Liz Swan Ph.D.

The Philosopher Is In

Public Speaking Requirement? I’m Dropping Out…

4 tips from a hypnotist to dropkick your fear of presentations.

Posted Aug 17, 2018

Guest Blogger: Joshua Howard

pixabay/pixabaynikolayhg
Source: pixabay/pixabaynikolayhg

Do you have anxiety, fear, or apprehension about giving presentations? You’re definitely not alone. In fact, public speaking is one of the more common things people say they fear. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. In general, people who fear public speaking have one or more of these triggers: worrying about not preparing well enough, remembering past speaking failures and thinking they will repeat them (or things they saw on TV or heard from others, etc.), overthinking the ramifications of potential “failure” (like getting an F or failing the class or college itself), or worrying about other people’s interpretations of them. Obviously some people combine these worries, but most of my clients seem to suffer more with one than the others. And while some have deeply traumatic memories or more extreme versions of anxiety that require a clinical approach, there are quite a few things you can do all on your own to lessen emotional responses you do not want. Without further ado, here are a hypnotist’s favorite tips to manage anxiety or fear about presentations. Use them to be more mindful, centered, and resourceful this year.

Rehearsal is Key

First, take some time to rehearse success. Start with mental rehearsal in order to “program” success into your mind. You only need to take a few seconds to mentally rehearse giving your presentation successfully. Just imagine yourself 1) feeling good about presenting before you begin, 2) walking up and giving the presentation well (hit the main points in montage like snippets), and 3) people applauding before you return to your seat. Many people get hung up on “visualization”. Instead, just keep in mind that all that’s necessary is understanding what it is that you are imagining. It can be full figures or just the vague feeling that you understand what you’re thinking about. The key is that you understand it and think about it vividly with pure intention. In other words, just do the mental rehearsal the best you can. Don’t contemplate it, question it, think “how?”, “why?”, “what?”, “when?”, etc. Mentally rehearse a few times a day making sure to only think about successfully presenting when you’re rehearsing. In my opinion, this rehearsal should be rapid and in the montage format I suggest above. Just like a really quick memory or flash of excitement about experiencing something you’re eagerly awaiting. Others suggest slow, perfect mental rehearsals, but for me this is burdensome, takes too much time, invites problems visualizing, and that time is much better spent giving the talk to imaginary or real audiences.

After a few days of mental rehearsal, practice your presentation in its entirety out loud, with an audience if possible, a few times. Make sure to choose people who will be supportive and helpful. Some of your classmates or coworkers might like to practice together or someone you know in another class may appreciate an outside perspective. Or maybe a family member would love to see what you’re doing in school over Skype. If nothing else, give the presentation to your pet or imagine an audience and practice the full presentation a few times out loud. If real people are watching you practice, ask them for honest feedback. While not everyone’s feedback will be helpful, consider it and use it to improve your presentation if you can. Finally, keep in mind that it’s natural to not be 100% perfect on your practice runs—this is why it is practice! Notice what you do right first, then think of what areas could be improved. It also won’t hurt to continue your rapid mental rehearsals.

Breathe Deeply to Relax and Speak Better

Second, remember to breathe deeply before and during your presentation. Fear and anxiety often increase heart and breathing rates, which, when combined with shallow breathing, can encourage panic attacks. Breathing deeply will reduce this possibility and is a natural way to relax a human body anyway. Plus, when speaking, you want to breathe deeply so you don’t hyperventilate. The easiest way to make sure you’re breathing deeply enough is to breathe in and out from your belly button, as if you’re extending your whole belly out as you breathe in and pulling it in as you breathe out.

A great way to allay jitters before presenting is to take a few minutes to use a breathing trick from pranayama: breathe in for a count of four, then out for a count of eight for a few minutes. You will need to breathe in more quickly and forcefully, and breathe out more slowly with less pressure or this will be really difficult. [You can absolutely do this covertly with a little practice alone before using in class.] To add to the effect, imagine calming feelings coming in with each breath through the nose, and bad feelings being released with each exhale through the mouth (by the way, an ideal pace is how fast a clock ticks, 60 BPM).

Overwhelm Your Focus to Overwhelm Fear

Third, while speaking, keep your focus on the topic you’re speaking about and focus the rest of your attention on your feet on the ground. What does it feel like to stand here? To be a being standing? Are you more focused on the left foot or the right, etc. Whatever it takes to keep your attention on your feet. I know this may sound silly at first, but your mind only has so many things it can focus on and after that, it cannot focus on anything else (see Miller’s Law: the mind can hold five, plus or minus two objects, in working memory at any time). This is why anxiety overwhelms people: humans don’t have enough mental capacity to freak out and remember how to do things. Use this to your advantage!

Melt Fear Memories With Hypnotic Process

Fourth, if you have recurrent thoughts about failure before your presentation, try this mental trick. It may seem odd at first, but you really do have the control to do these things to your thoughts and you can do so with a little effort. Just think of it as an experiment: see what happens after a few trials. Close your eyes. Remember the mental image or sounds that come up as you think of or remember an experience of failure as or right before you begin to feel fearful of public speaking (might have been just a millisecond before the feeling). Shrink them to the size of a postage stamp. Then make that image silent and flicker it black, white, black, white, etc. rapidly. After a few moments, quickly remember the montage of giving a successful presentation you’ve been using for mental rehearsal. Rapidly replace the failure image with this one in two simple steps: 1) shrink the failure image to nothingness as, 2) you make the mental rehearsal image larger, brighter, and more colorful than the failure image was. Repeat this whole process starting with remembering the image of failure and ending with the big, bright mental rehearsal image five or six times as rapidly as you can—and do it immediately following any thoughts of failure. This is a type of mental conditioning to encourage your mind to naturally think not this/failure, instead this/success.

While simple, these can be life changing or at least offer some improvement for people with jitters about giving presentations, but remember that with any kind of personal development, you’re fighting against habits that were formed for a reason, may be old, and may have years of reinforcement. So, look for improvements, even if small, from repeated effort. But if you notice this fear or anxiety is still very intense after all of this, consider talking to a mental health professional, life coach, or hypnotist. However, you should find that each of these steps addresses the reasons for fears of public speaking I listed above. For example, rehearsal helps you feel more prepared, encourages you anticipate success, and gives you many examples of seeing progressive improvement and examples of success. Breathing helps to calm you down and is a great way to control the pace of speaking so you speak with more control over time. Tips three and four both help to alter the fear response itself, regardless of the trigger. Finally, use these tips to take more control over your life as they are applicable in many other areas of your life as well. Please feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments.

About the author: Joshua Howard is a certified hypnotherapist and Neurolinguistic Programming Practitioner currently residing in Denver, CO. He also holds a master’s degree in humanities and is passionate about combining his skills and background to help clients live a life free of emotional barriers. You can find him on YouTube: youtube.com/c/180theory or his website: 180theory.com.

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