One Girl’s Fear of Public Speaking

The Three Worst Parts of Being an Accidental Public Speaker

And the best ways I have come up with to combat them

Amanda OBrien speaking at Social Media FTWOver the last few years I have had some amazing professional experiences. My work has let me use my skills, teaches me new things every day and I have met some great people. I even get to travel around and talk to people about the things I have learned. Sometimes they are small groups and sometimes large. The problem is… I am terrified of public speaking.

How did this happen to me?

There are people out there who love public speaking. They love it so much that they learn an industry, trade or skill just so they can teach it to other people. There are people who feel like public speaking is up there on the path to ‘making it’. I feel like it is a necessary piece of my position. I feel like if you can speak and genuinely help other people, than you should. If you are speaking just to speak, you may be doing everyone an injustice. I speak because I think I have to, not particularly because I want to.

Internet marketing, building websites and social media are interesting, complicated and ever changing topics. If I can take the content and practices that I have learned and can teach another business, that is good. If that knowledge helps your business and the next time you need any of our services, you think of me – even better.

From my first professional speaking gig to my most recent, they are all scary but I am positive I left the audience with information they can use and that they have not heard someplace else. I genuinely think I can help people, so that is why I speak about my industry.

Without further ado, here are the 3 worst parts of public speaking for me and how I try to keep that anxiety under control:

  1. Blacking out – We aren’t talking about one too many martinis at the Armory blacking out, I mean completely sober. What happens is I get really nervous up until the second I start talking and then I just go blank. The words come out, I can move around, show slides, even make jokes but I don’t remember any of it very well. I have seen recordings of me speaking and you can’t tell I am in that black out state, but I am. It is almost like it is an emotional blackout. I can’t be scared anymore, I can’t prepare anymore – all I can do is tell you what I came here to tell you.

    How I combat it – I don’t. I almost embrace it at this point. It is a calming feeling. The best thing you can do is know your stuff, like really know it. Know it so well that if something is wrong with the A/V you can STILL put on a good presentation without slides. Know your content so well that you could do it in your sleep. That way if you have your emotional blackout, you can still do your presentation on auto-pilot.
  2. Nerves and stomach cramps – I know I am not alone on this one. Before a speaking engagement your stomach can be so tied in knots that you feel like you are going to be sick (or you might actually get sick, that has happened to me before). The way I think of it is just that nervous energy is churning your stomach faster than it likes to be churned.

    How I fight back – Nervous is nervous. There isn’t a lot you can do to stop it. I think nervous is good, it means you care about doing a good job. I think the day I am not nervous is the day we may need to switch some things up. My attempts to fight back the angry stomach, I learned from physical activities. The torture practice of hot yoga has taught me a thing or two about panicking (it is hot in there, I am panicking). You want to focus on your breath. Deep, slow breaths in and out of your nose can really calm you down. Running has also taught me about foods and portions before you participate in your activity. It is better to eat something small than a huge meal. Give your body something it will take some effort to burn off like a protein over a mini-muffin. Lastly, drink lots of water – nature’s miracle drug. I have never, ever heard a public speaker complain on a large stage that they are hungry. Eat something small and when you are done and you calm down, you will be starving. I have also never seen a speaker fall asleep while speaking so maybe lay off the coffee a bit until you are done too.
  3. The word ‘um’ – Where did this toxic word come from? Um? It sounds so stupid. Why do we all say it? It is like being a drug addict. I can’t get rid of it no matter how hard I try. It is a pause in conversation, a sound we make when we are thinking or stalling or lost or for a million other things. We need a revolution! I hate saying it and I don’t realize I do until after if I have to watch a recording of myself.

    How I fight back the ‘um’ – I am still working on this one. I have tried punishing myself by making myself edit out all the ‘ums’ in recorded presentations. I have tried replacing it with other words or by taking a deep breath. Those only work a little. I have also found that the evil little utterance comes out more when I am overtired. Make sure you get get plenty of sleep before a speaking engagement to protect yourself from those little slips.

