Stop Freezing Like A Rabbit When You Speak

So many clients ask me what to do when they “freeze and go blank” when speaking or introducing themselves to a group. These are symptoms of performance anxiety. It mostly occurs in more “formal situations” where we believe there is a high likelihood of judgement  – “I might fail” or “I might be disliked or rejected”.

For some people, a “formal” situation like an interview or a meeting, induces a near state of panic with emotions and negative thoughts tumbling out of control, overriding rational sense. Have you ever tried to comfort a “nervous public speaker” by telling them to “just relax and be themselves”? It’s just not going to cut it. They cannot hear you when gripped by mental, emotional and physical paralysis and are likely to keep on doing the same thing, over and over and not moving forward. Just like a rabbit in the headlights.

Here’s a 3 minute video I made about flowing not freezing with my husband’s pet rabbits as props (just go with it):


It Feels Worse Than It Looks
Freezing when public speaking generally feels much worse to the speaker, than it looks to the listener. A 30 second blank, can look like a pause. Taking time to gather your thoughts is appreciated by listeners because it means you are thinking about what you say in the present moment, not repeating mechanised rote. When I film clients for the first time giving a talk, they are amazed that their occasional blank moments come across as natural pauses. What is important is how they deal with it then and there. Running away or giving up just makes it worse the next time.

Train Your Inner Bunny To Survive
Here’s a great story I heard once to explain how to break the freeze and blank pattern:

“To ensure your survival in a burning building like a hotel – when you check in, take the time to read the evacuation procedures and map. Then physically open your door and walk down the hall, counting the number of doors between you and the exit. Ideally, go through the fire door, down the stairs (stay below floor 6!) and out the building. Should an evacuation be necessary, you are much more likely to find the exit because your mind/body remembers everything and you’ve already practised. When you panic, you freeze and stop thinking rationally. So many people die because they freeze and don’t know how to respond to the situation. Instead, just let  your body remember to take over and help you.”

How To Stay Connected To Your Flow

  • Prepare head and practise. I don’t mean in your mind. I mean with your whole body. Stand up and walk over. Read the thing or say it outlaid. Practise pausing and making eye contact. Wait for responses. Imagine question and answer. Then, practise finishing. Consistently we underestimate or overestimate our capacity depending on our level of self esteem on the day. Practising gives you a reality check and confidence in your ability to handle the situation.
  • Don’t whine, beg for rescue or run screaming from the room. Own it. Take a breath, feel your feet, wait for the tears to stop, say “Gee I’ve gone blank – bear with me…” and start from where you left off. Admitting your vulnerability is a bridge builder. People admire seeing triumph over adversity. It’s inspiring, energising and opens conversations and hearts.
  • Plan to use less words and express your message with your whole body. This is also a great technique if you feel blank around potential cuties. Simply: face your listeners with your whole body, face and make sustained eye contact – this indicates your interest in being with them. Use your hands and facial expressions. Use props to help you remember your points or to make your point for you. For instance, if you are talking about a book, bring that book with you, show a slide or refer to a handout. It is so much easier to talk about a THING if you have that THING in your hands.

I once warbled my way through a 10 minute speech by singing parts of seven 1930’s show tunes with a few words strung between. Once I realised how well that worked, the tyranny of writing and remembering a clever speech went out the door. You really can do ANYTHING to get your message across once you take the pressure off yourself believing there is only one right way to speak. The key is to find the way that’s right for you. And then you will have found your very own source of flow.

© 2012, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Prepare To Speak!

Countdown Steps To Prepare For Your Next Presentation

I’m often asked, “What can I do to best prepare to speak?”  I recommend getting out of your head and into your body. This means, prepare yourself emotionally, physically and mentally weeks in advance. Or if it’s a big deal or event, prepare months in advance. Take the time to get very clear about your purpose and message.

When we feel emotionally tense, our bodies follow suit and tense up. Tension, particularly relating to stage fright, manifests itself in the chest, shoulders, throat, jaw, head and stomach for many people. This results in a kind of “holding oneself in” paralysis. A bit like a rabbit in the headlights – there you are speaking in front of a group and you whisper to yourself – “If I don’t move and look like a chair – they’ll forget I’m here”. Doesn’t work unfortunately. And you aren’t a rabbit.

Tension can also result in a “blank mind” and a disconnect from yourself and your audience. And “head spins” can come from a lack of oxygen (breathing too quickly from your upper chest and not being grounded, so slow it down and feel your feet on floor). It’s interesting that issues relating to the “head” figure so highly when it comes to fearing public speaking. The remedy I recommend is to: “Get out of your head and into your body”. I love this phrase; you’ve probably noticed I use it a lot. It really is a simple counterpoint to speaking nerves and tension.

Follow this countdown to prepare to speak:

Some Weeks Before Your Presentation:
Practice using the Calm Barometer and the Inner Calm Exercise daily to build a new calm habit – follow the links below to these exercises. (These are not quick fixes but a long term solution to retraining your body’s reaction to tension.)

