Fear of Public Speaking/ Stagefright

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Growing fear of public speaking

March 2013

My job requires a fair bit of public speaking - not only to those within my organization, but also to the general public. The presentations that I have been asked to give range in scope and size - from small talks to colleagues to large conferences. The audiences also range from friendly co-workers to suspicious public officials to hostile members of the public.

While I have never been a strong public speaker, my unease has gotten much worse over the years into what has become a debilitating fear. The topics that I speak about are not unfamiliar to me and yet what used to be an uncomfortable hesitation towards giving these presentations seems to have escalated into an irrational fear that is starting to produce some pretty embarrassing results (including some very visible physical reactions). While I do whatever I can to get out of speaking, it is unfortunately a job requirement and impossible to avoid.

While I do believe I am a smart person who has always been able to succeed in my job (measured by positive performance reviews, ability to take on increasing responsibilities, and get promoted), my increasing fear of public speaking has started to hold me back and, I feel, will eventually stunt my job performance. Part of my problem is that I feel I don't have a strong ability to ad lib my way through a presentation - I'm not good with the spoken word. Thus my presentations have to be tightly scripted and, of course, time doesn't always permit this at a demanding job.

In the past I have taken a number of public speaking classes (mostly group classes offered at work) and Toastmasters, but to no avail.

My family and I have recently moved back to the Bay Area for my partner's job. I am still looking for work and have an opportunity now to try to remedy this problem. Does anyone have any recommendations on what I can do to not only get over this fear but also improve my public speaking skills??


Ask your doctor if he/she can prescribe a light dose of Ativan and propanol - anti anxiety and anti stage fright. It changed my life. I had the same issue and and now I eagerly speak with ease! It also has helped me gain confidence even when I haven't taken them because I now know the impact to others when I'm a confident speaker, if that makes any sense. S


I had terrible stage fright and fear of public speaking until I took some stand-up comedy classes that helped me get over it. You also laugh a lot so that helps ease the tension and it's probably a lot more fun than Toastmasters! comedian


Toastmasters! Anon


Go to your doctor and get a prescription for propranolol. Assuming you have no medical issues which would prevent you from taking this drug, it is way better than torturing yourself with anxiety and fear, trying to desensitize yourself by speaking regularly (at Toastmasters), etc.

I have always been on the shy/introverted side in some ways and public speaking was embarrassing because my voice would quiver and sometimes I would blank out on what I was going to say.

Fast forward a few years (thank you very much BPN!), I began taking a propranolol about 45 min before I would present. The quivering voice is 99% gone, and without having the fear and anxiety I found it was actually FUN to be presenting to groups of 50-100 people. And when I got pregnant and couldn't take propranolol, my voice did quiver a little bit but not nearly as bad because I knew that I COULD do it. And YOU can too! Good luck!


I know where you are coming from. I tried everything then finally got a prescription from a doctor for a beta blocker which has made all the difference (atenelol or propranorol). It literally took all the physical symptoms away so I could focus on what I needed to say. OF course, I don't take it every day, but just periodically when I have to give a public presentation. I hesitated getting the prescription because I didn't want to feel like I had given up but it really has worked wonders. And I have actually met a lot of professionals who use them too! I never knew... been there!


I used to teach a class on public speaking and am very familiar with your issue. So a few things. On the basic level, preparation helps. Preparing not only your speech with a few main points and several sub points, but the space in which you will be speaking,e.g. room set up and temperature, having all the stuff you need to support your presentation such as if you need a white board, water, a flip chart, and then wearing comfortable clothes and shoes, avoiding coffee or other drinks that can make your heart beat faster.

On another level, when you have a fear or discomfort about something, generally that means you're telling yourself how horrible the experience is likely to be. It becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Doing a bit of a mental exercise where you first imagine a different experience in which you felt, calm, comfortable and on top of your game, and really inserting yourself into the memory so you kind of relive it. Then from that feeling place, imagine doing the presentation and let it be fun and easy in your imagination. You will be training yourself to have a more positive experience the more times you practice that.

