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How To Speak With No Fear

How To Speak With No Fear: The Complete Guide to Conquering the Fear of Public Speaking in 2022

 

Public speaking can be nerve-wracking. If you’re someone who is dealing with speaking anxiety or stagefright. This post is for you.

Perhaps, you don’t like it when all eyes are on you.

Or maybe, you were once a confident speaker and for some reason, you’re getting the jittery feelings now.

Or, you’ve been dealing with the fear of public speaking forever.

Whatever the case is...

There’s one main focus for this post,

“What can you do to get rid of those public speaking nerves?”

Let's get started.

- Kit Pang

Founder, BostonSpeaks

Contents:

  1. Anxiety and Fear: Why Does It Happen?
  2. The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Trying To Get Over The Fear Of Public Speaking
  3. Speak with No Fear: How To Conquer Public Speaking Fear (For Good)
  4. How to Stay Calm: Ease Your Speaking Nerves (Fast)

 

Chapter 1 - Anxiety and Fear: Why Does It Happen?

                                                              

You don’t have to know everything about fear and anxiety but you should definitely know a little about what’s going on so you can understand what’s happening.

When you have knowledge, you have power.

So, where do we start? 

Your brain.

Let’s get something straight first. Having fear or anxiety is completely normal. 

It’s like getting hungry, it’s part of being a human being. However, when it comes to hunger, most people know the reason why they are hungry. It could simply be that they didn’t eat in the past 8 hours.

Now, if you’re nervous or scared, why are you nervous or scared? Most people don’t investigate enough to know the real cause behind it.

The thing you have to know is that something caused the fear or anxiety. 

Well, what is causing it?

Short answer - Your reaction to the situation that’s in front of you or the perceived situation that might happen in the future.

Here’s what’s going on in your brain when there is something that scares you:

Photo credit: Harvard Health

  1. You perceive danger (you see a big scary animal or there’s a big scary speaking situation)
  2. Your brain reacts to the threat
    1. The Amygdala sounds the alarm (calling 911). The amygdala helps coordinate how you respond to situations, especially those that trigger an emotional response.
    2. The Hypothalamus actives the sympathetic nervous system (tells the police and firefighters to get out there). One of the hypothalamus’s main functions includes the release of hormones from the pituitary gland. And the sympathetic nervous system coordinates your body’s rapid response to dangerous or stressful situations.
  3. Release of adrenaline and cortisol (the police and firefighters are coming to help).

Two main takeaways from the brain talk above:

1. Your fear or anxiety is triggered by a psychological perception. The situation is just a situation (ex: a spider walking in front of you). However, the way you perceive the situation is what makes all the difference (it's a big and scary hairy spider that's going to bite me) or it could also be (it's a small and harmless spider that's walking past me). Change your perception about the situation and everything else changes. 

2. Know when you are in a state of fear or worry because that's when you can gain back control. For example, when you are angry, you’re already angry. During moments of rage, you shouldn’t act on emotions because you’re not thinking straight and you might do something you’ll regret later. It’s the same thing with fear and anxiety. When adrenaline and cortisol are released and you are already nervous, learn how to stay calm and think clearly while not believing all the catastrophic things that you're thinking about.

Next, let’s dive into the biggest mistakes that people are making when trying to get over their fear of public speaking. 

Chapter 2 - The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Trying To Get Over The Fear Of Public Speaking

                                                          

Don’t make these same mistakes because they’ll hold your speaking confidence and growth back.

Mistake #1 - You Don’t Go To The Root Of The Issue 

The mistake here is that people don’t address the main issue that’s causing their fear a.k.a. you’re solving the wrong problem.

Albert Einstein once said that if he had only an hour to save the world, he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes on the solution.

As a public speaking coach, I can tell you from experience that after helping numerous individuals get over their fear of public speaking, there’s always something deeper that will unlock your speaking confidence once you find it and face it.

Here are some examples:

  • If people see me shaking and being nervous that means I’m not the confident speaker and leader they thought I was. It means I’m weak. For this person, they need to address why it’s so hard for people to see them being vulnerable or weak.
  • I’m not as good as some of those other speakers I see out there. I want to be more like them. I’m not good enough yet. (In reality, the audience members already think this speaker is good. The speaker just doesn't think they are). For this person, they need to address why think they are not good enough yet.
  • I’ll wait my turn to speak because what I have to say isn’t all that important. It’s okay if I don’t speak now even when I have some thoughts. It can wait. For this person, they need to address why think what they have to say isn’t all important.

