A Speaking Fear Relaxation Exercise That Really Works
So many public speaking fear exercises out there… which one to choose and which one is right for you?
A solution feels like a good fit when it exactly addresses the specific problem. In other words, you don’t just have anxiety, you have “public speaking anxiety”. If you apply a generic formula, you’ll get a generic result, one that’s just not quite right for you. So you abandon it and lump it in with all the other failed solutions.
I’m a specialist public speaking coach and I introduce my clients to a mindful breath technique I’ve developed for nervous public speakers. It works for speaking nerves and it works for dinner with your mother in law. It works whether you are a coach, therapist or CEO.
Breathe Your Way To Inner Calm
I call this special mindful breath technique, dum de dum daa: The Inner Calm Exercise. Below is a short MP3 audio recording of my voice and a quirky home-made video on how to breathe your way to inner calm with this public speaking relaxation exercise that really works.
Simply click the “Play” triangle below and you’ll hear me talk you through it. Make sure you turn up your sound button.
The Inner Calm Exercise MP3:
The Inner Calm Exercise Is The “Hit” of Every Workshop
It’s such an effective technique I offer it free to everyone. It’s the “hit” of my retreats, workshops and private coaching. Years later, clients contact me to exclaim over how it’s still changing their life. They use it before speaking, to help them go to sleep, to help them wake up and focus, to deal with moments of overwhelm and with difficult conversations of life.
And here’s a short training video demonstrating how to do it:
Public Speaking Fear Begone and Stay Gone!
To enjoy the full benefits, I recommend you practice it every day for 6 weeks and continue to use it on a regular basis. Pretty soon, your body and mind begin to associate mindfully taking a breath in and out, with taking emotional control. Make Inner Calm a daily habit and find a way to make it part of your daily routine.
If you prefer to have step by step help to stay on track with learning this new habit, try my Online Course called Confidence & Connection. It’s a 43 page eBook covering weekly public speaking confidence exercises to make your public speaking fear begone! It includes MP3 recordings of visualisation exercises to help you speak with ease and authenticity. More information on using the Inner Calm exercise is included.
Now you can take a big breath in… and out. Finally, a public speaking relaxation exercise that really works.
Not So Red Faced
I once worked with a woman who successfully avoided speaking to her staff en masse for 5 years. Just the thought of it was enough to produce a blood rush. She felt warmth and embarrassment spread across her face like a bushfire. She was sure she looked silly and bright red. She avoided situations that made her the centre of attention. A bit tricky as she was the owner of a small business. When we worked with a video camera, body language and slowing down, she realised her face was not noticeably red and she didn’t look as nervous as she felt inside. With proof and practise over the next few months, her fear went down and her confidence went up. She focused on her purpose in speaking and the people in front of her, instead of herself. Voila!
Now I love the adrenaline rush of relief when I’ve successfully gotten out of something as much as anybody. But avoidance is a good choice only for the short term.
Communication is a core life skill. You are going to be speaking for the long term. You might as well get on with feeling the fear and speaking anyway. Because running a service that makes a real difference, is going to involve you talking about it with more than one person.
Expand From One To Many
“But I prefer one to one speaking” I hear you cry! Many women in business declare their preference for speaking with one person at a time. They enjoy being up close and personal with just one client, colleague or friend.
One day you will have to leave the safety of the coffee nook to promote, influence and impress on a larger scale. If you excel at one to one then I know you can transition from one to many. It’s the same skills, just tweaked and practised to fit the new purpose. Trust me, I’ve helped hundreds of women make the shift.
The Fear To Fab Makeover
While many ways are touted as the answer to overcoming public speaking fear, after specialising in this area for many years, I reckon there are 5 fundamental speaking habits that shift even the most timid of women in business from fear to fabulous:
Anchor yourself with your speaking purpose.
Relax your body into a confident, powerful, natural stance.
Slow down everything. You will have presence and be present.
Transfer your attention from yourself to your listeners and their needs.
Don’t give the speech. Be the speech.
Learning To Speak Is Like Learning To Drive
Remember when you first learned to drive a car? You had to turn on the ignition, put the car in gear, check your mirrors, indicate and move into the flow of traffic. One day you are driving along and realise you haven’t thought about those individual steps. You did it unconsciously because it had become a habit of confidence.