Hope this helps. Sydney


I so feel for you and could have written your post a few years ago. But I have two words for you: Beta Blockers. They really and truly work. Many performers take them, including professional musicians. In a nutshell, they take away all the physical manifestations of nervousness: pounding heart, sweating, shaking voice, etc. They will allow you to break the cycle of fear (which I so get - people who haven't suffered from ''fear of the fear'' will never understand that more practice or experience just won't help). You do need a Rx from your doctor, so make an appointment now! And best of luck to you. Nervous no longer! ------------------------------------------- Ever hear the expression ''Fake it 'til you make it''? I believe you should give Toastmasters another try and stick it out for the long haul. It might be a bumpy ride at first but the long term gains are oh so worth it. There is no better organization than Toastmasters and it's way cheaper than a therapist. Good luck. - RK


I have had the same problem, and it seems to be unusual. Most people say that their fear of public speaking has declined over time and with exposure, and I had a period when I was in my 20s where that was the case for me. But as I have gotten older my fear has grown and eventually turned into full-blown phobia, and I am certain that it has affected my career in at least some minor ways. I will be very interested to see what others have to say about this. One thing that seemed to help me at least a little bit for a little while was going to a hypnotist to try to address the issue. I really had never put much stock in hypnotism (or ''alternative'' treatments in general), but I do think it helped some. It didn't kill the problem, though, which came back over time and continued to grow and get worse. The only thing that works for me, frankly, is taking drugs. I do a combination of Ativan and Propranolol, and it works wonders. For many years I had no idea that there were drugs that would help. Turns out TONS of people take them, and doctors seem to have no problem prescribing them for that purpose. Many people are okay with just the Propranolol, but I need the cocktail. In any case, if you haven't gone that route, it is certainly worth a try. Best of luck to you with this! Fan of the Drugs


I appreciate your post about public speaking. You've probably heard that public speaking is feared more than death itself. It sounds crazy, but that's what people say.

To master public speaking, you need two things: "rewire" your brain, and to keep your heart open when you're in front of an audience. I'll explain, and I can offer a few suggestions.

Anxiety is a cycle that feeds on itself, often with roots buried deep in the past. It can come from an experience where we were embarrassed or ridiculed, or even overwhelmed with attention that was supposed to be positive. It might have been a "performance" situation, but in my experience it's often something that at first seems unrelated, like how we got praise or how we were corrected at home or school. For many people, the roots are in an adult performance that didn't go well...or didn't seem to go well. When you perform again, the worrisome memories come back to haunt you They generate thoughts thoughts like, "I'm going to blow it," "I don't belong here," "What if they don't like me," and so forth. To the fight-or-flight part of our brain, the situation looks dangerous. So your body gets ready to fight or flee, which means physical tension, shaking, increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and other symptoms. This reinforces the feelings and so on. Our brain tries to protect us with it's ability to detect danger. But when the brain overestimates danger, it also leaves us with high anxiety or even panic when we have to speak in public.

This isn't about being more prepared. If you're like most people, you know the material inside out, and could explain it to just about anyone in the comfort of your own home. And one other important truth: you aren't alone. Many people have significant performance anxiety, including people who perform for a living.

The path through is to work with your memory. First you want to pull out the memory or memories that fuel the anxiety. Then create a positive, empowering response. Lastly you integrate that response with the memory, and practice. It's not as mysterious as it sounds, but it does take some curiosity, thoughtfulness, and determination. A counselor specializing in performance anxiety can really help speed up the process.

