What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
CBT involves a number of techniques which focus on what we think and how we behave, because this influences how we feel.
For example, if we hear a fire alarm and think it’s just an alarm being tested, we’ll feel fine. But if we think it’s a fire, we panic.
By identifying and challenging anxiety-provoking thoughts, we can change how we feel.
Why do we get anxious when faced with public speaking?
Faced with any task, in this case public speaking, we need to make a prediction as to how challenging it will be, so that we can prepare. If we predict danger, disaster or disgrace then our anxiety will increase. If we predict success then the level of anxiety will reduce.
What can we do to help ourselves?
If we predict that we will feel anxious then we can plan how we’ll deal with it. The glass of water next to most lecterns is an admission that most people would feel anxious in that situation.
One of the first things to focus on is our breathing. When we become anxious our muscles become tense and this can lead us to hyperventilate. This may lead to a reduced level of carbon dioxide in our blood which will cause symptoms such as dizziness, tingling, numbness and a racing heart.
When making a speech if we pause occasionally and take such a breath it will help to settle some of our anxiety.
We can reduce these symptoms by having a loose chest. To achieve this take a big breath in and then breathe out as much as you can.
The speed we do this does not matter nor does it matter whether we breathe through our nose or mouth.
When making a speech, if we pause occasionally and take such a breath it will help to settle some of our anxiety.
We can become agitated, a similar feeling to anxiety, when doing things we say we don’t want to do or being somewhere we say we don’t want to be. If I’m giving a talk to 500 people, then I tell myself that that’s exactly what I want to be doing at that moment and that there is nowhere on the planet that I would rather be.
Remember that everybody gets anxious, no matter who they are. We make the assumption that we’re the only person who ever gets nervous and the only one that struggles. This is not the case.
What else can we do to prepare?
Think about your target and not what people are thinking about you. What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to get information over, entertain or persuade? If you worry about what people think of you it will distract you from your target.
Worrying about how you feel will only make you feel worse. You may feel great or you may feel terrible, tell yourself that it doesn’t matter. If you can accept this then you can just get on with the only important thing – your speech!
A good technique is to stretch like a cat stretches when it wakes up! This creates a brief period of tension which, when released, can allow some relaxation.
What about relaxation?
Being relaxed is great, but trying to relax can make you tense up. A good technique is to stretch like a cat stretches when it wakes up! This creates a brief period of tension which, when released, can allow some relaxation. It’s easy to do, only takes a second and works well.
However, doing this during your speech may not give the best impression, so it can be modified.
At the very least, occasionally check that your hands are loose. Checking your fist or holding anything tightly can affect your breathing and increase your anxiety, so allow your grip to slacken.
What are some pitfalls?
Trying to impress or trying to feel calm won’t help, as this often has the reverse effect. Don’t try and be perfect – it’s okay to make mistakes.
Top Tips on Anxiety:
*Tell yourself that you want to be doing it.
*Try not to worry what the audience thinks of you
*Don’t try too hard to relax – stretching and breathing can help
By Colin Blowers