Hi everyone! I’m Fia Fasbinder and welcome to Moxie Talk! Where we help you find your voice, share your message, and lead with confidence.
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OVERCOME FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING: 5 PROVEN TECHNIQUES
n today’s blog, I am going to use the story of my daughter as a way to frame some insight and advice I have around the fear of public speaking.
Now I know that most of you don’t care as deeply about my daughter or her story as I do. You just want to learn how to sleep the night before a presentation or simply not vomit.
However, for those of you who have teenagers or remember being one, teenagers like mine are quick to let their parents know that they know absolutely nothing and that they will discount any advice given from said parents in a New York minute.
So I’m framing my advice around my daughter because I know that if even some of these techniques that I provided to her made it past that super judgmental and highly discriminating brain of a teenager then these proven techniques will help you too.
Basically, this is my “I know this much is true” blog as it relates to performance anxiety coaching and my desire is that you can see past the story to see how these techniques I’m suggesting will help you. So let me dive into the story.
My daughter participates every year in a camp called Junior Lifeguards and this camp is exactly like it sounds—it prepares kids to become lifeguards.
It’s a difficult camp. They have to run in the sand and swim in the ocean and learn to perform CPR and a lot of other very difficult tasks and in order to even get into this camp they have to pass a timed swim test. Now my daughter was extremely nervous about passing the swim test.
In fact, she started to ramp up in her anxiety days before the event and the day of the event, the morning of this swim test, she was so nervous that she sobbed the entire way in the car and was shaking like a leaf.
When we got there, she tried several times to literally run away from the pool which I had to physically stop her so that she could not run away.
Thank goodness we had a family friend’s son who was timing this swim test, who was able to help her get into her bathing suit and get in the pool and swim and do this time swim test! And she actually passed with 20 seconds to spare.
But through all of this nervous energy and this performance anxiety in the days leading up to it and during that actual swim test, I definitely saw this as my chance to save the day and use all of my coaching methods to help her.
It was my chance to teach her grit and resiliency and because I am a performance anxiety coach, I felt that it was the same whether it’s a timed swim test in a pool or a presentation in a stage or a board room.
The coaching methods that I used were:
- Understanding fight or flight or freeze for the swim
- Helping her reframe her experience while she’s swimming
- Helping her rewire with positive mental talk before the swim
- Letting go of a perfectionist mindset by developing a growth mindset
All of these were techniques that have worked for clients. But when I tried them on her? None of them worked. I watched as these coaching techniques that I tried to teach her went in one ear and out the other like water under a bridge.
Looking back at this whole experience, I realized that of the 25 techniques that I tried on my daughter, there were 5 techniques that actually stuck with her and helped her.
Those are the “I know this much to be true” performance anxiety coaching techniques that I want to share with you today.
TECHNIQUE #1: FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY
The first technique that seemed to help my daughter was a motto that I share with my clients all the time which is—Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Clearly, my daughter was terrified, and like most of us when we feel fear, we think this is a clue or cue to not do this thing that is causing us fear or to back down from this thing because fear is a bad emotion.
Why would we put ourselves in a situation where we’re feeling fear?
Well, I say to my clients all the time that fear is a GPS. Instead of running away from the fear or not doing the thing that is causing us this fear instead go towards it.
It is not a warning signal. There is a difference between ancient fears versus modern-day fears but our brain only knows fear.
It does not know the difference between the ancient fear of being chased by a saber-toothed tiger or a wild boar, and the modern-day fear of giving a presentation to senior leadership.
Knowing that our brain does not know the difference and also that our brain craves safety, it is going to fire off all these warning signals that you should not do this thing that is out of your comfort zone.
Our brain craves safe, predictable situations because back in our cavemen and cavewoman days, anything that was not predictable in our routine could mean sudden death.
Life was much more dangerous, but today, going out of your comfort zone is really the only way to accomplish what you want in life.
Instead of thinking of this fear as a cue to run in the other direction and a warning signal, instead think of it as a GPS signal and feel the fear and do it anyways.
It’s a homing device that’s begging you to move closer not away. However, It’s not going to feel that way—I get it. It is not going to feel like a homing device that’s welcoming you or welcoming you toward it.
It’s going to feel awful. It’s going to feel uncomfortable. It’s going to feel very out of your comfort zone and definitely non-intuitive.
Nevertheless, I am a firm believer that true bravery is not the absence of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Courageous people are not people that are void of fear. Courageous people are people that have the fear and do this thing anyway. Thus, accepting that you will be terrified and reframing the way you look at fear is step number 1 technique.
