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?