And that’s exactly the same when learning those 5 Fear To Fab speaking habits.
The first level of learning is referred to as “conscious incompetence”. Doesn’t sound flattering, but we are all in the same boat when we learn anything new. As your experience increases, you move to the level of flow, fully present and in the moment. This higher level of learning is called “unconscious competence.” This doesn’t too flattering either, but I assure you, flow is good, very good!
In the same way as you effortlessly weave in and out of traffic; having conversations as it were with other cars, I assure you that public speaking becomes an effortless weaving, melding and merging of you and your audience.
Some people come to love public speaking so much, they’ve always got their hand up. The joy of new found speaking agility drives you effortlessly along a freeway, rather than kangaroo hopping in a back lane of obscurity.
Feel Fear Speak Anyway
Finally, to return to the fearful plea: “If I attend the public speaking retreat, will I have to speak?”
Mmm, methinks hanging out with people who actively embrace their public speaking fear at a retreat immersion is the classic “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Surviving the fear shows you can handle it and experiential proof builds your confidence.
At some point, public speaking fear passes away when you learn to let it go, just like my client with the not-so-red face. She now leads her weekly team meeting and is loving it. And so does her business and the ripples it creates, year after year.
Recently I asked a friend for feedback on an aspect of my behaviour. I badgered her. She deflected. I badgered again. She gave in and chose her words with care. And horror of horrors I did not like what I heard. I reckon I did a pretty good job of appearing nonchalant. On the inside however I was reeling. Rapidly re-evaluating my entire life from this new perspective, I shifted from disbelief, anger, denial and sadness in 30 seconds. Then I stuffed myself with cheese and crackers.
What I noticed over the next few weeks was how self-conscious I felt. I wondered if everyone I’d ever met saw this flaw and judged me accordingly. Ha! I thought. This explains a lot. I suspected I had a problem. Here is the proof!
The problem gained epic proportion while I shrunk and fell through a hole in the floor.
Not So Special
Feeling self-conscious is being aware of yourself, as yourself. It’s a good thing. Means you are alive and you have the conscious awareness to know it! Self-consciousness allows you to perceive your similarity and difference to everyone else.
So yes, you are special and no, you are not so special. We all have an inner tension between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out from the crowd. You see this tension played out on social media. And sometimes you feel it first hand when you are up there speaking in public. You up there, them down there.
I’ve briefly defined self-consciousness. But what about how it feels? The pain, the loneliness, the rejection? The dredging of all that old stuff you thought you’d successfully buried? And bugger it but there it all is, back on public display, reflected in the pitying eyes of your listeners.
But is it pity? Or is it relief that it’s you, not them, up there? Could it be admiration, that you are doing something they could not? Or, might they be thinking about dinner, and not you at all?
Safety Versus Risk
When you speak in front of others you do stand out from the crowd. And there is risk in being rejected for standing out. Finding your peace and place within this balance is the mysterious realm in which I work with my clients.
When you speak to a group, you visibly and energetically set yourself apart from the herd. Speaking up requires courage. The courage to show yourself to others. When people listen to you speak, they want to hear, you. Not a perfect cardboard cut-out. Not a series of excuses. You.
I love the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. It means “beauty is in the imperfection.” Doncha reckon there’s our Permission Card right there? Flaws are beautiful! Ergo, we are all beautiful! There is nothing more boring than perfection.
People relate to flaws, not to perfection. We love to witness transformation; it gives us the courage to pursue our own. We watch people take risks, stick their heads above the parapet and wait with baited breath – will they rise to the challenge? And what can we learn from their mistakes and successes?
Self-consciousness is our opportunity to mature, learn, expand. It’s OK to be fearful, but not OK to stay stuck forever, clinging to an outdated notion of how you wanted things to be.
The Spotlight Effect
Positive Psychology describes the Spotlight Effect as the belief that others are always looking and judging us. As if we are the centre of their universe… because we are the centre of ours. Feeling self-conscious blossoms with such fertile imaginings. You can read more in my related Blog article “The Spotlight Effect is On You.” The Spotlight Effect clues us in as to how to love the opportunity of feeling self-conscious by learning from it, rather than shrink with fear and shame.
