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.
Visualisation or Guided Meditation, is like taking a holiday in your own mind. It’s a delightful tool for your subconscious to imagine something you would like for yourself… if only you knew how. Visualisations allow you to drop the HOW and leap, often surprisingly, into the WHAT. Once the mind imagines once, it’s easy for the body to follow and make it real.
I often suggest to my clients with throat or voice issues, they adopt the Visualisation below, tweak it to suit themselves, record it in their own voice and listen to it every day. Great results.
Voice And Throat Healing Visualisation
Gently close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath and watch it move effortlessly in and out of your body. Be aware of it moving in and out of your nose… your throat… chest… in and out effortlessly from your whole body.
With every breath in and out, allow your muscles to relax more and more deeply.
Bring your attention to your shoulders. As you breathe in, tighten them and raise them to your ears. As you breathe out, release and relax your shoulders.
Do That Again…
Explore how your shoulders feel when they are relaxed, soft and open. Now bring your attention to your mouth. As you breathe in, tighten your lips hard and feel the tension extend all the way to your jaw. As you breathe out, release and relax your mouth and jaw.
Explore how your mouth and jaw feel when they are relaxed, soft and open. Now bring your attention to your throat. As you breathe in, tighten your neck muscles and notice how your throat, neck and face all tighten together. As you breathe out, release and relax your throat, chest, shoulders, neck and whole face.
Then Once More…
Explore how your throat, neck and face feel when your throat is relaxed, soft and open. Now it’s time to focus your attention more closely on your throat. Imagine the light of a full moon is shining like a soft spotlight on your throat. It sends a subtle and steady blue warmth throughout your whole throat. Feel that gentle warmth now. Imagine it expanding and filling your throat with a deep internal healing. Perhaps there is a soft hum. With every breath in and out, feel or see the blue light clean, calm and heal every cell that needs to be clean, calm and healed.
Take your time and relax deeply in the soft blue glow of moonlight that fills, surrounds and supports your whole body… listen to the hum… if it feels right for you, make a soft humming sound. Feel it vibrate through your whole throat, whole face, whole chest, whole body.
When you are ready, repeat to yourself a strong positive statement of what you want for your throat and voice. For instance… “My throat is soft, my voice is strong”, “I speak clearly, confidently, easily”, or “My voice flows easily from my throat”.
Now I’d like you bring your attention to the sensation of your feet on the floor. Give your toes a wiggle. Flex your fingers. Shrug your shoulders gently. Take a grounding breath in and out. Become aware of the room around you. Consciously choose to keep your shoulders, lips, jaw, face, throat and voice, relaxed, open and soft. Let your mind be alert and calm.
So many people avoid making eye contact in groups, it’s almost an epidemic! Ease with making eye contact is all about relaxing. When you relax, your audience relaxes too. And relaxed people are more receptive to hearing your message. It really is in your best interest to learn how to make gentle, sustained eye contact if you want to deepen your interpersonal communication skills.
In order to relax your whole body, you need to relax your eyes first. Imagine your eyes lazing in hammocks, heavy and supported. Miraculously, when the eyes are relaxed, the brain sends a message to your body, saying “You are safe and can relax.” And so, you do.
Let go of believing you have to connect with everyone at once in the group. Public speaking is not a multi-tasking competition. Allow yourself to relax and sink into your talk, just like you are swinging in a hammock. Be with 1 person at a time. Watch your words land on their face for you to see the connection between you. That’s really enough. You are not going to “lose people” if you aren’t gazing at all of them, all of the time.
Here are 4 steps to help you relax into making gentle, sustained eye contact:
Relax your eyes first and let your body follow,
Move your whole body and eyes to connect with 1 person,
Maintain gentle eye contact for approximately 3 seconds-ish,
Then move your body, eyes and words to the next receptive person. And so on.
That’s it. Relax your eyes. Soften your gaze. Make it an invitation, not a staring competition. Share the love around. Invite connection with one person at a time. Don’t run, stay steady. Pretend you are a lighthouse, tall and visible with an important job to do. As the speaker, you are the role model, so role model the kind of communication you want in return. Start with relaxed eyes and allow your muscles and your intentions to soften. Let the people in! And the people will let you in, in return.
This is one of those occasions when I can say, “Do Practise This At Home”. The dinner table is a good place to start making eye contact before you let loose on a bunch of strangers.
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 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?
I bet you are wondering where “flirt” comes into it and whether it involves batting your eye lashes at a big bad audience? Well… it can!
Unless you are up with social psychology, you may have only heard of the Flight Or Fight Response. Fear is now deemed far more complicated than that and like all good moderns, multi-tasks under pressure! So you can now add “Flirt and Freeze” to “Flight and Fight.”
And of course it is that perceived pressure or threat which activates this ancient response. Trouble is, once adrenaline is released in the body, it triggers a series of responses designed to keep you safe. These responses are similar in all animals and tend to follow the sequence of freeze, flight and fight.
Perception Of Threat – Flirt Freeze Flight Fight Response
In the wide spectrum of phobias and fears, public speaking still ranks in the top 3. If you don’t suffer from public speaking fear or avoidance, no matter; you still have the Flight Or Fight Response.
