you got the news you’d be giving the presentation instead. You’ve been sleeping poorly, because you’ve been dreading the arrival of . . .
As you drive to the office, your shoulders are knotted, and you’re gripping the steering wheel so hard your knuckles are turning white. You’re sure you’re going to make a fool of yourself and sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’d rather be anywhere but here, in the car, on the way to the office.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
As you enter the lobby, your familiar physical symptoms begin: heart like a hummingbird, breathing deep as a mouse. Your legs feel rubbery as you make your way to the cafeteria—the only space large enough to hold everyone. Now that you’re there it’s your hands: you can see them shaking as you pick up the remote control. Oh, yes—everybody is seeing that, for sure.
Uh-oh. You’ve just said your opening remarks and your voice is wobbly. You know everybody hears that too. You can’t let go of the thought that the entire company now knows how much public speaking terrifies you.
A new and frightening thought arises: You’re going to forget the talking points you’ve been preparing for the past month. Your mind is going to go blank!
That’s it—you have to get out of here! But you can’t do that because the CEO is sitting right in front of you. This presentation is important to him and your company’s profits for the next billion years.
You’re trapped. There’s no way out.
You’re in the pressure cooker now, for sure.
And through all of this misery, you’re supposed to stay poised and professional: the picture of confidence.
What are you going to do?
If you find yourself in the unenviable position described above or something like that, try the 5 techniques given below. These are quick-fixes that can be remarkably effective in those last few moments before speaking when you need them most. Photocopy this list and keep it with you if you find yourself longing to disappear just before you have to speak!
But before you do anything, start to breathe more slowly and deeply.
- What's the One Thing? Focus on making the various areas in your awareness become a single area: What’s the ONE THING you want to say to this group? Now marshal all your resources into relating to these listeners and saying it. Here are 10 ways to stay fully focused when speaking.
- Open the Emotional Gate: Rather than running away mentally from the speaking situation, accept it and open yourself up to it. Closing yourself off emotionally—blocking your emotions—is part of what makes you brittle and closed off from your audience. Instead, become fully present, part of this moment in your life. Live it and enjoy it.
- Facial Relaxation/Animation: Allow your face to go completely slack, devoid of any animation; lifeless. (Don't do this while talking to your boss!) Now allow your personality to flow back into your face. You should feel both relaxed and energized after your brief “rest."
- Move! Find any excuse to move to somewhere else: a task, a person, the bathroom, or to check the arrangements on stage. The concept of “embodied cognition” tells us that movement itself helps thinking. And you’ll dissipate some of your nervous energy.
- Ground Yourself: Place your feet flat on the floor at shoulder-width, distributing your weight evenly. Feel the power of the earth beneath you. Here's the perfect exercise to use grounding to feel more confident. You are solid and steadfast, and energy flows through the ground into you. Now speak.
Remember that your mind wants an escape hatch . . . and that there is no escape hatch! Allowing yourself to be present at your own presentation is a remarkably effective way to reach out and positively affect the lives of others. That's difficult to do if you're living in a mental closet.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Thinking your way out of a panic attack isn't possible . . . start breathing instead!
- Quick-fixes for panic attacks can be done if you only have 5 minutes to spare.
- Rather than trying to hide, engage with listeners. It'll make your job easier.
- Movement can help you think and make you feel less trapped.
- Use the earth itself (or the floor) to make you feel stable and secure.