Some Days Before Your Presentation:
Visualise yourself speaking with ease in front of your audience. Consciously choose to relax your traditional tension spots. See yourself taking your time and using the physical exercises written directly below…

The Day Before Your Presentation:
Raise your shoulders to your ears, hold, and release, letting your shoulders gently drop. Repeat twice more. Then, hug yourself tightly, just like you are holding yourself in with tension, and release, throwing your arms generously open, kind of like you are ‘hugging the world” – (I know, I know, it sounds dicky in print, it’s better at my workshops.) These exercises open your chest, face, airways, shoulders and tummy, releasing tension and awakening intention. Go for a walk and stop thinking about your presentation. Daydream. Physical exercise helps you regain perspective and breaks obsessive thoughts. Really, life goes on. Will you remember this presentation in 5 years time? And, will anyone else?

Directly Before Your Presentation:
Take a deep, even breath from the base of your stomach and release evenly. Feel your feet on the floor. Gently roll your shoulders back. This opens your chest, drops your shoulders, opens your throat and magically gives you a confident posture. Imagine the top of your head is suspended by a silken cord and the rest of your body follows effortlessly. (Thank you Alexander technique.) Use your Calm Anchor if you have one and embody your personal strengths.

Directly After Your Presentation:
Rather than go straight back into your head and do a vicious deconstruction of every mistake you made during your presentation – just don’t go there right now. Your adrenaline is pumping and what you need to do is reground yourself so that you continue to be fully present with others – answer questions, accept invitations, make decisions, network and so on. Consciously let your breath flow evenly and let your body take care of dissipating your stress hormones.

The Day After Your Presentation:
Make sure you have been for a walk or engaged in some kind of relaxation activity to switch your brain off and reboot your system. When you have surfaced, it’s time to evaluate you and your presentation constructively:

  • How effectively did you handle nervous tension this time?
  • When were your listeners most engaged with you?
  • How might you do the same presentation again?
  • Knowing what you now know, how might you help yourself prepare to speak next time?

When you give yourself the gift of generous time to prepare to speak, you’ll be able to handle speaking tension before, during and after, sooo much better. You’ll also be able to focus on your message and purpose with calm clarity, allowing you to captivate your group with authenticity and presence every time you speak.

© 2011-17, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.


Be Cool Calm Connected When You Speak

Natural Grace Radiant Authenticity

People frequently associate “public speaking” with delivering a formal speech. But I define it as the ability to have an easy conversation with anyone other than yourself. “ Cool Calm Connected ” means having the self-awareness, self-confidence and self-assurance to present who you are and what you do with natural grace and radiant authenticity. Who doesn’t want some of that? Let’s look at a common scenario:

You have been invited to speak.
In public.
In front of people you don’t know.
And in front of people you do know.

You can’t decide which is worse. Your heart pounds. You feel sick, in fact, you are definitely going to be too sick to speak on the day, even though it’s two months away.

You know this for a fact. Because it’s happened to you before.

So, you decide that it’s better for everyone concerned that you email an apology, stay in your office that day and work on new marketing strategies that allow you to avoid speaking in public. You cleverly decide that this is what they mean by, “work smarter, not harder.”

You Aren’t Alone

Never fear, you aren’t alone in your avoidance of presenting yourself in public. Self-consciousness is rampant in western society. It’s a feeling of acute separation of yourself from everyone else. Most people suffer it by varying degrees at some point in their lives.

Self consciousness can show up at:

  • parties,
  • speaking to the Board,
  • delivering a paper at a conference,
  • meeting a client unexpectedly in the street,
  • introducing yourself at breakfast networking,
  • standing your ground and stating your full fee.

And it looks like:

  • Sweating, pounding heart, blank mind   (“I’m going to die up there”)
  • Talking too fast to fill in any spaces        (“I’ll give them no space to think”)
  • Memorising, sticking rigidly to notes     (“I must be perfect”)
  • Polished, inauthentic performance         (Looks good but feels hollow)
  • Giving way too much information          (I’ll impress them with my knowledge”)
  • Stiff, inarticulate and formulaic              (“I don’t want people to see who I am”)
  • Giggling, twitching, umming                  (“Gee I hope someone rescues me soon”)
  • Thinking: “I’ve nothing of value to offer”    (“This just confirms I’m boring”)
  • Rambling incoherence                              (“I’ve got no idea where I’m going”)
  • Believing you must be an expert             (“I’ll put it off til next year when I ready”)

Softly Softly Technique

Whatever the source of your beliefs, discomfort or fear around presenting yourself in public, there is a  “softly, softly” technique that allows you to emerge as the cool calm connected professional woman you truly are. It starts with taking a breath and slowing down.

