Anxiety and Public Speaking

I’ve often observed that many people’s top-ranking fear is not death but having to speak in public. The joke is that these people would rather lie in a casket at their own funeral than give the eulogy.

Public speaking for people who suffer from panic attacks or general anxiety often becomes a major source of worry, possibly weeks or even months before the speaking event is to occur.

These speaking engagements don’t necessarily have to be the traditional “on a podium” events; they can be as simple as an office meeting where the individual is expected to express an opinion or give verbal feedback.

In this case, the fear centers on having a panic attack while speaking. The individuals fear being incapacitated by the anxiety and hence unable to complete what they’re saying. They imagine fleeing the spotlight and having to make all kinds of excuses later for their undignified departure -out the office window . . .

This differs slightly from the majority of people who fear public speaking. With others, their fear tends to revolve around going blank while speaking or feeling uncomfortable under the spotlight of their peers. The jitters or nerves are, of course, a problem for this group as well-but they’re unfamiliar with that debilitating threat, the panic attack, because they most likely haven’t experienced one before.

So how should a person with an anxiety issue tackle public speaking?

Stage 1 is accepting that all of these bizarre and, quite frankly, unnerving sensations aren’t going to go away overnight. In fact, you’re not even going to concern yourself with getting rid of them for your next talk. When they arrive during a speech or meeting, you’re going to approach them in a new manner.

We need to build your confidence back to where it used to be before any of these sensations ever occurred. This time, you’ll approach it in a unique, empowering manner, allowing you to feel your confidence again. Some say that most of the top speakers are riddled with anxiety before an event, but they somehow use this nervousness to enhance their speech.

I’m going to show you exactly how to do this.

My first point is this, and it’s important:

The average healthy person can experience an extreme array of anxiety and very uncomfortable sensations while giving a speech and is in no danger of ever losing control, or even appearing slightly anxious to the audience. No matter how tough it gets, you’ll always finish your piece-even if, at the outset, it feels very uncomfortable to go on.

You won’t become incapacitated in any way.

The real breakthrough happens when you fully believe that you’re not in danger and that the sensations will pass. By asking for more, you’re saying:

“I realize that you [the anxiety] hold no threat over me.”

What keeps a panic attack coming again and again is the fear of the fear-the fear that the next one will really knock your socks off and the feeling that you were lucky to have made it past the last one unscathed.

Because they were so unnerving and scary, it’s your confidence that’s been damaged by previous anxiety episodes. Once you fully understand that you’re not under any threat, then you can have a new response to the anxiety as it arises while speaking.

There’s always a turning point when a person moves from general anxiety into a panic attack, and that happens with public speaking when you think to yourself:

I won’t be able to handle this in front of these people.

That split second of self-doubt leads to a rush of adrenaline, and the extreme anxiety arrives in a wavelike format. If, however, you feel the initial anxiety and react with confidence that this isn’t a threat to you, you’ll process the anxiety rapidly.

Using this new approach is a powerful ally because it means it’s okay to feel scared and anxious when speaking. That’s fine-you’ll feel it, and you’ll move with and through the sensations in your body and out the other side.

Because people are often very anxious before the talk has begun, they may feel they’ve already let themselves down. Now you can relax on that point. It’s perfectly natural to feel the anxiety.

Take, for example, the worst of the sensations you’ve ever experienced in this situation-be it general unease or loss of breath. You’ll have an initial automatic reaction that says:

“Danger-I’m going to have an episode of anxiety here, and I really can’t afford for that to happen.”

At this point, most people react to that idea and confirm that it must be true because of all the unusual feelings they’re experiencing. This is where your train of thought creates a cycle of anxiety that produces a negative impact on your overall presenting skills.

So let that initial “Oh dear, not now” thought pass by, and immediately follow it up with the attitude of:

“There you are-I’ve been wondering when you would arrive. I’ve been expecting you to show up. By the way, I’m not in the least threatened by any of the strange sensations you’re creating. I’m completely safe here.”

Instead of pushing the emotional energy and excitement down into your stomach, you’re moving through it.

Your body is in a slightly excited state, exactly as it should be while giving a speech-so release that energy in your self-expression. Push it out through your presentation, not down into your stomach.

