Getting over the fear of public speaking with hypnotherapy

Giving a presentation, a best man’s speech or some other kind of public performance can strike terror into the hearts of so many of us. Even the most confident can baulk at being called on to speak in front of others. Sleepless nights beforehand, creativity in finding excuses not to speak and a sense of rising anxiety can all be part of this phenomenon. 

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The truth is that many jobs involve presenting. Further and higher education courses likewise. I have had clients come to me who have refused promotion, not applied for jobs and stopped university studies because of this requirement. This is devastating for the person concerned.

Clients will often report some or all of the following in relation to being called on to present:

  • palpitations
  • sweaty palms
  • forgetting what they want to say
  • fear of forgetting what they want to say
  • blushing
  • shaking voice
  • fear of being unfavourably judged
  • unpleasantness of ‘all eyes on me’
  • embarrassment
  • unfavourable self-judgement
  • strong desire to escape

The fight/flight response

Many of these are symptoms of what is known as the fight/flight response, a primitive biological mechanism designed to keep us safe by mobilising us to either stay and fight in the face of danger, or run away. In order to prepare us, the body secretes adrenaline. Adrenaline’s effect on the body is to cause the heart to pump more strongly. Blood is directed to the extremities to power up the limbs and directed away from the brain and the digestive system since you do not need to be digesting food or thinking rationally when you are facing danger. Muscles tense and the pupils dilate.

You can see from this description and the symptoms listed above that many people experience their bodies going into fight/flight mode when presenting. It is no wonder then that someone would feel so uncomfortable and unable to perform in the way they would like.

What causes this response?

I have found that often there has been some experience in the person’s past, very often in childhood and also very often at school, where the person experienced some kind of humiliation when expressing themselves. For example, being laughed at by classmates, criticised or even reprimanded by a teacher, forgetting their words in a school play production and so on.

Sometimes it is difficult for a person to accept that the source of their difficulty lies in the past. The truth is that the younger we are when we experience something upsetting or difficult, the less resources we had at that time to deal with it. Imagine for example being seven years old and your whole class laughing at you or mocking you. How would a seven year old respond to that experience? They would surely want to avoid getting into that situation again - ever.

We make some kind of assessment of ourselves and/or the world in relation to what we experience. If these experiences were painful, our response is often to protect ourselves from future similar events that might lead to us experiencing the same kind of pain. Unless this decision is uncovered and reframed in the light of our adult resources, this self-protection will move into action when we are in a similar situation. In effect, that younger you is there at the meeting or on the stage with you in current time feeling all it felt at the time of the original incident.

Healing the past

When we uncover an experience that has been painful, there are different ways of allaying the emotion associated with it that is still being triggered in the present. Sometimes, I will take the person back to that situation with all their adult resources. In this way, the client can reframe what happened and calm the old response that was occurring at the time. This is very powerful. Sometimes I will use what is known as the rewind technique where the client can view the event on a screen whilst being deeply relaxed and under my guidance, use a method to dissociate the emotion from that event.

You have what it takes

It is very important to do this kind of groundwork where it is indicated. During the consultation, I will also be learning from the client what resources they have that will be useful to them. This will depend on how the client tells me they want to be when they speak in public; the feelings they want to have and how they want to project themselves. Once I have identified these resources, I will, whilst the client is in a hypnotic state, amplify them and link them through hypnotic suggestion to the activity of public speaking. 

I will then give the client the experience of hypnotically imagining themselves with these resources in a future speaking situation acting and feeling in the way they want and importantly, minus the excess fear. This can be an amazing and new experience for the client.

It is important to note that there are those amongst us who simply do not want to be in the spotlight that speaking in front of an audience demands. There are those amongst us who are simply more reserved and reluctant for this reason. In this kind of situation, harnessing of resources and using the imagination as described above is extremely helpful.

Getting practice

As is practice. I will often suggest to clients in addition to the work we do together that they join a public speaking group such as Toastmasters. There you start by working through a manual that focuses on different aspects of giving a talk, there are opportunities for impromptu speaking and you receive feedback in a constructive, supportive way.

Sometimes a person is only called upon to give a presentation now and again. Little experience of it can heighten any nervousness. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more comfortable you feel.

Enjoy public speaking

There is no doubt that for some people, the opportunity to express themselves in front of an audience is a desirable and enjoyable one. Most of us have to work towards it. There are though many benefits to putting yourself out there in this way. I would even dare to suggest that public speaking can be exhilarating!

It is an opportunity to express who you are in many ways, whether it is your competence at work, your creativity in crafting a best man’s speech, participating in a play or your thoughts and analysis in your seminar presentation at university. 

There is the feeling of a job well done when you receive positive feedback. Imagine knowing you have positively affected others! Imagine knowing that what you said was appreciated, that you engaged others‘ attention. Imagine impressing others to the extent that you are invited to speak again. Getting to grips with public speaking can be a great confidence booster. For some of course, getting to grips with public speaking is a necessary part of career advancement.

Conclusion

Fear associated with public speaking is shared by many even cited as being feared more than death. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can become so much more comfortable with it and experience the benefits to both your working and personal lives.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London SW11 & SE1
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Written by Catherine Chadwick, PDCHyp. GHRRegd. London, SW4, SW11,SE1. Hypnotherapy/IEMT
London SW11 & SE1

Catherine Chadwick PDCHyp. GHRRegd. is a Hypnotherapist and Practitioner of Integral Eye Movement Therapy based in southwest London, London Bridge and online. She also loves performing, currently as a member of a storytelling group. She is a former member of Toastmasters International and past President of one of their London clubs.

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