Here’s what most people do…they work on everything else (better voice, better presentation structure, better body language) rather than that deeper main issue they should aim to solve first.

Aim to find the root cause of what’s holding your speaking back and address it directly. Don’t jump around it.

Mistake #2 - You Don’t Take Time To Communicate With Yourself 

Public speaking confidence is more about how you see yourself rather than how others see you. 

“No person is free who is not master of one's self.” - Epictetus

This mastery is of your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions.

Too many people are running around through life trying to do everything and more. I used to be like that too. 

If I ever saw the stuff that I’m writing now (stuff about self-reflection, emotions, investigating your thoughts, mindset, taking time to communicate with yourself), I would have said, just give me the step-by-step and things to do! I don’t want to take some time to reflect. Just show me how to do it and I’ll go do it.

The truth is that self-reflection and communicating with yourself is one of the most advanced forms of mental fitness that will help you unlock your speaking voice.

When you don’t analyze your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions, you tend to repeat the same patterns that made you feel stuck in the first place.

The way in is the way out.

Once you take the time to reflect, ask yourself deeper questions and start rethinking the possibilities of how to perceive your upcoming speaking situation differently, everything will change.

Mistake #3 - You Don’t Have A Go-To Plan During Moments Of Speaking Panic

I watch a bunch of action and thriller shows on Netflix and in some FBI movies, the characters have a “go-bag”. A bag of essentials that they can just grab whenever disaster strikes so they can be prepared to leave whenever they need to. 

Whenever something bad happens, they're prepared for the unexpected.

When it comes to public speaking, most folks don’t have a clue what to do to stay cool and collected when things get hectic (internally in your mind or externally).

You don’t have to know everything that’s going to happen but what you do need is an automatic rehearsed backup that will aid you in the moment.

As another example, what should you do if your clothes get caught on fire? You stop, drop and roll! This was somehow drilled into me when I was a kid.

Be prepared and have a go-to plan for when your heart is pounding out of your chest.

Now, if you’re still reading this, you might be wondering, how you are able to do everything I’m talking about above. Don’t worry, in the next two sections, I’ll be covering what you can to do get rid of your public speaking nerves long-term and how you can stay cool as a cucumber when you’re in a state of panic.

Are you ready for it?

Chapter 3 - Speak with No Fear: How To Conquer Public Speaking Fear (For Good)

                                                        

If you want to diminish your public speaking fear for good, you’ll have to find the root cause of the issue.

In this section, I’ll be answering three main questions

  • What does finding the root cause of my speaking fear really mean?
  • How do you find it?
  • What do you do after you know what’s causing the fear?

What does finding the root cause of my speaking fear really mean? (Peeling The Onion)

Finding the root cause for your speaking fear means finding out the real reason for how you are perceiving the speaking situation that’s making you nervous.

It’s like peeling an onion. It means to dive into the problem, one layer at a time to discover what's causing the problem. 

At every level, there’s a new devil. Time to go face your devil that’s been holding you back.

The root cause of your speaking fear will be in a form of a thought or belief that you have. 

We can also say it’s uncovering each thought and belief. Those are your layers.

You first have to understand the Think - Feel - Act Model:

The Think - Feel - Act Model states that you only do something (take an action) because of how you feel (emotions) and you only feel a certain way because of how you think or perceive a situation (thoughts). 

Now if you’re reading this and you think I’m talking nonsense or you don’t quite understand the concept yet, I’ll go through some examples to illustrate how this all works.

When something happens that’s the Situation - it’s external… meaning it’s outside of your head and your body. 

Example of situations: The sun is out, something your boss said, a duck walking in front of you, an upcoming meeting.

There is no judgment for the situation. It’s just what is happening that everyone can agree on.

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions - all internal…meaning it’s what you can control because it’s you. 

And whenever there is a situation, you are constantly perceiving it one way or another that’s making you either confident or nervous.

As an individual, you label the situation as bad, good, or something else (this is your thought). 

You then have a feeling which is an emotional response.

Then, because you feel a certain way, you take an action based on how you feel.