Push it out by expressing yourself more forcefully. In this way, you turn the anxiety to your advantage by using it to deliver a speech; you’ll come across as more alive, energetic, and in the present moment.

When you notice the anxiety drop, as it does when you willingly move into it, fire off a quick thought when you get a momentary break (as I’m sure you have between pieces), and ask it for “more.” You want more of its intense feelings because you’re interested in them and absolutely not threatened by them.

It seems like a lot of things to be thinking about while talking to a group of people, but it really isn’t. You’d be amazed at how many different, unrelated thoughts you can have while speaking. This approach is about adopting a new attitude of confidence about what you might have deemed a serious threat up until now.

If your predominant fear of speaking is driven by a feeling of being trapped, then I suggest factoring in some mental releases that can be prepared before the event. For example, some events allow you to turn the attention back to the room to get feedback, etc., from the audience. If possible, prepare such opportunities in your own mind before the engagements.

This isn’t to say that you have to use them, but people in this situation often remark that just having small opportunities where attention can be diverted for the briefest moment makes the task seem less daunting.

It may even be something as simple as having people introduce themselves or opening the floor to questions. I realize these diversions aren’t always possible and depend on the situation, but anything you can factor in that makes you feel less trapped or under the spotlight is worth the effort.

Barry Joe McDonagh

All material provided in these emails are for informational or educational purposes only. No content is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition

31 replies on “Anxiety and Public Speaking

  • marcos

    I really experience anxiety an abnormal feeling of nervousness when I engage myself in public speaking, interviews and other related activities sometimes i could not express my self, worst is i could feel my whole body trembling as shown on my voice hard to come out on my mouth, a case of sudden stop talking all other related circumstances comes out …. your advice and related exercises is a great help to me… millions tanks …. SIR LONG LIVE…..SNAPPY SALUTE….

  • Liza

    Thanks for your help . I love to read all your email regariding general anxiety though I am prcticing it so far, but still always prcaticing as it sows sometime even if I am strating to parctice. Thanks. But sure this is a big help. Liza

  • Jess

    I have been wondering for a while now how to explain to my therapist that it is not a fear of high-pressured events themselves which causes my extra anxiety, but a fear of being incapacitated during these events *by* anxiety. This applies not just to public speaking, but to any area of life where it would seem monstrously odd (and a sackable offence!) to jump out of the window because of an anxiety attack. I couldn’t seem to get across at all that, a few months ago, absolutely nothing could worry me less than the idea of addressing a large group of people – it’s not my perception of the event that worries me now, but my perception of myself!

    I enjoy my therapist’s psychodynamic approach, and I think it is making me a better, more stable person with regard to many issues. I would recommend it to anyone.However, there is a gaping hole in the method when it comes to processing the physical and mental manifestation of anxiety itself, *crucially* in cases where the phenomenon has taken on a life of its own in the mind of the sufferer. While I feel I have made great progress and am enjoying life again after crashing about six months ago, I think Joe is right to say that you never really re-grow your wings properly until you eliminate the fear of it happening again – until you get rid of anxiety about anxiety. Great post, thanks!

  • Kathy

    Thank you for all the emails and many topics that they address. Your truly is a different take on anxiety and panic attacks. I believe they are helping me live a better life. I have a complete break down, panic attack, etc when I must take medications. I have had many negative experiences – allergies, etc and it has lead to not being able to take medications when I should. I would really love your advice on this. I am now at the age where things must be addressed! Thanks so much

  • emma paddock

    ello from uk,iv had these attacks for 3yrs 8months pregnant and had loads as i cant take medication. im finding it hard to deal with at the moment but knowing i have ur emails and support does help.thank

  • billy

    find these e mails very helpful, you have all the symptoms and feelings spot on,and i find your unique techniques work for me. so thanks

  • Michael mitchell

    In my opinion this works so well ..Most people freeze up right on the spot tried this approach and it does the trick under the radar ..Meaning the first time I tried didnt work as well as i liked it to but gave me strong points for the next try!! Even if you dont have strong panic attacks this will help you be a stronger speaker or present yourself in a better way thanks for the help Barry!!