TECHNIQUE #2: TAKE BABY STEPS
Number two is to take baby steps. My daughter, like most of my clients, when they have this big goal, they tend to get overwhelmed really easily.
It’s really easy to get overwhelmed and lost in all of the steps that you have to do to get to this big goal.
That kind of overwhelm is exactly the opposite of what you need to take steps towards your goal.
Instead of trying to skip all the way to the end of this giant goal and feeling like a failure, it’s important that you chunk down the steps it takes to reach that goal.
Make them so small that they are almost fail-proof. Make them as small as you can and then start checking them off one by one.
Now for my daughter the overwhelm was:
- There’s a swim test and
- Then when I get into the first day, I have to do a swim run test
- What if I get into a slow group?
- What if that would be humiliating?
She’s already future-casting all of this catastrophizing, all of this failure that in her mind that is bound to happen, and of course she overwhelmed herself.
I had to continue to remind her, all she has to do is pass the swim test. This one swim test in this pool today. She doesn’t have to be the fastest—she just has to pass.
I see this with my clients as well. When they think about a presentation that’s coming up or a keynote that’s coming up. They tend to future-cast all the way to that keynote. Then they get overwhelmed by all the steps there are until they get there.
We then have to take the time to chunk down the steps it’s going to take to prepare for that keynote or that presentation and then start checking them off one by one.
I realize that this requires you to practice, but practice and putting in the hard work are so crucial to anything we want badly enough in life.
Getting the things we want in life is not easy. I would be doing you a disservice if I said that it was easy to give a keynote, and easy to give a presentation to senior leadership.
The other great thing about chunking down your goals is that if your brain goes into overwhelm and gets stressed out, it is definitely going to go into fight-or-flight.
We are trying to avoid your brain going into fight-or-flight so don’t stress your brain out by chunking these steps down into small bite-size steps that you can start checking off so that you don’t give up before you’ve even gotten close to that finish line.
TECHNIQUE #3: CHANGE THE CHANNEL
Technique number three is to change the channel. My daughter and my clients definitely start to listen to something I call K-Crap Radio.
Those of you who have watched my content may have heard me talk about K-Crap Radio before.
It is what I call that negative voice in your head that plays all of these negative messages to you and gets louder and louder the closer you get to whatever this event is that you are preparing for, whether that’s the swim test or a boardroom presentation.
It’s like your brain is a DJ on this K-Crap Radio station and it just keeps saying all of this stuff to you that gets worse and worse and louder and louder and more prevalent and takes up more brain space all the way until this event if you let it.
What’s more, if you’re a perfectionist this DJ on K-Crap Radio will compare you to everyone else and start telling you that you can’t do it and you’re not as good as them and you’re not good enough and you’ll never be able to do it and that will be humiliating, which is exactly the K-Crap Radio station that was playing in my daughter’s brain.
It is up to you to change the channel.
It is up to you to say I am going to change the channel so that voice in my head is not playing—I’m not even going to make room for it in my head.
So what do you change the channel to?
I call this the channel of your inner coach. we all have this DJ on K-Crap radio and we also all have our inner coach—we all have these two voices.
Unfortunately, most of the time when we start to get performance anxiety we listen to the wrong channel.
So if you’re going to turn your channel to your inner coach:
What is it that you’ll actually believe in the moment?
What is it that you can say to yourself that isn’t going to sound all Kumbaya and Sewer Smalley on Saturday Night Live and you’re actually going to get behind it?
What would you need your inner coach to say to yourself?
Is it a mantra that you can really believe? Is it just pumping you up and telling you how ready you are and how great you are? Is it just maybe one word? Do you need to visualize this person, this inner coach? What would they look like? What would they be doing with you?
Therefore, I want you to spend some time if you’re going to change the channel thinking about what you need that inner coach to say or do.
Whatever it is, what you’re really doing is re-wiring your brain. You are actually literally creating new neural pathways in your brain
By doing so when you start to get anxious about this event, you can make sure that your brain travels the positive neural pathways instead of the negative neural pathways.
One way to solidify this and make sure this happens is to say these positive things to yourself out loud.
I’m not saying you have to say it out loud at the actual event but there are several studies that show that negative thoughts are more powerful than positive thoughts.
This is what psychologists call our negativity bias. They often describe it as negative thoughts are like Velcro and positive thoughts are like Teflon.
The other study that has been done has shown that saying things aloud is more positive than saying things to yourself.
So think about it this way: If up until this point, you have been repeating the words of that DJ and K-Crap Radio aloud saying things like “Oh! What if I don’t make it? or I can’t do this or everyone’s better than me,” If you’ve been saying these things aloud, you are increasing your chances of having those negative outcomes.
