Open Wounds

Anxiety is Your Friend

Question number 3.

How do you deal with presentation anxiety? And how did you get over your fear?

Okay. Here’s one I actually have some expertise on. I know a lot about anxiety. You could say I’m an expert on it. I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder most of my life and in spite of this have performed as a reader, an actor, and a teacher in front of thousands of individuals over the last twenty years – and I’ve taught public speaking classes to just almost as many individuals.

The woman who asked this question had taken speech class and still had tremendous anxiety when she presented in class. I told her, “Welcome to the club.” The old stat from The Book of Lists is that people are more afraid of public speaking than death, taxes, divorce, and marriage. So If you’re scared of it you’re in the right spot.

So, to the first part of the question. Am I over my fear of public speaking? Yes and no. I still have some but I’d frame it as anxiety. Some days it’s higher and some days it’s lower but I am almost always anxious before events, the bigger the event the more anxious I am. But it’s normal anxiety – what you are supposed to have in situations like this – not overwhelming. And… the anxiety is much more manageable and that is why I can function and succeed with it. And yes, I even enjoy it (the public speaking not the anxiety – though we are friendly and exchange birthday cards).

What I did was do a lot of public speaking.

I practiced and practiced in my jobs. I liked teaching so I taught in all the different jobs I had. I watched other speakers and took techniques I liked, tried to avoid ones that I thought didn’t work.

I also took improvisational acting classes and found these to be tremendously helpful in building my confidence in my ability to deal with brain freeze (when you can’t think of what to say and stand there with your mind blank like you just drank a 7/11 slurpee way too fast) and in realizing there are many ways to get from point A to point B (ie: I don’t have to be perfect in what I say – I just have to get my point across). I will also say that taking acting classes and specifically improv classes helped me as a writer to see how ideas can be generated and grown very quickly with a minimum of effort. It also helped me to learn about character archetypes and how a 3-act narrative structure works.

I also swear by yogic breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, and asana (physical practice). I’ve practiced daily for the last five years and have been studying actively for fifteen. It has been the single most powerful collection of tools I’ve found to help me deal with life in general and anxiety in the specific.

Books to look at on public speaking:

The Exceptional Presenter (the best accessible, practical, and hands on resource I’ve found so far)

Public Speaking for Dummies (hey, don’t laugh, it’s a good resource!)

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One response

  1. Breathing is key in so many things …

    September 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm

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