  • Pam

    I will try this the next time I feel intimidated to speak in front of people! I know it will work because your approach to other issues are working for me now! I’m so grateful…haven’t had an attack or high anxiety for a couple of weeks now. Even decreasing my medications…It seem to be all about ‘acceptance’ and ‘trusting’.
    thanks you for all the wonderful lessons and newsletters!

  • Febby Hamunyanga

    Thank you Barry for changing my life where anxiety is concerned. Now my question is that what should be done when you are told to do something right there and then, you feel the heart pumping and then the voice start shaking.

  • one

    I will try this, I have big presentation next week. Im start feeling anxiety..hope this will help me to stop my panic attacks

  • Jack

    I like the sound of this approach. I’ve had these attacks for years, but for whatever reason they never interfered with public speaking until a couple of months ago when I had a bad one while talking to a group of people. I am eager and willing to try your approach. Thank you so much for the advice!

  • rhonda finlayson

    Hello again,

    I’m really pleased, that whilst I have been sick with work stress, anxiety and depression, I have fortunately discovered/been guided to your website. I’m starting to practice, as often as I can the solutions you’ve suggested in your PanicAway emails to best address my oftimes severe, yet unexplainable general anxiety.
    Thanks for your generosity and kindness in freely circulating this information.

  • connie

    Any tips for fear of driving on the interstates in heavy traffic? I get especially panicky in this situation and usually have to take an exit to calm down.

  • sharina

    Thanx so much for that advise it makes me feel more confidence I mean I always wanted to be a singer and when I think about performing on stage I get anxious all these fearful thought rushing upon me but now I think I can manage it hope it works thank you:-)

  • DXYA

    i look forward to read more of your course Barry. the more i read the better i feel. I practise it regularly and i m on the recovery stage.. god bless you and your family.

  • Niven

    I dont have any words to describe how much I learnt and prosper from all the communication on e-mails I received,my panic attack started about month ago which I manage to over come by believeing(faith,my God) changing stress habbits at home,work relationship and avoid negativity,it help me so much that my panics or fear I have is subsiding.the course and information made so rich with knowledge and learn other how to deal with these issue’sThanks Barry and to all writer’s for there on going support for those who has been affected I appreciate it as I’m not alone,

  • eva Namuddu

    Thanks for your emails i have got a lot of courage from them and i have realized that panic attacks is something which can be overcome.Your emails have been of great help because i have suffered panic attacks since i was a child and i had no solution but constant medication.How can i help my child of 6 years who also has panic attacks.

  • Vicki

    I have been having general anxiety for years and not known what they were until a couple of years ago when I was on the tennis court and all of a sudden couldnt serve the ball. It was one of those times you just want to die and don’t know what to do with these feelings out of nowhere. It got worse and worse each time I had to play. I have played tennis since I was a child and never had a problem but this got to a stage I just wanted to give up and it made me so upset cause I love the game. So this year I decided I would try and fight it and I was lucky to find this website early on. I wasnt sure what I’d get out of it but had nothing to lose but so very happy I did. Its amazing just reading exactly how you feel during an attack and how to deal with it has helped tremendously. I still get nervous but can work through it, so will adopt this approach with everything in life now! Thanks heaps.

  • Charles Gillihan

    I find that instead of this technique, I use xanax and a few shots of whiskey. This eliminates any fears at all.

    Just kidding of course. This is really good advice.

  • leo

    Since reading your e-book and articles, I am slowly making progress and my anxiety levels have decreased quite a bit, though I still have a long way to go. I also want to thank the people at PANIC AWAY for their kindness and understanding in truly wanting to help, more people need to know about this!

  • Andrea

    Thanks Barry for all your support. I have been struggling in this area for a while and you really helped me put things into perspective. My ‘anxiety levels’ are dropping and i can’t wait to have a complete handle on life. Thank You and your friends at Panic Away for your time and support for people like me… Continue to make this world a better place.. God Bless!

