I’ve lived my life on stage.

Ever since I was a kid I have felt most at home, free, and calm while I’ve been on stage and I’ve been lucky enough to make my living doing it.

About 10 years ago I was asked to speak at an event about my life as a performing and why the human voice is the most beautiful, flexible, and elegant instrument a human being can have as a communicator.

So you’d think that because I make a living performing that I would have no problem getting up on stage and talking… but I was bricking it!

The reason I was freaking out is because it was ME up there on stage, not me playing a character.  What if I made a fool of myself? What if I discovered that I wasn’t any good at speaking?  What if I wasn’t enough as ME?

I had a serious panic attack on stage about 12 years ago that knocked me sideways for years.  But today, I look forward to speeches, even the really big ones that would terrify almost anyone.

My secret? I’ve wired my brain to believe that even the scariest, high-pressure event will go well and that I will thoroughly enjoy it.  I can’t wait to get out there and share what I know because I come from a place of what I can give, not what I can get.

The anxiety still flares sometimes, but I know what to do when it does.

Here are some of my most effective pre-public speaking brain-training strategies:


#1  Remind your brain of positive past experiences.

Can you think of a public speaking circumstance when you spoke in front of others, and it went well?  This could be a formal speech, a meeting, or even someone’s birthday party.

Close your eyes, and revisit the moment. Use as many of your senses as you can. This will help your brain connect with and retain the truth of this positive memory. Feel how it felt to stand in front of an appreciative group. See their smiling faces and other details. Remember any smells that may have been characteristic of the space. Hear the sound of your voice, and their laughter or applause at the end.

Soak it all in, with your eyes still closed. Take a deep breath, remembering how good it felt. Really savor it. In my experience, re-visualization of past positive events reminds me (and my anxious brain) that the odds are high that the next event will go well, too.


#2  Imagine the presentation as a joyful, rewarding success.

Do the same type of visualization for any event you’re feeling apprehensive about or really want to succeed at. Feel yourself on stage or at the podium. Feel and see the outfit that you’re wearing. Feel the lights warming your upturned smiling face. Feel your smile and your joy at connecting with the crowd.

Hear them responding to you, laughing at your joke. Hear their applause. See their smiling, nodding faces. Imagine what this space smells like, too. Again, feel how good it feels to be an effective communicator, to enjoy standing up and sharing something important with people.

Your brain can’t always tell the difference between visualization and reality, so to your mind it will be like this “success” has already happened. When the actual event comes along in real life, your brain is already trained to expect to succeed, enjoy it, and do your best.


#3  Write down your reasons for doing the presentation

Remind yourself why this public speaking  occasion is good for you and your life but more importantly, good for the audience. Why were you asked to do it? What positive impact might you have? How does this opportunity align with your values and your goals for your life?  What is the audience going to take away that will benefit them?

Remind yourself regularly of these aspects. Your positive motivations and the potential benefits can overshadow any anxiety-based regrets you may have about agreeing to speak.


#4  Remind yourself that nerves enhance performance.

To a certain degree, it’s good to be nervous. It’s well-established that our highest performance only happens with a certain amount of nervous system arousal.

Nerves are just energy that hasn’t found a home yet.  Nervous energy just needs a nudge in the right direction and clear instruction where to go and how to focus.  Rethinking what nerves are is key.

Virtually everyone feels nervous before stepping on stage or getting up in front of a group of people. Remind yourself that those nerves and adrenaline give you an edge that can sharpen your mind and body, making your delivery more powerful and effective. I swear it can make jokes funnier, too.


#5  Remember: Thinking about doing it is far worse than actually doing it

Despite my long history of being anxious before public speaking, the speeches virtually always go well. I have tons of proof that I give people something that will enhance their lives and help them get the results they want from their own speaking.

Collect memories and examples of times when you were really nervous, but everything went just fine. When you’re tempted to twist yourself up in knots pre-presentation, remind yourself of those experiences.

Your anxiety doesn’t predict the future. You’re going to be just fine. Odds are, you’ll even be great.

Ready?  And breathe….

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