The Self-Conscious Seagull Flies Again
When I crawled off to lick my wounds, I really invested in feeling sorry for myself. I could be my own 10-part mini-series. Pride. Drama. Pain. And finally, seeing myself on A Hero’s Journey, triumphing over the perils of self-consciousness to emerge an older, wiser and infinitely more attractive human.
This could go on and on or we could cut to the chase with a story that doesn’t involve so much gut wrenching drama. Or copious cheese and crackers.
I emerged from my hole after a few weeks and realised:
Much of what my friend said is true. I needed a hefty dollop of self-acceptance for my quirky behaviours. They can’t really be changed. And they make me unique. I like unique.
If you ask for feedback, you have to be prepared to hear it. Suck it up princess!
Good old Gratitude… works every time to appreciate what I’ve got, rather than what I haven’t.
A Work In Progress
Am I going to divulge my friend’s feedback to you since you’ve so patiently read to the end of this article?
Just because you share a personal story doesn’t mean you have to strip your soul bare. You don’t have to expose everything. Just the bits you are ready to.
When it’s your turn to be out the front, whether for 5 minutes or for 5 days, breathe in and connect to your purpose in making a difference when you speak. We really are Works in Progress. And I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear and see the real you. To admire your unique beauty, imperfections, quirks and all.
You guessed it; there is nothing you can do about them.
But there’s quite a bit you can do about you.
I bring this topic up because “ fear of what people really think of you ” is such a recurring biggie for people who avoid speaking up in a public space.
Most of us have experienced this public paralysis. It’s a shocker and the quickest way to drain your self-esteem smoothie.
Why Oh Why Oh Why?
I could talk knowledgably about:
“Separation from the herd” anxiety (personal fave); or
“They’ll see I’m a fraud” anxiety; or
“I’m going to fail and ruin my entire career” anxiety; or
“The weight of expectations through all those eyes” anxiety; or
“I’m just not good enough, smart enough, experienced enough” anxiety;
but, I will not talk about them, again. We all know them well and I for one, am sick of them.
Sick of them controlling who I am and what I want.
Are You With Me?
If you are – keep reading.
The easiest place to start? Labels. Language is something you can control. Let’s drop “public paralysis”, also known as “ public speaking fear ” and all its dreadful baggage and instead choose something… attractive, powerful, energising.
I tried out many nifty names and phrases on the casting couch of change, but they sounded:
Too serious – no, I want to have fun!
Too new age – ooh, such self-important wisdom!
Too biiiggg – no, I’m not promising to save the world. Yet.
And My Winner Is:
“From Fear To Fabulous!” Yep and with that exclamation mark.
Why? It just makes me laugh. It’s over the top with a boa feather-ish. My whole body quivers with the joy of it. My husband says my shoulders give a little cheeky wiggle and back they go, chest out, big smile. It’s not just my mind that recognizes the good fit, but my body and spirit too. Energy returns with the right words.
I like From Fear to Fabulous so much I’ve decided to splash it about my website, add it to my logo and have renamed my enewsletter in its honour. It’s a clarion call to anchor and remind me of who I am and what I want. With no fear of judgement.
No more “crash and burn” or “public speaking fear” for you either. Adopt From Fear to Fabulous or choose your own inspiring, powerful words.
Don’t Believe Your Wild Imagination
What people think about you is always and can only ever be, a reflection of their own beliefs and values. Contrary to your wild imagination, other people do not have the power of x-ray vision to see all your flaws.
According to research, most people are thinking about dinner and sex at any given moment. So, count yourself lucky if they squeeze in a random thought or judgement about you.
Is the problem: “Fear of what people really think of you ?”
Or is the real problem, our own fearful belief that they must be thinking the worst?
You cannot control what’s inside other people’s heads, but you can control what’s inside your own.
What I Learned From 100 Days Of Rejection is a 15 minute TED Talk which shows how to turn a great fear into a great gift. Jia Jiang offers powerful and poignant lessons about learning from rejection rather than running from it.
Jia begins with a 2 minute story of shameful rejection at age 6, something most of us can relate to. He explains how his fear of public rejection and humiliation undermined his bodacious plans for young entrepreneurship until he came across an online game called Rejection Therapy.