It’s Not All About You

Whenever you speak to a group, it’s because you want to educate, promote or inspire an idea, product or service. First though, you need to build trust, rapport and relevance. As an audience member, would you listen to and buy from, a speaker you couldn’t relate to and didn’t trust?

Thinking that it’s all about you in the spotlight as the speaker, makes you feel self-conscious. If you start with the WIFM (‘what’s in it for me”) by establishing your credibility and the benefits they’ll gain by listening to you, speaking becomes about the audience, not you.

Cool Calm Connected

Your job is to focus on connecting with them, one human being to another. When you “drop the mask” and invite people in, generally, they will do the same. And what you create, is authentic connection, an understanding of who you are on a much deeper level simply by choosing to be cool calm connected.

Communicating from the heart, fully present with others, brings acceptance and understanding. There is a sense of “oneness” which is healing for all – speakers and listeners. The ability to connect with others is radiantly attractive to all people. It is the defining characteristic of great leaders and speakers …and human beings.

© 2011, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Are You Scared of Using Microphones?

There Is A Fear And It’s Called: Microphonebia!

The symptoms include sweating, a dry mouth, a blank stare and a squeaky voice.  Some people regard public speaking as a fearsome pursuit – hand them a microphone and it turns into a phobia.

Why does this simple metal device inspire so much horror in so many?

Would it be so scary if it were rainbow coloured with streamers hanging off the end? Would you then be able to hold yourself back from grabbing that microphone to sing, “We Are The World” and get everyone waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care? There’s no way you could ramble and go blank with that much love in the room.

A microphone is a magical device.  It takes sound energy (your voice or instrument) and transforms it into electrical energy.  This electrical energy can then be amplified or recorded, so that everyone can hear you.

And I guess that’s the scary part.  What if you don’t want everyone to hear you? The amplification makes your voice bigger than you, potentially takes it beyond your control. And equipment can be unpredictable – what if it makes that awful screeching sound, or your voice booms out something inane. Ah, why are we so complicated?  Why so many fears?

Fears are often imaginative and based on worry.  One way to deal with microphonebia is to drag it into the light and examine it with keen scientific detachment.  Let’s break it down into known facts:

Microphone Facts

The clip on shirt mike or the madonna mike (headset) are the least invasive mikes and you can just speak naturally.  Be careful with expressive hand movements and don’t knock it flying when you make a dramatic point.  Make sure you are wearing a belt or pockets for the power pack.

A lectern or floor mike is the most restrictive as you are stuck behind a large immovable object.  Great if you want to hide or if you have a lot to read.  Not so good if you don’t want to be mistaken as a character out of The Thunderbirds.  Find out in advance if you can unhook the microphone from its stand and if so, practise unhooking and using in advance.

A handheld mike with a cord is great for practising your skipping, while a wireless handheld mike is easier to use.  However, it means you only have one hand available for notes, props or waving that hand in the air.

What Could Go Wrong But Probably Won’t

Simply turning up earlier and practising can alleviate microphonebia and most things you worry about. Knowing exactly how to adjust the microphone height, how to switch it on or even knowing where you will stand, will free up your mind for concentrating on being with the audience rather than being with the equipment.

To avoid getting lots of blowy, sssyyy sounds with a lectern, floor or hand held microphone, aim to speak 5 – 10 cm across the top of the mike, not directly into it. Practise with a carrot at home. The carrot will never laugh at you of course, only with you.

If the microphone screeches, there may be another mike switched on nearby causing interference (switch it off) or you may be standing in front of or under the sound system speakers (move around until all is quiet).

Asking for help is a good idea – do it quickly and smile at the audience, don’t ignore them. They will wait if you are honest and gracious.

If you feel anxious about using a microphone, prepare in advance:  Take 3 deep breaths. Now simultaneously, imagine yourself using the microphone with ease while you are breathing deeply and calmly.  Practise this visualisation a few days ahead of time.

If someone hands you a microphone unexpectedly, try this: Hold it away from your face, stay still for a moment, take a deep breath, connect with your audience with your eyes, and when you lift the microphone 5 – 10 cm from your mouth, remember, it’s only a carrot.

The Microphone Is For The Audience

As much as you may fantasise about looking good on stage in tight leather pants and screaming fans, the microphone is not there for your benefit.  It is there so that others may hear you without having to lip read and so that no one will go home, bereft of your wisdom.  Who are you to deny them?

Well all right, a microphone does benefit you too.  If you’ve gone to all that trouble to put together a speech, argument, case, submission, idea, you need the right people to hear you, and the right equipment to make sure they hear it loud and clear.  Otherwise, what a waste of your time, effort and fear.

As a speaker, you have the opportunity to wave a powerful magical wand to transform the hearing of mere mortals.  Don’t let microphonebia hold you back any longer! Step forward onto the stage of your life and speak!!!  Wave that microphone in the air like you just don’t care!

© 2009-2017, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.