When your brain is calm, you're more able to handle the difficult people, and more able to connect with the people who are interested. And you'll be a better speaker, because you'll have the focus and energy to attend to your message and the audience. Good luck Pat


Toastmasters. There's one near you. Toastmaster CC


I have worked with Paula Statman to get coached to speak on camera for a website video and to speak to groups. She has a background in counselling and she is very supportive. I have been in Toastmasters, but working with a coach one to one is very different. She emphasizes the positive qualities that I have, and to my surprise I was able to make that website video and speak with audiences. Sure, I still get nervous, but she helped equip me with skills that I use that give me more confidence. Paula is at 510-444-8721 or PaulaStatman [at] StandoutPresentations.net stu


I am sure that a bunch of other people will provide the same advice, but you should find and join a local Toastmasters chapter. Toastmasters is an amazing organization with the mission of helping people like you overcome their fear of public speaking. There are chapters everywhere, and it is reasonable to join. used to fear speaking too


Public-speaking coach who's good with fear

Sept 2008

I need a good presentation coach who can also help me cope with my intense fear of public speaking. I'd like help both with improving my presentation skills (for the sake of my audience), and with reducing my painful anxiety (for my own sake). Any recommendations? Shrinking Violet


Have you checked out Toastmasters? Like you, I struggle with extreme anxiety in group settings and just the thought of giving a presentation would leave me anxious for weeks. I joined Toastmasters about 6 months ago and what a difference ! This is a great organization. And, like us, most people join because they are terrified of public speaking. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. People are rooting for you! I mean it. Each speech you give is evaluated but with the utmost sincerity and the desire to help you succeed. There is no pressure. One thing I learned was that I have strengths when speaking (and I thought I had none). I noticed real growth when I gave a presentation at an international conference this year. Prior to Toastmasters, I would have been paralyzed with fear. But this time was different. Yes, I was anxious but only right before speaking. The presentation went well and I actually made contacts and enjoyed the conference. Toastmasters has allo! wed me to grow both personally and professionally. The cost is around $39 every 6 months. A bargain compared to a coach. And you get to meet a lot of great people. I highly recommend it. Go to www.toastmasters.org to find a meeting location. There are a lot of meetings out there and you can shop around until you find the right club for you. I am a member of the Walnut Creek Toastmasters (a great club meeting every Wednesday from 7-8pm). Stop by if you are in the area. Best of luck. You are not alone! - Rachael


Have you tried (or thought of trying) Toastmasters? I was part of the organization for several years, until I had my baby. It's an inexpensive way to get some practice speaking, for people who are all pretty kind and understanding and who also have to get up to speak. Try out a couple different meetings til you find one you like - I went to one on Thursday mornings at 7 am at Summit Hospital, but most of them meet in the evening.

Another option, but one that's much more expensive, would be to try a Dale Carnegie class. There's also a lot of support in those classes, and you learn a lot of relational stuff in addition to the speaking parts. They've got really great leaders for their classes.

Good luck and have fun! When I started in Toastmasters, I was very, very anxious before I got up to speak, and now I can get up and speak with not much nervousness at all. It took practice, and for a while I couldn't believe I would put myself through that again and again, but in the end I realized I had fun speaking in public! Talia


I highly recommend Sydney Barbara Metrick, PhD. as a public speaking coach. She teaches a class in the West Contra Costa Adult Eduction program called ''Public Speaking with Pizazz'', and she also works with people privately. She is both a certfiied hypnotherapist and expressive arts therapist and has lots of experience working with people with many different fears in a variety of ways. She is great to work with, and a very dynamic public speaker herself. She can help you develop confidence, and ''Pizzazz'' as a speaker. I found her to be very non-judgmental which makes it easy to work with her, and to build one's confidence. I used to be scared to death to stand up and speak in any group setting, but now feel totally strong and confident in any setting. I teach and give talks and lectures on a regular basis now. She can be reached at: 510 223 3882. Lori


For the poster who needs need a good presentation coach who can also help you cope with your intense fear of public speaking...you bet I have a recommendation for you: Anna Scott Anna [at] annascottconsulting.com 510-919-2254 www.annascottconsulting.com

You will love me for recommending her because you will love Anna! Anna uses body-based techniques with her highly compassionate coaching. She can help you break your own barriers and advance. jessica


Overcoming panic attacks when speaking in public

Oct 2007

I am looking for a safe place where I can get experience getting up and speaking in front of other people. I went to a Toastmasters in a couple different states and nobody there said anything to me and it seemed they are more interested in getting you to sign up and donate money; I didn't see much practice getting up and speaking. Plus they were very boring business types, nothing at all where I'm coming from. I am wondering if someone thinks I should find a communications class in a college or junior college, or if there are other resources.