Similarly, avoidance of public speaking situations frequently stems from a fear of social rejection and the initial trigger doesn’t have to have anything to do with speaking in public. Our mind perceives a parallel and reacts to it. Generally, with fear we avoid and move away, with reward we approach and embrace.
At 10 minutes into What I Learned From 100 days of Rejection, Jia explains how he stopped running from potential rejection and changed his approach. There is a magic word (“Why”?) and a simple feeling (empathy and voicing the other’s fears and doubts). He sums it up: “Just ask”. Stay, hang around and talk to the person. Find out what’s behind the “rejection”. There can be good reasons why your request can not be fulfilled. And it’s nothing to do with whether you are good enough or likeable.
Take Jia’s insights and apply them to yourself when you feel like running away from a public speaking situation. Frequently what we perceive to be rejection is nothing of the sort. It’s our own fear stuffing us up. Embrace your greatest fear and receive your greatest gift. And that’s what Jia Jiang does with his hilarious and refreshing speech.
“I’m not fitted to give concerts. The audience intimidates me, I feel choked by its breath, paralysed by its curious glances, struck dumb by all those strange faces.” CHOPIN
“The Confident Performer” shares this stage fright quote from pianist Frederic Chopin and was the reason why I bought this highly focused little book. So many of my public-speaking clients sound just like Chopin, yet never go near a piano or even a stage.
The author, David Roland, is a performance psychologist. He uses this book to specifically teach mental preparation techniques for any kind of performance including dance, song, theatre, music and sport. The number one biggie for most people, stage fright, he covers particularly well. He includes two excellent scripts to build a habit of relaxation before performance (and life), both autogenic and progressive muscle relaxation.
I like these words from David Roland on page 80: “The very nature of performance requires the artist to expose himself publicly, which usually leads to the experience of stage fright – something every artist needs to manage. Being open to evaluation by an audience is something that does not occur in most other occupations.”
These two points ring true for people seeking confidence in public speaking. Fear of exposure and of being judged by others can be paralysing (or as Chopin said,”struck dumb”). And yet, without taking the risk of exposing one’s true self, there is only facade, a barrier between you and your audience. And they feel it. Listeners miss out on the real you, you miss out on them and everyone misses out on the magic.
You can lessen the risk of stage fright by tapping into the power of mental rehearsal. Psychophysiogical practise transforms fears and hopes into practical reality.
To end with Dr Roland’s quote from cellist Jacqueline du Pre: “Walking on stage – the recognition, the applause, the rumble of interest from the audience when I appeared. It never occurred to me to be nervous. I thought of the audience as a group of friends who had come to hear me play, and I found that very moving. I just played, and enjoyed it. Thinking about the notes would have spoiled the enjoyment. the work was all done beforehand.”
(David Roland has since recovered from stroke trauma and more about his brain-training work can be found on his website: http://davidroland.com.au/ )
I’ve just returned from my annual silent meditation retreat and once more am reminded just how naughty is the mind and flighty are the emotions! I know I’ll do anything to get out of sitting in meditation sometimes. A cup of tea is suddenly vitally important. Or perhaps the garden needs weeding. Anything really, to avoid the discipline of intentionally doing nothing but observing in silence and stillness. Geez, I’m not making an attractive case for meditation am I?
And yet, I return, again and again to this ever changing, vital practise. Because deep down, I know, it’s good for me on every level. Actually I love it, I just need a reminder of it’s WOW Factor now and again which is why I go to an annual retreat. Sort of like a “top up” to my personal practise.
Anyway, as a result of years of meditation I realised that a deep relaxation practise brings sooooo many benefits including calming nerves and clarity of mind. Gosh! Perfect for nervous public speakers!
Inner Calm is a 6 minute relaxation exercise I developed specifically for nervous public speakers and those who want to speak with greater clarity, presence and authenticity. Because when you are comfortable in your own silence, you can hear your Inner Voice. That’s your authentic voice, the one that gets ignored and forgotten. And it’s the one you can trust and the one that others truly want to hear.
