There are many reasons so many people are terrified to speak in front of large groups of people. It can be daunting, and many of us have had bad experiences in the past, probably when we were kids. We can hold on to any experience we’ve had, and every time we go to speak, we may remember this “feeling state.” It is the recollection of this state that causes the fear we feel when speaking in front of crowds.
Picture the audience in their underwear. Pretend you are standing in front of a mirror. Pick a spot just above everyone’s head and focus your attention there. Everyone has their own advice for those that are afraid of speaking in public, as many of us are. While some people seem to be born standing and speaking in front of groups, a large percentage of people experience a crippling fear at the prospect. This fear can halt some careers, or prevent future successes. But while most of us believe it is the thought of being in front of so many people that causes us stress, in fact there may be something else triggering these emotions; a memory of a past experience.
We can probably all pin point a time from our childhood when we embarrassed ourselves in front of our peers; putting yourself out there when you are young can be terrifying and young kids are far from forgiving if you make a mistake. A bad experience when young can scar us for life. Eventually we get over the initial embarrassment and as we get older we store the memory away, along with the “feeling state” associated with the event. It is this state that comes back to us as we once again face the prospect of speaking in front of a group. We may not remember the specific event that caused us to feel like we do, but we definitely remember the fear.
Since these fears can resurface when asked to deliver a speech, a toast, or even a prayer at a family dinner, it is best to learn to control them. So, how do we control our fear if it is based on a forgotten experience? The simple answer is; practice. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be. But it is also important to recognize and understand the “feeling state” which causes us to feel the fear. Once we can understand, and then release the feelings that cause us stress, we can begin to alleviate the fear. Releasing the fear is a skill that must be learned, and of course practiced, but once mastered your comfort and confidence will increase naturally over time.
An important part of public speaking is interacting with your audience. Many people focus only on the writing of the speech, but fail to consider the delivery. One very important part of delivering your speech is your one on one connection with your audience. By practicing connecting to audience members you can help remove your fear of public speaking.
Much of the fear comes from the unknown, and not knowing everyone in your audience can bring up some stress or fear. To help overcome this, practice giving your speech in front of friends, family or co-workers and getting a positive response. The more times you practice initially the easier it will be to give your speech when the real day comes.
Practice connecting to one individual at a time. Some people feel uncomfortable with giving eye contact directly to those in the audience, but the more you practice looking someone in the eye, the easier it becomes. Even if you are far away from them, the audience will feel that personal connection, and will continue to pay attention. Make sure you do not just look at the front row but speak to all of the rows of people, even those in the back.
Anyone who may be focused on too much can feel on the spot, but saying a few sentences to each person can make the whole audience part of the experience. Here are a few other things to consider when you are giving your speech.
Interruptions can happen during any speech. There could be crying babies, movement in and out of the room, or cell phones that may go off. Preparing for any interruptions that may occur can remove this stress. Do not stop your talk for any reason. By acting unphased by these possible distractions, your audience will remain focused on the speech as well.
Also, be aware of your body language. It’s easy when nervous to have a stiff body or awkward gestures. Practice saying your speech in front of a mirror so that you can see what gestures you normally do, and how you can make your body look even more relaxed the whole time you are delivering your speech.
When it comes to the day of the speech, remember to stick to the flow of your speech and it will all go smoothly. Do your best to stay in the moment at all times. Do not get lost in your thoughts or in any worries you might have. Focus on your points, and sticking to your script, and your speech will be a success.
In Part One of the series, I discussed one of three Mindfulness Meditation techniques for managing your stress; and the mechanism of stress. The stress mechanism is the process that occurs when an event is translated into a distress reaction.
I revealed that while most people are aware only of the event and their action or reaction to the event (that they interpret as stress,) in actuality, there is much more going on. In our experience of stress there are other intervening, often unconscious, steps of thought and emotions that come before the action we take, or our physicalresponse to a stressful event.
In this article, I will focus on how the thoughts we think contribute to the experience of stress and how Mindfulness Meditation can help you to manage the thoughts that contribute to your experience of stress.
Mindfulness is the ongoing practice of bringing your focus to the present moment as much as possible throughout your day. It is the practice of awareness of your thoughts, emotions, your body and the surrounding environment.
The key is to practice this awareness without thoughts of judgment or criticism of self, others or situations. To manage your thoughts about your experience you must first be aware of them. Once you are aware of inner negative comments (we all have them), mindfulness meditation practice helps you to let them go and refocus on simply observing what is happening both in your body and around you at the moment.
Mindfulness Meditation Technique #1, described in Part I of this series, teaches you to refocus on your breathing. By refocusing on this simple activity, you begin to free your mind from distractions associated with Past thinking; i.e. thoughts of yesterday, last week, last year, etc., and with Future thinking; i.e. thoughts of what may happen; both negative and positive, especially worry.
Freeing your mind from Past and Future thinking is important because stress originates from fear-based thought patterns that we have been unconsciously conditioned to think. Fear thoughts are learned over our whole lives from those who are closest to us.
Recent studies also point to fetal experiences being formative too. As we were growing in the womb we experience the stress reactions of our mother as our own. If a mother experiences much stress during her pregnancy, chances are the child would have integrated that experience.
Mindfulness Meditation Technique #2:
Throughout your day take multiple 60 second breaks to practice focusing on your thoughts about your environment. Notice everything you can with your 5 senses. Keep your thoughts focused on looking, seeing, hearing, feeling.
What do you see around you? Notice colors, shapes, people, sensations. Notice your thoughts about everything you see. Practice seeing without judging right or wrong.
This practice can be done in a car, at work, at play, with others without interfering with your activities or really anyone else knowing. You are merely shifting your focus. Play this mental game right now.
Focus on the task that you are doing right now in this moment. For example, if you are writing or typing, notice that entire experience. How do your fingers feel as they strike the keys? How do the keys sound as you type? Notice any tension in your body and so on. Stay focused on exactly what you are doing. When you move on to the next task, notice everything about that too.
Mindfulness is a very effective means to experience calm, inner patience and confidence, and to access clarity. However, like other teachings we must become a student and practice daily.
Have you tried this exercise? What is your experience? Please share below.