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Counselling 4 Anxiety

Online and in-person Counsellor in Knightsbridge, Marylebone, Marble Arch & Central London

First for Care, Counselling & Community

Standing in Front of People – Feeling Shame Whilst Public Speaking and Giving Speeches

You Can Overcome Your Fears for A Better Professional Future

As someone who has made numerous public speeches in front of ministers and government officials, I am aware of how stressful they can be. I have given over a hundred professional speeches in my working career, whether in government departments, the European Parliament, or the British Parliament in front of elected Parliamentarians.

My therapy work with hundreds of people with high-stress levels, recurrent anxiety, phobias and fears has focussed on the root causes of their fears, countering the cognitions or thoughts related to them, helping them to reclaim their sense of self-confidence and learn techniques that they can use to manage their stress and anxiety.

Yet, working with people who have to give presentations and speeches, there is something that comes through time and time again. The issue of shame when giving public speeches and when standing in front of a podium.

The perception that someone with a fear of public speaking will end up being shamed is a factor that causes significant distress, especially when giving public presentations or speeches is part of their work and where he or she cannot get away from undertaking them.

The shame feels overwhelming, all-encompassing, even catastrophic and it is easy to reflect on other barriers that people may impose on themselves when they ruminate about this. It seems as though, the more they think about public speaking, the greater their anxiety and stress feel and it starts to become a cycle of fear that feeds itself. How many of you have been through and felt this cycle of fear when thinking about public speaking?

For example, the shame may be related to being unable to speak through ‘stage fright’, or the mind going ‘blank’, or the individual forgetting their lines and just freezing. The ‘freeze’ reaction is associated with the ‘fight or flight’ reaction which is associated with a tiny almond-shaped structure in the centre of the brain called the amygdala. A stressful event, (like giving a speech in front of tens of people), can strongly activate the amygdala. Anyone giving a speech will have their amygdala triggered, but it is the degree of the stimulus-response from this triggering that is the key. The greater the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, (the accelerator), associated with the fear of giving the speech, the greater the chance of an avoidance reaction by either avoiding giving the speech or ‘freezing’ when giving the speech. Most people in this situation, simply turn to what is called an avoidance reaction; they give an excuse to try and get out of the public speaking event.

So, the key to working through this is reducing the stress response in people who have to undertake a public speaking event. In other words, I assist them in reframing their perceptions, whilst using techniques that can reduce anxiety and stress whilst stimulating their parasympathetic nervous system, (the brake in their nervous system).

Avoidance Behaviours by People Who Fear Public Speaking or Giving Speeches

I remember working with John (abpve) who had been 3 years into his career and dream job after leaving university. A bright, committed, and hard-working young man, he felt that he was not progressing very far at work since he did not put himself forward to give presentations. These presentations and public speeches were very much part of his work and engagement with members of the public.

His unwillingness to put himself forward had been noticed by his managers and had even been mentioned in appraisals of his work. His fear made him feel professionally stagnant. At one point it was also going to make him professionally redundant!

When John approached me for help, his self-esteem and confidence were low and he genuinely did not want to make up any more excuses at work. He had had enough, and his friend had suggested that he approach a therapist who could use hypnotherapy since he heard it could work. During the initial consultation session, John told me about the types of avoidance activities he had undertaken.

Avoidance activities simply reinforce and strengthen fearful thoughts and they continue to give strength and oxygen to the fears. In other words, avoidance keeps the fears alive and well.

At the core of this phobia, fear and shame wrap themselves into and around the activities of giving public presentations or speeches. This leads some people to carry out avoidance activities and John’s avoidance activities included:

  • Backing out of giving work-based presentations or giving speeches. John was also tired of telling stories and untruths that he felt very uncomfortable about,

  • Staying back and remaining unheard if he worked in group presentations. The less publicly visible he was, the better he felt,
  • ‘Calling in sick’ on days when he was part of group work presentations,

  • Deferring presentations with colleagues and sending them by e-mail to colleagues instead

How Do I Work to Reduce Fears Around Public Speaking or Giving a Speech?

I work with clients who need to give public presentations or speeches to large crowds in several ways. These include:

  • Assessing the roots of the fear around public speaking or speech giving,
  • Changing the internal negative narrative that people say to themselves when they need to give a speech, to one which builds on their courage, skills and abilities.
  • Working with them to weaken the thoughts or cognitions that underpin their fears around public speaking or speech giving,
  • Supporting their sense of self-confidence in overcoming stressful events and building their resilience,
  • Helping them to practice tools that can stimulate their parasympathetic nervous system, which can help them to reduce their stress and anxiety levels,
  • Helping them to introduce positive perspectives and visualizations when they give their speech, instead of repeatedly thinking about a negative outcome when they stand at the podium,
  • Developing a graded exposure plan that ensures that they can work towards giving the public presentation or speech.
  • Maintaining personal motivation and ensuring emotional support going forward to the day of the speech or public presentation.

Get in Touch

Feel free to contact me via the form below or on 0208 906 6877 if you have any questions about how therapy works, or to arrange an initial assessment appointment.

All enquires are usually answered within 24 hours, and all contact is strictly confidential and uses secure phone and email services.

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