A bit of background: I am a stutterer but in my early 20s had speech therapy which helped me learn how to control the stuttering nearly all the time. The therapy involved a lot of speaking on phones and in person to overcome my fears; it worked and I do both of these all the time at work and have done so for over 20 years. But I never learned to overcome my horrible freezing up, bottoming of self confidence, and panic attacks that occur when I have to get in front of others and talk, or get involved in group discussions, things like that. In addition to the feelings and fears described I feel I have nothing to contribute so who would want to listen to me? I fear getting shot down every time I open my mouth, which seems to always happen. This panic about speaking has had profound repercussions in my personal and professional life: I left an Ivy League graduate program because of these speech panic attacks -- the classes were full of very self confident young women who had no compunctions whatsoever about speaking up and I felt like I was substandard and did not belong there.

So I like to hope that if I could learn how to talk on the phone and interpersonally, I can learn how to speak up around other people, that it is a skill one can learn. I am living in Berkeley again (I switched to a distance program so I don't have to worry about speaking in front of other students or faculty, who grade on class participation). Any suggestions are most welcome. anonymous


Please, don't give up because of this. It will get better. when people used to tell me that, I would scoff at them. when i was in grad school (a phd program) i developed almost a social anxiety disorder about speaking up in class. It was horrible and it had a huge effect on what jobs I pursued (i went into research, not teaching). Well thru a few years of research, lo and behold I am now in a constant position of having to present my work. What works for me now? beta blockers aka Propanalol. They do nothing to affect your cognition, they just keep your parasympathetic nervous system (panic attacks) from happening. You still feel nervous, but you don't panic. After a few presentations taking beta blockers, you then realize that you can do this. That it isn't such a life or death thing. And what i realized was that what I was really panicking about was the panic itself.

talk to your doctor. Mine was very open to writing me a prescription to try a beta blocker. It has done wonders for my career. I now present every couple of months, and when some research needs to be presented, my boss asks me to present rather than him because he thinks I am better at it than he is. anon


Both Piedmont and West Contra County adult schools have public speaking classes. They are typically small and made up of all types of people. Each class has instruction and an opportunity to do a 2-3 minute speech before a video camera. You can then see and evaluate your self at the end of each session--a very helpful tool. Adult school classes are generally very affordable. adult ed advocate


Fear of public speaking/stagefright help?

Sept 2004

I am looking for recommendations for a class, seminar, or therapist (or all of the above) to help me cope with my paralyzing fear of public speaking. I am not looking to become a famous lecturer or anything. I just want to be able to stand in front of a group of parents at my school and give a talk, run a PTA meeting, give a toast at a wedding, and so on.

All my life I have avoided making speeches or giving presentations. It has held back my career and even hurt feelings (as when I was maid of honor for my best friend and couldn't bring myself to make a toast). I can't even read to class of young kids with out shaking, turning red, and freaking out. The funny thing is that in small groups and meetings, I am fine and outgoing. I told one person recently that I couldn't give a talk at a PTA meeting, and she absolutely refused to believe it because I am outgoing and seem very confident.

Does anyone know of any good ways to deal with this? I definitely need outside help, but searching for help so far has pulled up self-hypnosis and oddball self-help gurus. I really want to work through this with someone reputable. Lastly, has anyone ever tried beta blockers? Are they bad for your system? Thank you, Speechless


I think it's fairly common to be nervous and even fearful about public speaking. In my career, I had many occasions to speak in front of government regulators and members of the public about health risks. Not exactly a ''feel-good'' topic!