Remember the brain diagram earlier in this post? Here’s how it relates to the Think - Feel - Act Model

  1. Thought - You perceive danger - that’s THOUGHT. If there is an animal or public speaking situation in front of you, it passes through your lens. The words big and scary of the situation are interpretations because of how you see those things.
  2. Feeling - Then your brain reacts to the threat AND the release of adrenaline and cortisol - that’s FEELING. When this is happening, you start to physically feel butterflies in your stomach
  3. Action - The action is not written above in the image. In the case of big scary animal, the action could be run away. In the case of big scary speaking situation, the action could be to script everything out because you don't want to mess up.

Examples of Thought - Feeling - Action Models:

Example 1: Social Media (a situation that we all probably go through)

Situation: You’ve just finished a task and you’re transitioning to the next thing to do.

Thought: Oh, I have a little bit of time, I just wanna hop on Facebook.

Feeling: Curious to see if someone commented on something.

Action: Open Facebook.

 

Here’s the thing, your actions and feelings are dictated by your reactions (thoughts) to the situation you’re in.

 

Example 2: Discussion (during a meeting)

Situation: Your colleagues are talking. No set agenda.

Thought: Will there be a chance for me to jump in and speak? They are not even asking me.

Feeling: Uncertain

Action: Keeps silent, listening half of the time waiting for an opening to talk.

 

Your first job is to be aware of the way you think, feel, and act. 

Once you start becoming aware that’s basically the first layer of the onion.

 

In summary, the root cause is really finding the root thought or belief that’s not serving you. This is where we dig deeper aka peel the onion. 

 

Let’s learn how to find the root thought or belief.

 

How To Find The Root Cause Of Your Fear

Remember what Einstein said? 

If he had only an hour to save the world, he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes on the solution. 

This is what we’re doing now..defining the problem. The real problem.

Here’s one of the best ways to do all of this.

The Ask Method  (Ask Why, What, How, When, Where or another question to dig deeper 3-5 times)

  • Why do I think this?
  • What does this mean?
  • How does that work?
  • Am I saying….?
  • Where did this come from?
  • When did I start thinking this?

Step 1: Figure out how you are currently perceiving a situation that you want to improve. Basically, figure out your thought, feeling, and action in a particular situation.

Step 2: Challenge your first layer thought with questions 3-5 times

Example: Discussion during a meeting (from above)

Situation: Your colleagues are talking. No set agenda.

Thought (FIRST LAYER): Will there be a chance for me to jump in and speak? They are not even asking me. I want to jump in but don’t want to interrupt.

>> Why don’t I feel like you can interrupt?

Thought (SECOND LAYER): What I had to say wasn't super important anyway.

>> Why do I feel this way about what I have to say?

Thought (THIRD LAYER): Perhaps, I think what I’m going to say is dumb or not going to add value to the conversation. Maybe because I don’t believe in myself because they are all executives and I’m not. I’m afraid I’ll say something wrong.

Okay, let’s stop here at the third layer.

You need to deal with the thoughts and beliefs that you’ve uncovered. With the example above, the questions should be around “Why don’t I think I’m going to add value or why don’t I believe in myself whenever I’m in a meeting with executives.”  

In summary, to find the root cause of your fear, you’ll have to keep on uncovering your thoughts layer by layer.

Okay, after you’ve dugged down a bunch and you’ve noticed the deeper stuff. 

What do you do? 

What Do You Do After You Know What’s Causing The Fear?

(You conduct Speaking Experiments)

This is where you challenge yourself to rethink how you’ve interpreted the situation in the first place.

The best way to do that is to see if your fear or anxiety really is true. You face it one small step at a time.

The Speaking Experiment Method: Become a Speaking Scientist and do Speaking Experiments.

These Speaking Experiments will work their way up to what you’ve uncovered that’s causing your fear. Go from low anxiety to high anxiety.

Speaking Experiments are situations where you enter to test out whether are not your feared outcomes or negative thoughts are true or not.

  • Start with Speaking Experiments that give you a level of anxiety ranging from 2-4 (10 being highest) and eventually work your way up.
  • Create a list of Speaking Experiments that you can conduct and rank them by anxiety level
  • You can repeat the Speaking Experiment until your anxiety level goes to a level of 1-3.

Here’s a whole list of speaking experiments that you can conduct yourself.

How To Do A Speaking Experiment 

Fill in before you’ve conducted your Speaking Experiment

Speaking Experiment: What is the Speaking Experiment you are going to test?

Feared Outcome: Write down what are you worried about or fear that will happen

Fill in after you’ve conducted your Speaking Experiment

Actual Outcome: What actually happened?

Management: If it went bad, how did you cope and manage what happened?

 

Start doing speaking experiments and you’ll see that your speaking confidence will grow in no time.