That is it! Those are MY biggest hurdles in public speaking. I think the more you realize the issues you have and make a plan to combat them, the better off you will be. So those are mine. How about you? Do you like public speaking? and what things trip you up along the way? What do you do to overcome those hurdles?

12 Replies to “One Girl’s Fear of Public Speaking”

  1. Thanks for sharing your personal story with the rest of the world. It just goes to show that regardless of the outward calm of any public speaker, there can be a lot of emotional turmoil going on not too far under the surface!

    Having had the privilege of hearing you speak many times, and benefiting from all the great content you have to convey to others, I want to tell you that I am probably not alone in being grateful that you haven’t let your fears stop you from speaking out loud!

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Thank you so, so much! I am only doing the best I can.
      Want to know what else was scary? Publishing this post… so thank you for the quick positive feedback! TOTALLY helped!

  2. THANK YOU for articulating what many people I encounter haven’t been able to express. When I work with my clients on public speaking THE MOST important thing I can express to them is, “Give yourself space to fail” I mean, be prepared, do your homework, trust you’ve done it, then give yourself space to mess up. No one is perfect, no one is expecting perfection and if you can just say to that inner critic, “Listen dude, take a break, I might mess up and I’m ok with it.” you will find yourself relaxing!

    Hope it helps and I’m always here to help in anyway I can!!

    1. Thank you darlin’! I like that ‘give yourself room to fail’ – I might use that (with full credit of course). I think you do such a great service and I refer people to look into an improv class all the time.

      I would rather listen to a smart person who acts like a human than a well rehearsed robot. We should all give ourselves a little break.

      Thanks again!

      1. Thanks for referring people!! You can send them to me for public speaking help, presentation help, interviewing skills and tons of other stuff Imma stop pitching on your blog. 😉

  3. I love that you do things that scare you! Having known you for a long time I can honestly say – look where it has gotten you! You are an amazing, inspiring, interesting woman and you being out there in the world makes it an incredibly better place!

  4. Amanda, you’re in great company. Many of the smartest people – the ones I most want to learn from – are uncomfortable speaking in front of people. In fact, I find the most polished speakers, the ones who like to hear themselves talk, usually have the least to offer.

    I’ve heard you speak many times. You’re engaging, entertaining and informative. You might have those fears that almost everyone else does, but they don’t detract from your message at all. Kudos to you for getting up there and doing it! I know I would have missed out on a lot of good information if you caved in and didn’t get up there.

    Thanks for sharing your tips, which I think may be helpful to many people. I especially like the part about knowing and caring about your material. That’s Amanda to a “T”.

    I don’t like public speaking either; I won’t volunteer to do it, but if asked, I usually will. I try to get through it by remembering that my audience WANTS me to do well. They’re impressed and thankful that someone else dares to get up there and talk. They’re inclined to approve of me. That works for me.

    1. Thank you Bob! And thank you for speaking publicly when I asked you to, you did a great job!

      I do think that your audience wants you to do well. They came for a reason; maybe to learn, maybe for your good looks, maybe because they had to for work. Whatever it is, it wasn’t ‘oh my goodness I can’t wait to go to this thing. I hope the speaker bombs’.

      Thanks again for your kind words and for all the good you do!

  5. So, so true about the Black Out. It’s the worst! I can feel it happening and trying like hell to override it doesn’t work. Sometimes it even happens while having an important conversation, and the second it’s over I can’t remember a thing that was discussed/told to me. So let me know if you find a fix. 🙂
    Oh and great job keeping up the blog!

  6. The presenter reaches the head of the room and takes a seat at a table in a way that people at the back barely can see and hear him, as he begin with a paper in his hand and with a soft monotone. You have to struggle to hardly understand the gist of his topic.long sentences,miserable metaphors filled with jargon. As time goes by, your resistance start to shrink and shrink till it vanishes then and only then, you fall asleep. Now, the question that we have to ask ourselves is whether we want our audiences to experience what is described above? Rather, what would you expect out of them when they live the miserable moment as our friend lived?

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