« 4. Five cures for public speaking phobia »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She is the author of "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking" and is one of only 800 people in the world with the highest level of accreditation in the professional speaking industry - CSP - Certified Speaking Professional. 

Anxiety, dread and fear are emotions that can limit us whatever we are doing. Being able to free ourselves of these emotions can be liberating. 

Staying focused on the task can reduce nerves

One area in many people's lives where "negative" emotions can be crippling is when performing in front of people or speaking in public.

People can dread performing or speaking in public when they don't have the emotional intelligence skills to manage the emotions effectively.

They can end up with stage-fright or a debilitating public speaking phobia.

Fear, panic and anxiety are emotions often associated with public speaking phobia and stage-fright and they usually need to be reduced or overcome before people can feel at ease.

However, before we look at ways to reduce and manage these emotions, let's first clarify exactly what stage-fright and public speaking phobia are.

What is public speaking phobia or stage-fright?

Public speaking phobia, fear or stage fright is mind numbing.

It can stop you from giving presentations, from advancing your career and from getting your ideas and experience known. And, it can leave you terrified of giving a presentation in public.

The symptoms are well known:

  • blushing,
  • sweating,
  • heart pounding,
  • shaking,
  • a dry mouth,
  • belly butterflies, 
  • trips to the toilet,
  • a fear of going blank,
  • a fear of losing your place,
  • paralysis, panic, anxiety, and more.

If you get these problems prior to giving a speech or during a speech no wonder you have a fear of public speaking.

How can emotional intelligence overcome stage-fright?

The good news is that public speaking phobia can be overcome and stage fright cured.

Emotional intelligence involves many techniques which can help in managing anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear are both emotions. If you learn to manage the emotions in an emotionally intelligent way then you are well on your way to overcoming your phobia.

Here are just five of the many emotional intelligence steps that may help you.

Want to improve your confidence as a public speaker so your audience wants to listen to you? Book into our public speaking development package

Emotional intelligence tip 1. Search for your trigger of success

In order to cure your stage fright you need to search for the best technique for you. There is no one right method that cures everyone.

For example, on the public speaking recordings I made one of the women, Sam, overcame her stage fright by using a new breathing technique, which kept her body from seizing up and allowed her to control her voice and nerves.

Another woman, Amy, needed a completely different type of help. She discovered that when she replayed positive music memories to herself, that they put her in the right frame of mind so she could face a crowd without a fear of blushing.

For Melissa it was different again. What worked for her was sending feelings of compassion and kindness to her anticipated audience. All three had huge boosts in public speaking confidence and overcame their public speaking phobia. Each chose different emotional techniques to manage their emotions.

Search for the right emotional trigger for you.

Emotional intelligence tip 2. Challenge your thoughts

Many people generate catastrophic thoughts about all the things that may go wrong if they have to give a presentation, and this makes them afraid to speak in public. However, these things rarely, if ever, happen.

Amy, for example, a journalist in her mid-twenties, thought there was a significant danger of her falling over flat on her face.

  • I asked her how many speakers she had seen fall over: none!
  • How many speakers had she seen that were flat on their face: none!
  • I asked her how many times she thought that I, as a professional speaker, had fallen over: none!

She needed to challenge her thinking and ditch the junk.

Do you? Do not believe something just because you think it.

Just because you think something does not make it right or true.

Our minds can dream up absolute nonsense and make it seem real when it isn't. Our thoughts can be lies. Test your thoughts. They may be making you more nervous than you need to be.

One of the skill sets in emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of your emotions and why they are arising. This is directly relevant here. Amy found it was her negative thoughts and the power she gave them that produced the fear. Once she understood that she moved a step closer to managing her fear of public speaking.

Emotional intelligence tip 3. Don't add fear of anxiety on top

One of the major problems with stage fright is being frightened of the anxiety itself.

Sam, an IT manager in her early forties, was like this. She was so anxious of anxiety that this was worse than the anxiety or public speaking itself. She had added fear on top of fear. It is a great way to set stage fright in concrete so it feels as though it will always be there.