We started a Toastmasters group at our workplace to give us more practice with public speaking, and it really did get easier! Even fun! Toastmasters is an international organization with meetings all over the place. Their program is well organized and they have a ton of educational resources. You can check them out at http://www.toastmasters.org/ and think about joining a group, or forming one! Remember, everyone there has started out with the desire to become a better speaker and everyone can relate to the nervousness. It was actually a great team-building experience, since everyone really does encourage you and wants you to do your best. And everyone has had their share of mess-ups. Toastmasters actually teaches you how to deal with mess-ups and how to channel your nervousness into positive energy. I loved it! Hope you try it. Christina


Although I hesistate to push pharmaceuticals, here goes: as a singer with mild stage fright I've tried Beta Blockers, specifically Inderol (sometimes humorously referred to as ''End- it-All'') with good results. I don't really know the data on what it does to your system, but my parents are both professional musicians who have used it off and on throughout their careers with no obvious ill effects. You only use it when you need it (an hour to hour and a half before you go ''on stage''), so it's probably not too bad. It works wonderfully to give a sense of calm, takes away the shakes, and lets you do what needs to be done. One side-effect I've noticed is a slightly dry mouth sometimes, but keeping a bottle of water handy solves that.

Having said all that, I hope someone else gives a good recommendation for a coach or class, since learning confidence is probably what you're really looking for. Wishing you luck.


www.speakingcircles.com Speaking Circles, developed by the brilliant and funny Lee Glickstein, is a fabulous way to learn to love speaking to any size of group. You learn through gentle practice (no negative comments ever allowed) in front of small groups. One of Lee's principles is that the speaker starts by receiving. It's so easy to stay in presence. I now adore public speaking! Ann


I love Toastmasters. There are many clubs with a variety of meeting times and vibes in the East Bay. Toastmasters is designed to ease you into and teach you about public speaking and leadership in a friendly, very low cost and fun environment. It's one of my main non-mommy related outlets and I have really enjoyed it. I'm in the Oakland Hills club and would be happy to give you more info. The Toastmasters website lists all the clubs there are, I believe. Cheers, Lina


You might want to join a Toastmasters group. Here is a blurb from their website www.toastmasters.org. I was a member for a while and really learned a lot. Each club is different, so if don't like the first one you try, try another.

''At Toastmasters, members learn by speaking to groups and working with others in a supportive environment. A typical Toastmasters club is made up of 20 to 30 people who meet once a week for about an hour. Each meeting gives everyone an opportunity to practice:

Conducting meetings. Meetings usually begin with a short business session which helps members learn basic meeting procedures. Giving impromptu speeches. Members present one-to two-minute impromptu speeches on assigned topics. Presenting prepared speeches. Three or more members present speeches based on projects from the Toastmasters International Communication and Leadership Program manuals. Projects cover such topics as speech organization, voice, language, gestures, and persuasion. Offering constructive evaluation. Every prepared speaker is assigned an evaluator who points out speech strengths and offers suggestions for improvement.'' Helena


I can totally sympathize! Albany Gateview Toastmasters worked for me - really small group (maybe 5 people) and supportive environment. After a couple months I realized that the anxiety I had built up about it was really anxiety about failure and really had nothing to do with my ability to speak in public which is now quite solid. You're already on the road to overcoming this because you've taken the first step to ask for help. Good luck! Linda


One program worth considering is Speaking Circles. I attended a 1-day workshop and found it to be a very interesting approach, though I'm not yet sold on its usefulness for my particular needs. It might be a good place for you to start, as it's a very gentle program, nothing like Toastmasters. Check out the website to see if it's something that would appeal to you -- www.speakingcircles.com Good luck!


Toastmasters helped me quite a bit when I was in grad school and had to teach and make presentations. I think there are a couple of Toastmasters groups in the East Bay. If you Google ''Toastmasters'' you should be able to find their website. liz


How about an improv class? It's a really fun way to deal with stage fright. East Bay Improv teaches classes at the Albany Community Center. The beginning classes have lots of non- actors. It's a supportive environment where everyone else is in the same boat you are. http://www.eastbayimprov.com/ heather