Many people who avoid public speaking are fearful of their physiological response to fear, not the act of public speaking itself. In reaction to any kind of fear, threat, anxiety or stress, our bodies may respond with:
A pounding heart and pulse, sweating or trembling, scattered or racing thoughts, unable to think logically,
nausea or a feeling of passing out, desire to sleep or, run away, racing thoughts, often negative or anxious,
feeling surreal, disconnected or a blank mind, anger, agitation, aggression or panic and overwhelm.
These are commonly reported reactions to public speaking. They are also the same symptoms of panic, fear, stress and anxiety. To spend your life avoiding public speaking because of a fear of these symptoms is like shooting the messenger.
The good news is you can change your old fear habit by changing your psychological and physiological responses. I’ve created specially designed relaxation and visualisation tools to help you tap into your inner speaker. These include Calm Barometer(mentioned in a previous post) and the Inner Calm Exercise.
Inner Calm Exercise
To take control of speaking nerves and restore calm and clarity, simply practise the 6-minute mindfulness exercise, “Inner Calm” every day to build a habit of inner calm. It will help you to:
Manage nerves when you are about to speak or present
Gain an accurate insight of your current stress level
Get “out of your head and into your body”
Ground and centre yourself in your purpose
Think and articulate clearly with a coherent flow
Be focused, present and connected for the “big moments” in your life.
How To Begin
Begin by reading through the Inner Calm Exercise below and listen to my MP3 recording to hear how it’s done. This exercise simply involves counting the breath evenly from “1 to 10” for 3 rounds. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably and won’t be disturbed.
“Close your eyes, rest your hands in your lap, put your feet on the floor and let your body sink down into the chair. Take a light, even breath from your chest. Release gently. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Take another light, even breath in and release it slowly on the out breath. Feel your body sink deeper into the chair, knowing it supports you. Know there is nothing else you need to do right now and nowhere else you need to go.
Now we begin the Inner Calm exercise by counting the breath evenly from 1 to 10… and we’ll do that 3 times…
Mindfully breathing in, 1, Mindfully breathing out, 1.
Mindfully breathing in, 2, Mindfully breathing out, 2.
Mindfully breathing in, 3, Mindfully breathing out, 3.
Mindfully breathing in, 4, Mindfully breathing out, 4.
Mindfully breathing in, 5, Mindfully breathing out, 5.
Mindfully breathing in, 6, Mindfully breathing out, 6.
Mindfully breathing in, 7, Mindfully breathing out, 7.
Mindfully breathing in, 8, Mindfully breathing out, 8.
Mindfully breathing in, 9, Mindfully breathing out, 9.
Mindfully breathing in, 10, Mindfully breathing out, 10.
And now, take a natural breath in and out, no need to count it, and acknowledge that you have completed “1 round.”
Repeat counting the breath from “1 to 10”, twice more…
And now to finish, I invite you to take a light, even, uncounted breath to complete the Inner Calm exercise. Become aware of your body sitting in the chair. Feel your feet on the floor and stretch out your toes. Notice how your body feels right now, the pace of your breath, your pulse, and the kinds of thoughts you are having. Notice any changes from when you began… Bring your awareness to the present moment, take a light breath in and out, open your eyes, stretch your body, and know you carry Inner Calm wherever you go.“
While you are doing this exercise silently in your mind, you may find your mind wanders. This is perfectly normal. Just gently bring your mind back to “1” and begin again. Don’t make a guess and start at “5” to get through the exercise faster! The more your mind wanders, the more scattered you are feeling. The more you are able to count your breaths from “1 to 10” in a complete round, the more inner calm you are feeling. Please know you cannot fail this exercise. You can only learn more about yourself, your current state of calm and how much control you have over changing it.
How did you go? Practise every day for long term results, insights and personal growth.
The key morsel of Scared Speechless is the clear and simple language explaining the psychology behind public speaking fear. It goes way beyond the standard explanation of “Your stress response can’t tell the difference between a sabre toothed tiger and an upcoming speech.”
Scared Speechless offers logical, down to earth and humorous explanations to help you understand why in the past you were scared of speaking and how to change it for the future using neuropsychology.
I was surprised at how good this book was because if you are anything like me, your first reaction to yet another “how-to-public-speak” book is yawn. I’d rather pluck my eyebrows.