  • Penedawn

    I have had Panice Away since 2007, first in e form and then the book and CD/DVD. I too live in the UK and have had panic attacks for 30 years. I have achieved a great deal with the help of xanax sometimes (especially for travel) but find I can be left with migraines which can be just as debilitating. I used alcohol for many years too in an effort to survive and that nearly killed me, my liver still bears the scars. Life is better without the alcohol and for some time the panic attacks went away, but slowly they crept back and I carry them around like an old suitcase. I try to follow the Panic Away suggestions and sometimes do manage to remember a sentence or two that Barry has mentioned as terror suddenly seems to strike and I am in another frightening world in which I know I will die. For example ‘it will be over in the main after 20 minutes’ or ‘no matter how bad the attack you still survived previous ones intact’ and although I cannot with conviction welcome that world and say ‘it is nice to see you’ so cannot welcome the attack, I did on one occassion manage to put on the CD and start a breathing exercise, and the awful world moved a little further away.

    As people have mentioned, our minds can be very devious and will present panic in many forms. It is amazing to think that we can be so clever in this way but often not clever enough to deal effectively with a panic attack. No wonder we search for reasons (a time wasting pursuit) in our past to figure out what caused this to happen to us! As Panic Away is American based – despite close connections with Ireland – I felt somewhat alienated from the support but there is a great deal of help in the UK now, that is beginning to follow this way of dealing with Panic such as ‘No Panic’ who have phone lines and various paperwork that can be followed and voluntary support. Cognitive Behavioiur Therapy has also been rolled out in some areas for free by the NHS as having been proved to be more effective than putting people on medication. The NHS website and Boots’ website have lots of helpful information to keep one a little more grounded. So the nearest they can come to combining their concepts with what Barry offers the more we can all benefit. I would say again that in general 12 step groups can also be very helpful, they provide constant support, and panic has invariably been experienced by those who go to this type of group, for a variety of reason. I personally feel somewhat stuck in a rut at present but am just going into the shed to see if I can find my ladder to get out!

  • Auwal Daneji

    Hi Barry , I said you are magician believe you me i cant believe how well your formula works. thank you for bailing me out of the cage of my own captivity.

    Thans Yours Auwal Daneji

  • Tyrone

    I have had general anxiety and panic disorder for over 25 years now. As you would well know, it sounds very suspect to me that something could eliminate panic attacks and general anxiety. And public speaking is out of the question. I will have perspired so much before it is my time to speak until everyone would know that something is definitely wrong. There is nothing worse than knowing that you are capable of doing something but are limited because of this problem. And it affects both my social life and my workplace involvement. Nonetheless, I am all ears and eyes to experience something that could give back that confidence again. Thanks for your articles and your interest in trying to arrest this debilitating disease.

  • Caroline

    For the very first time I heard someone else say the fear is being trapped in a situation, which is my fear. Can I just say that for people speaking to a group, I always had a friend in the group who knowing my problem would, at a signal from me, interupt me and ask a question, this immediately broke the stress and I was always fine after and of course eventually just knowing I had that ‘door’ there, I knew I wasn’t trapped in the situation and overcame my fear. But now I am retired new fears arise and it is not always possible to create a ‘door’ but it is just so good to know that my fear is felt by others and I am not going crazy. I would love any information on dealing with this as i am also claustrophobic and this in itself can create problems.

  • Jason King

    Thank you very much Sir Barry! Now i have complete control of my anxiety attacks.
    Whenever i feel its coming back again, i encourage it or challenge it in my thoughts “Common! Lets get it on! You cant get the best of me! Your just imaginary non-sense..craft.”
    I always tell myself that many people are happy.. so can i. Because like them im perfectly normal.
    Thanks Barry. Your an inspiration to a lot of people. Thanks Panic Away! Godspeed on your program.

  • cletus

    Thanks, Sir Barry: Just read your e-mail. Thank you so much, makes sense to me and I will try it. My problem is public speaking and writing such as filling out a credit report or an invoice when people are standing over me that is when fear sets in and my hand starts to shake so I try to avoid these situations. Strange how I can start writing thinking a’m fine then like a slow moving train fear starts to overcome me and the shakes start. I will try your method.
    Thanks for your advice, your concern and your help.

  • Gabby

    That sounds great Barry!
    However I’m having a problem….see im doing my presentation IN SPANISH. I feel like a fool reading it outloud in my desk…it’ll be worse speaking it even louder in FRONT of everyone on a podeum stand….and when that anxious feeling comes rushing in my worst problem is gagging … i fear that i will just either flee the scene choking on my own spit or do myself a favor and now show up at all… help?

Comments are closed.