Public Speaking Anxiety – Glossophobia

Fear is excitement without breath.
Robert Heller

Public Speaking Anxiety is different for everyone and so are the solutions.  If you are someone who is debilitated by PSA, make sure you seek professional help. Whilst doing that keep trying different things – just keep looking, be proactive in finding your solution. Sometimes its the smallest things that make a difference – read my story on DK below.

Kelly McGonigal

Hans Selye said that it’s not stress that kills us its our response to it. Kelly’s talk continues this finding identifying new research suggesting ” that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case”. In this talk Kelly urges us to “see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.” So don’t think of your nervous as a bad thing, think of them helping you to perform better.

Susan David

Susan’s TED talk just starts to scratch the surface on a life changing mindset she has called Emotional Agility. Everyone will take something different from this talk that will help them with their anxiety. For me it is understanding that emotions are data not directives.

Amy Cuddy

Imagine a football team running onto the field without a care in the world, you can hear the commentators say  they have lost the game before they start! Our body posture, gestures, the way move and voice all have an impact on our presentation.  ” Amy Cuddy argues that “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can boost feelings of confidence, and might have an impact on our chances for success.”

Megan Washington

Meg is unashamedly a stutterer. In this TED talk she speaks about how she handles the infliction that causes her to ” live in mortal dread of public speaking.” So rather than trying to totally eradicate the fear she has work arounds like the loop hole method of using speech. Dr Rob McNeilly once told a story of a man who wore a pair of Superman boxer shorts when he was presenting in order to give him confidence. Whatever works!

Case Studies


DK was a participant on one of my Presenting without Fear programs. They were seeing a psychologist and had fainted, vomited and walked off while presenting, so to attend the PWF program was not a decision they took lightly.

DK attended the program, seemed to cope well in a safe environment and returned to work the following day.

A couple of weeks later we caught up and chatted about how the presenting was going. Doing ok they said – I’ve moved from about a -10/+10 to 5/10. I was pumped and was eager to know what I had done to achieve such a remarkable result.

It turns out it was nothing I had done in the program, but a comment I had made at the morning break which was a light bulb moment.

I was telling a story about someone who had told me that before they present they tell themselves they are as smart as or smarter than everyone else in the room. That was it. A simple comment that had a huge impact.

The Bigger Picture

A participant on a presentation skills program was very distracting to the other participants and this went on all day. I knew them previously so asked them directly at the end of the day what was going on. We started a conversation and she said that her head was a real mess as a result of a conversation with her boss. She described what she was thinking as absolute spaghetti, thoughts intertwined, all looking the same with no beginning, middle or end in sight. She came back the next day and I was keen to find out whether she had resolved anything. She said on her way home that she was reflecting on what she had said in our conversation and had managed to separate out the spaghetti and organise it in way that made sense and was much more focused for the second day.

The lessons here are numerous, but the main lesson is that if we are feeling anxious about a presentation then talk to someone about it. The mere process of talking can sometimes help immensely. Have a listen to Kelly McGonigal‘s talk about the benefits of being social when we are stressed. This works the other way as well, if you see someone who is anxious, make time to listen to them.


Heart Rate Variability is a measure of the state of our autonomic nervous system. It gives insight into many bodily functions, but for us it’s gives an insight into how we are feeling, our state.

A lot of sport watches, smart phones and apple watches use HRV to measure recovery and to tell you whether you are stressed or not. They do this by measuring the time between the beats not the heart rate itself.

Our goal in using HRV as a feedback tool is to understand how we can bring our ANS into balance, so we can start to control the amount of adrenaline pumping around our body which is putting us into survival mode, a state of flight, fight or freeze.

The only thing our ANS doesnt have total control over is our breathing. So as our heart rate starts to pump adrenaline around our body we can slow this down by simply controlling our breathing. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 and breath out for 4. Repeat this for about 5 – 10 minutes. If you have a HRV smart phone app which displays your heart rate, you will start to see the trace move from eratic to smooth.

Practice this often when you are not stressed and then when a presentation is looming and should start to feel a bit more in control.

Visit the HRV academy if you want to know more.

Yerke Dodson
(Diamond et al. 2007 p. 3)

The Yerkes Dodson law illustrates that as our arousal increases, for example an increase in adrenaline, so does our performance – but only to a point. After that point, as more adrenaline kicks in, our performance starts to decline. So our job is to manage our state by being aware of metrics such as HRV discussed previously and also practice some of the ten techniques highlighted below in order to prevent us tipping over into the right hand side of the curve.

Image Reference: Diamond, DM, Campbell, AM, Park, CR, Halonen, J & Zoladz, PR 2007, ‘The Temporal Dynamics Model of Emotional Memory Processing: A Synthesis on the Neurobiological Basis of Stress-Induced Amnesia, Flashbulb and Traumatic Memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law’, Neural Plasticity, vol. 2007, no. 2007

Ten Things

There are hundreds of things you can do to help with reducing PSA and as I have said above you have to keep trying until you find the ones that works for you. Develop a Personalised Stress Prevention Plan that may involve some of the following.

  1. Breath. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 breath out for 4. Do this every day if you can. And yes there’s an app for that: paced breathing or breath pacer
  2. Practice Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi
  3. Visualisation and Guided Imagery Techniques
  4. Positive self talk
  5. Understand E+R=O
  6. Nurture yourself: eat well, drink less alcohol, exercise.
  7. Be aware of what you can and can’t control
  8. Tell someone – social support
  9. Massage
  10. Hypnosis