However, if you can not only switch the channel to something positive but say those words aloud to yourself, you are literally quadrupling your chance of having a positive outcome.
But the only way this is going to work is if you can really get behind what you’re saying to yourself.
Therefore, spend some time thinking about what you need to hear in the moment because the only antidote to this negativity bias is to rewire and build new synapses. So that is technique number 3.
TECHNIQUE #4: SHOWING UP IS THE HARDEST PART
Technique number 4 is that showing up is the hardest part. I told you that my daughter literally tried to run the other way.
I had to block her with my body. But once she got there and she was able to see our friend’s son who helped her just get into the pool, she did the hard thing.
She did it and it is so true for all of us—showing up is the hardest part.
I say this to clients all the time. Just get yourself to the presentation, just get yourself to the keynote, just get yourself to that difficult class that you really want to take that you’re terrified to take because everyone might be better than you, just get yourself to that thing—literally the hardest part.
If you can trudge through the mud of all that self-doubt and fear, there is no doubt that you will actually do the thing.
Now you may not do that thing perfectly, but you’ll do it.
I love the Wayne Gretzky quote that goes: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
I know that quote is used everywhere but if you don’t show up you don’t take the shot and maybe you show up and you miss the shot or maybe you show up and the shot isn’t perfect but at least now you’re on that path to growth and development and accomplishing your goals.
Zara might not have been the fastest person in the pool that day, but she passed, which put her on the path now to accomplish the next hurdle that she has to do which is a swim run test. But she passed the first part.
Hence, once you show up and you do that thing even if it’s not perfect, you get this momentum on accomplishing your goals and it’s guaranteed momentum.
I guarantee you if you show up to do that hard thing, even if you don’t do it perfectly, your brain will start to think about all the next steps and the next steps after that and the next steps after that.
So literally show up—whether that’s showing up at your computer, showing up at a class, showing up in that boardroom, showing up to that keynote, showing up is the hardest part.
If you need somebody to be your accountability partner to literally block you from running out the door, do it. Make sure to do what you need to do to show up for yourself.
TECHNIQUE #5: CELEBRATE YOUR WINS
Last but not least, technique number 5 is to celebrate your wins. Now my daughter was very quick to say how slow she went or she wasn’t the fastest.
It was a huge point that I took to make sure that I told her how proud I was that she took some time to be proud of herself. To tell herself that next time something was difficult, she could remember this event and know that she can do hard things.
It’s no different from my clients. Every time they get up and do this keynote or this presentation that is so difficult, they come off stage and the first thing they tell me is all the things they need to do better next time.
Here, I’m always reiterating to them to celebrate your wins first. Celebrate the big wins, celebrate the small wins along the way.
The best way to do this is to give yourself some kind of reward and the best kind of rewards are what we call intrinsic rewards or emotional rewards.
Why is this?
That is because fear is emotional. Fear lives in our amygdala so if we want to give ourselves some kind of reward it also has to live in our amygdala.
We need this nice hit of dopamine and serotonin when we accomplish any kind of feat so that it counteracts all that cortisol that’s running through our system.
So what do I mean by something that’s intrinsic?
Now rewarding yourself with a new watch or a glass of wine or a bath is great too! However, piggyback that extrinsic award with something intrinsic.
Intrinsic like giving yourself an injection of positivity and confidence and patting yourself on the back and talking to yourself and saying “I did this thing, I did it. I went after my goals and I’m making strides towards accomplishing my goals.”
Really allow yourself to feel good about what you accomplished. It doesn’t have to be that you’re going to wait until the end of the finish line to feel good about this. In fact, I hope you don’t.
Reward yourself and feel good about the progress you’ve made all along the way
There are several sports psychologists that will talk about winning coaches in the NFL or in the NBA. As hard as they push their teams, they make sure to also help them celebrate small wins.
Not actual game wins. It could be a win in practice but helping them celebrate those small wins all along the way so that they have momentum and motivation to keep going because going towards those goals is not easy.
It’s difficult and if you don’t celebrate the small wins, if you just keep force-marching towards that goal and beating yourself up along the way because you didn’t do good enough, you will not be able to stay the course.
So celebrate those small wins. See all of the amazing things you’ve accomplished as you look back, you know where you started until where you’re going.
There you go, 5 techniques to help you overcome your fear of public speaking and I know that if these techniques helped the daughter of a public speaking coach, they can help you too.
We’ve got some great classes you can take or even working one-on-one with one of our public speaking coaches but until then try to utilize these 5 techniques and I’m hoping they’ll work for you and that you will ace those goals that you set for yourself.
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Until next time, make sure to live brilliantly lead boldly, and Speak With Moxie.
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