Also, it arrived unsolicited in the mail from the publicist, so I wasn’t expecting much. I assumed it to be a typical over-marketed “How To Be Awesome On Stage In 1 Minute” hyped-up American rave.
Instead, I enjoyed Scared Speechless’ easy to read, straightforward words; the authors clearly want to generously help as many people as possible. It’s designed to be universally accessible to people of all ages and walks of life from young adults and up.
I picked up some useful gems from Scared Speechless, which I’ve already put to use in my workshops. I’ll only give you three so you’ll have to read the book to get the rest:
Practise your speech non-verbally (yes, mime!) with your body to express your meaning first. Then practise with words. Your body will remember your meaning and underscore your words with natural gestures. (Moving also helps you to “unfreeze” should this happen to you.)
Prepare your speech to be READ rather than SAID. In other words, write it out loud. (Ever noticed the difference when you’ve heard someone READING a speech as opposed to talking directly to you? Which is the more powerful?)
Use “clothing cognition” to your advantage, that is, dress to support your message. Wearing high-heels or bare feet will impact how you deliver and the impressions you create. (If you want to expand your delivery style, practise wearing different hats or shoes. A Police Officer will likely speak and behave differently to a Graphic Designer. As to whether it’s true or not, doesn’t really matter, it’s what you and your listeners BELIEVE.)
If you prefer a weighty academic tome of jargon and unpronounceable technical terms, this book is not for you.
Scared Speechless is down to earth, practical, fun and enlightening. A good read for nervous speakers on a quest to change their relationship to fear for once and for all.
I wrongly assumed this biography was the “book version” of the well known 2002 movie, “The King’s Speech”. I was hoping for insight into the innovative speaking techniques used by Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue in his work with King George VI of England, 1914-37.
Whoops. Instead, the book is a sentimental and thoroughly researched history of the author (Mark Logue’s) grandfather Lionel, his relationship with the King and the WW1 and WW2 era in England and Australia.
An unexpected highlight was learning about the era’s emphasis on character development and community contribution through the ability to speak well. Lionel Logue could sell out the Town Hall with his evening recitals. For the first time people who “wanted to get ahead”, took elocution lessons. With the advent of radio, awareness of the power and importance of voice became universally understood especially for families clustered around the radio listening to war updates. Later in business, it was paramount to articulately persuade and present well.
Orators are made, not born. And so the Public Speaking Industry begins.
After reading the book, I borrowed the dvd movie, “ The King’s Speech .”
Wow, what a movie. Gorgeously shot, acted and directed. Such feeling, such subtly, such understatement as the English do so well. I can keep raving, but I won’t. My husband’s tearful High 5 at the end says it all.
The movie tells the story of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue’s role in helping King George VI handle his fear and reduce his stutter. King George VI had a strong stammer that caused him endless fear and worry about speaking in public, especially when it was broadcast by microphone. It affected his self confidence and unfortunately caused others to lower their expectations of his abilities. Which of cause turned out to be a huge mistake. Sound like a familiar pattern to you, dear reader?
Lionel’s stand out “technique” for me as I have observed with my own clients, is the power of the pause and use of rhythm. The simple (but not always so easy to do) act of slowing down generates a magical sense of calm control and relaxed spaciousness. Presence and gravitas emerge effortlessly.
The Calm Barometer is a simple scale from “1” to “10” I’ve developed which you can call on anytime to determine your current level of anxiety versus calm. When we fear or avoid something, our perspective shifts out of true proportion to the actual event. Will you really die / pass out / be laughed at if you speak to others or in front of a group? Use the Calm Barometer to provide you with an immediate reality check. You can even visualise yourself moving up to a “ Relaxed 10”.
When your body is grounded, relaxed and balanced – your heart, mind and spirit are grounded, relaxed and balanced. You can learn to ground or centre yourself in your body using the breath. Managing your breath allows you to control speaking nerves, create mental clarity and be present with your listeners. When you then speak in public, you speak from this inner place of balance. When you are relaxed and receptive, your audience is relaxed and receptive too.
The Calm Barometer Audio Recording (2 minutes):
Try this now: think about a challenging presentation or situation. On a scale of “1 – 10” where “1” is “very anxious” and “10” is “very relaxed”, where would you rate yourself on the Calm Barometer today?