I therefore suggested to Sam that a big step for her was to stop fearing the anxiety and to learn to feel comfortable with it. Emotional intelligence is not about getting rid of emotions, it includes acknowledging them when they are there.

One way I encouraged Sam to do this was to start talking to herself about her anxiety symptoms as if she were a professor studying them.

For example, when she was sweating she could become curious about where all the water comes from. Does she keep a water-well under her arm pit for the occasion or does it get taken from her bladder, and anyway how much will she sweat, will it be one litre or two?

As I began talking like this Sam actually ended up laughing about her anxiety. Laughter is a great antidote for anxiety and fear. Learn to feel comfortable with anxiety and your anxiety will lessen.

I have also used this technique very successfully to overcome severe panic attacks.

Emotional intelligence tip 4. Recall snapshots of confidence.

Stage fright can lessen when you concentrate on the good times. Instead of focusing on every bad memory of speaking in public or on everything that may go wrong, focus instead on your happy confident memories.

Whenever you are feeling good, happy or confident take a snapshot of it in your mind. Remember all the details of it. Remember how you look, stand and feel when you are relaxed and confident. Remember how you speak, breathe and talk when you are happy and confident. Remember the colours, the sounds, and the feelings. Then revisit the snapshots over and over again. Replay them in your mind so often that you can go to them quickly and automatically. Concentrate on these while you are preparing a speech, rehearsing a speech, when you are travelling to a speech and while you wait to speak.

In one of my snapshots I am standing by a new pond we'd built watching a dragonfly land for the first time on it. I was in raptures to think that the dragonfly had found our pond already. It was so beautiful with long lace wings and a blue body, and me? My smile reached right across my teeth, my eyes were bright and I was singing in my heart.

I went to an after-dinner speech later that week and I imagined the dragonfly on the microphone. No stage fright had a chance because I was as happy as if I were still standing by the pond.

If you remember and recall your snapshots of confidence as you stand at the lectern or microphone your stage fright may go too. When you use your emotional intelligence to manage your emotions well there is no limit to the creativity that you can use. If dragonflies help, then dragonflies help!

Want to engage your audience more easily and make your presentations more interesting? Book into our public speaking development package.

Emotional intelligence tip 5. Transfer your skills.

No one has 100% confidence. No one has 100% stage fright when speaking to people. We are all confident somewhere in our lives. We are less confident in others. 

Amy, for example, said she could easily manage to speak to three people without blushing, being anxious or worrying about being looked at. However, she also said she could not speak in public to a large group. I asked her how big the group had to be before the problem became serious, and she said six! If I suggested to Amy that she spoke to nine she froze and became paralysed with stage fright.

Realistically there is not a lot of difference between three, six or nine, they are all small groups. All Amy had to do was to work out what she did when speaking to a group of three and do the same when she spoke to six, nine or ninety. She simply needed to transfer her skills across to the larger group.

The same may apply to you. There will be something that you can do with people that does not produce the symptoms of stage fright, whether it is talking to people at a dinner party, meeting people networking, or speaking out at a meeting.

Learn what you do when you are happy and confident.

  • What are you thinking?
  • Where do you look?
  • How do you stand?
  • How do you breathe?
  • How do you sit? 

Then transfer the skills you have to public speaking.

A high level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness may be required to do this, but I have seen people do it successfully - I do it myself in several situations - it can be done.

Say goodbye to stage fright and your fear of public speaking. Say hello to emotional intelligence and successful public speaking. Your confidence is already there waiting for you.

How to improve your public speaking now.

Can you afford to have you or your team unable to engage their audiences? No! Organisations need to be represented by engaging speakers in order to get their message across as swiftly and effectively as possible. This applies to you if you are an executive or a manager too - do not bore your employees, your stakeholders or your board. We have a number of options to help you:

  1. Book into our public speaking development package.
  2. There is a definitive guide: "The beginners guide to being a brilliant MC".
  3. Read the book "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking".

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.