Okay, what about those times when anxiety already hit and you are in the middle of chaos? This is what I’ll address in the next section.

Let’s learn how to remain calm, collected, and in control. 

Chapter 4 - How to Stay Calm: Ease Your Speaking Nerves (Fast)

                                                      

When your adrenaline already kicked in…your heart is pumping, your hands are sweating, and your mind is all over the place, here are the best strategies you can use to calm your speaking nerves.

Add these strategies to your speaking go-bag!

Strategy #1 - Box Breathing

Box breathing is the battle-tested strategy that the U.S. Navy SEALS use to reduce their stress while keeping them calm and focused - before, during, and after combat. 

"Box breathing is a technique that helps you take control of your automatic breathing patterns to train your breath for optimal health and performance," --Mark Divine, former US Navy SEALs Commander.

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Breathe in and count to four slowly. Focus on your breathing.

Step 2: Hold your breath for 4 seconds in a calm manner.

Step 3: Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. 

Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel re-centered.

 

Strategy #2 - Using Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision is using your side vision and looking at things that are not directly focused right in front of you. Don't turn your head or move your eyes. You want to keep a soft focus and take it all in. 

Why does this work?

Peripheral vision is a helpful tool to feel more calm and open in front of your audience. This wide and soft eyes technique will activate the parasympathetic nervous system that calms you down and return your mind and body to balance. Imagine you are out in nature and you're looking out to take the view in.

Here's how to practice:

Step 1: Look straight ahead and don’t move your eyes. Keep a soft gaze and soft breath.

Step 2: Concentrate on everything you can see without moving your eyes.

Step 3: When you have finished, write a list of everything you saw. 

 

Strategy #3 - The Flooding Technique

This is when you exaggerate and go ALL THE WAY with what you're thinking about. 

Imagine you're in a meeting and no one asks for your opinion. You find yourself becoming quieter throughout the meeting. No one thinks what I have to say is important or I'm not at their level. 

These are your first thoughts that holding you back. You acknowledge them and then you turn up your negative thoughts and play them to the biggest worry that could happen.  Okay, no one is asking me about my opinions. Everybody in this meeting hates me. In fact, they hired me so they can ignore me at work. 

By doing this, you'll actually break out of your own negative thought pattern. Soon, you'll be laughing at the way you were even thinking in the first place.

That’s it.

Give it a go.

 

Strategy #4 - Squeeze Your Butt

Whenever I say this out loud, there's always laughter. I mean, you can't be nervous and squeeze your butt at the same time, am I right?

Okay, what you really want to do is take a breath and then squeeze and clench your arms, thighs, calves, shoulders, or yes if you want, your butt.

Do this for 3-5 seconds.

Then release.

How will this help?

You'll be focusing on physically squeezing and tensing a part of your body to get yourself out of your head and out of your negative thoughts. Then when you release your body, you'll need to breathe. Tension will leave your body and your mind.

You can even do this when you're about to speak or sitting down because no one can see you do this unless you're squeezing your face very hard.

Do this:

Step 1: Breathe in

Step 2: Choose one part of your body to squeeze and tense up. Hold for 3-5 seconds

Step 3: Breathe out

Step 4: Repeat with the same body part or different.

 

Strategy #5 - Pass The Speaking Potato

There are moments when you get asked a question, your mind goes blank, or something else that happens and you have no clue what to do.

Have you been there?

What you want to do is to throw it back to your audience and ask them a question or get them to share a thought so it buys you time. Once you have that bit of time, use it to regain your composure.

Someone asks you a question that throws you off? Ask them a question back, restate their thought to clarify, or dig deeper for them to explain what they really mean. 

For example:

- When you say (use one of the words they used, what do you mean by that

- If I'm hearing you correctly, you said "......". Is that correct? 

- Can you ask that one more time? I want to make sure that I understand.

Your mind goes blanks in the middle of a sentence? Pass it to your audience.

For example:

- Get their thoughts: Now before I speak more, I’d love to know what you think about this. What thoughts do you have?

- See if they understand: Pause. I want to make sure you understand what I'm talking about. Is what I'm saying clear so far or do you need any further clarification? 

- Get their engagement: Actually, as I'm talking about this, I'm just wondering..are you enjoying this material so far?

 

When in doubt, your audience is there to support you. Why not let them help by giving them a voice?

***

You can conquer the fear of public speaking.

Take it one step at a time.

***

 

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