Anything you perceive as a threat triggers this response and can include: being confronted with a daily mountain of paperwork, a drunken yobbo at 2am or a speech in front of 5,000 people. Anything that gets your heart racing, voice shaking or temperature rising.
Interestingly, your brain does not discern a difference between being mugged or introducing yourself as a newbie at a meeting. If you perceive that either or both these things are a threat, then your body will respond accordingly – just doing it’s job really.
The Flirt Response
In our sophisticated modern world, the suggestively named Flirt Response can have greater success than freeze, flight or fight. The “Flirt Response” could also be called “Play” or “Fawn” and refers to behaviour that distracts the threat through helpfulness, silliness or attractiveness. It downgrades your status to “no perceived threat.” Very useful survival tactic for avoiding confrontation, aggression or even rejection. It’s often seen as “sucking up” and works really well in certain situations. I remember using this one as a child when confronted with bullies.
The body language of the Flirt Response includes: taking up less room, softening vocal tone and volume and diminishing body presence. Conversely if safe enough, hair tossing, lip licking, lots of wide-open mouthed laughter and smiling, increased physical closeness, extended open-eyed contact and “cheeky” playful comments to test the boundaries.
The Freeze Response
The degree of freezing relates to the degree of perceived threat and can look like “playing dead” or “hiding in plain sight.” This response is designed to reduce the attention that movement attracts. Freezing is useful initially as it provides opportunity to assess a situation before deciding to flee, flight or flirt. However if you are speaking in public, freezing for too long is not a success strategy. Turn it into a pause and intentionally use it to gather your thoughts and kickstart equilibrium.
The body language of the Freeze Response includes: a frozen posture with stiffened or locked up muscles, reduced, awkward or “mis-timed” gestures, wide eyes, hands covering the face, flushing, holding the breath or tentative steps. The voice may also rise up in an uncertain tone, be soft or even seem to disappear (throat muscles tight and saliva reduced). The best way to counter freezing when speaking is to take some kind of ACTION like drinking some water, checking your notes, taking a breath and intentionally making eye contact with someone supportive. By unlocking your breath and muscles you restore flow.
The Flight Response
“Run away to fight another day” is a wonderful survival strategy. However, it doesn’t look too good or help to build interpersonal communication skills if you simply “take off” in the middle of a speech or conversation. So if a situation is something you are wiling to face, notice your body language and shift it toward commitment to tell your body/mind that you are staying not fleeing. Turn with full engagement, lift and open your face, take a “I can handle it” stance, breathe and clear your mind!
The body language of the Flight Response reveals our desire to flee by subtle direction changes that indicate we wish or intend to vamoose! We reorient our bodies (notice your feet and shoulders) toward doorways or exit paths. Interestingly, if you have ever felt bored or badgered by someone at a party, hallway or street corner and you don’t wish to continue the conversation, you will shift your body toward escaping. This often looks like a side-on turn with greatly reduced eye contact and vocal response. “Uh huh”… eyes flick… feet slide away. You see it clearly in children who want to get away from you!
The Fight Response
Generally, people and animals will choose to fight only as a final resort. It often begins as a display of anger. Anger occurs when we perceive our boundaries have been crossed or threatened. I have seen public speakers get angry with their audience. My my, don’t try this at home or in public because it just doesn’t work; your listeners are likely to first go into their own freeze response, then flight or even fight (think of hecklers in a group).
The body language of the Fight Response includes a tense, prepared stance, a lifted chin, clenched fists, fixed and narrowed eyes, heavier breathing and a taunting, clipped tone or even no words at all if all sense has the building. If you are going to fight make sure it’s for a good cause. If it’s inappropriate, well you just might want to literally take a step back. Break your habitual body/mind anger pattern by moving differently. Restore an even breath, pause and focus on your purpose in speaking, not your temporary egoic reaction.
Yeah I know, easy for me to say, writing this all snuggled up in my cute home office. But believe me, when I’ve had a combo of PMT and unwilling workshop participants who want to make a scene, I’ve had to pull out all stops to remember “Hey! I’m a Professional!”, even though I sure as hell didn’t feel it while my fingers were curling.
Restore Equilibrium With The Relaxation Response
Restore equilibrium through activating your Relaxation Response, the antidote to the Flight or Fight Response. Try breathing evenly (“in two, three; out, two, three”) taking action and applying logical thinking. Your body/mind will downgrade the threat level and your fear, anxiety or nerves will calm. This means your muscles relax, your eyes stop darting about, your breath slows and your mind becomes calm and able to process multiple sources of information. You can see how useful knowing how to restore equilibrium is for communicating with ease and under pressure!
Speaking Is Powerful
Words and ideas are powerful and can be just as threatening and fear-provoking as physical violence. Remember what happened in the middle ages when the Catholic Church felt threatened by the notion that earth was NOT the centre of the universe? People were killed for even suggesting it.
When you speak in public you are taking on the mantle of leadership in that moment, whether it’s the dinner table or a stadium of 50,000. Be aware of the responsibility of expressing your words and ideas. And be aware of your right to express them and be seen and heard. Do your best to not trample or infringe on the rights of others. And finally, be aware of your personal reaction to fear or threat and take the steps to handling it. You will be on your way to confidently taking on the world. Taa daa!