Overcome Fear of…
Public Speaking By TIFFANY WHITE
I CAN’T REMEMBER A TIME I WASN’T AFRAID TO SPEAK IN FRONT OF A CROWD OF PEOPLE, DESPITE BEING IN A COMMUNICATIONS JOB. Some of my public speaking experiences have been good, while others made me wish I could disappear in a cloud of smoke. Public speaking coach Kate Bringardner offered me a few pointers on calming my nerves and managing my inner turmoil before the next big speech. Kate owns The Speaker’s Studio in Butchertown, where she gives people a newfound confidence in their public speaking skills. “They come to me with the what and the why, and I give them the how,” she says. She started our session by asking me a series of questions about my feelings and experiences concerning public speaking. I answered such questions as “What was your best and worst public speaking experience?” and “On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your emotions when you know you’ll be speaking at an event?” After the evaluation, she asked me to change into Tiffany White and Kate Bringardner after their some comfortable clothes and take off my shoes. We session. moved our session into a small room where there were two whiteboards. On one of them, she wrote down the areas of public speaking I wanted to improve. Then she asked me to think about all the negative thoughts I have right after I’ve agreed to speak at an event. She wrote these thoughts on the left side of the other whiteboard. Next, she asked me to tell her what my close friends and family would say to alleviate my fears. I told her they would say, “You’ll do well,” or “Don’t worry about it... everything will be fine.” She wrote these comments on the right side of the whiteboard. This was a comforting exercise for me because Kate showed me that much of my anxiety about public speaking was in my mind. She also showed me how one of the best ways I could release the tension was through breathing. “You can’t have a strong voice without a strong breath,” Kate says. “Breathing is a very personal thing because it is your spirit. In essence, it is you coming alive.” I didn’t realize something as simple as breathing could be the gatekeeper between my words and me until I tried a couple of her breathing exercises. For the first exercise, Kate had me lie down on an area rug and place one hand on my chest and the other hand right below my belly button near my diaphragm. While breathing in and out through my mouth, I was asked to focus on making only the upper portion of my body move. Then, I would redirect my breathing and movement to the lower part of my body. The goal, Kate says, was for me to become aware of my breathing and understand how my body reacts. “It’s about bringing awareness to the fact that we have different breaths and recognizing where they live,” she says. In the second exercise, I directed my breathing onto objects in the room. I would look at different items and imagine seeing my breath moving around them. You can do this exercise anytime and anywhere. Do it in your office, the bathroom, or right before you approach the podium to speak. Although this was an abbreviated session, I felt like Kate gave me some useful tools for enhancing my public speaking skills and reducing the stress. Right before we parted, she told me, “You’ve got this,” and I thought to myself, “I do.”
IN THE FEAR
erhaps you are going through an experience like this — an injury, illness, grief, divorce, unemployment, death, or a new venture with an unknown future. In these more distressing experiences, we feel a great pressure to be done with it.
We desperately want to know how it turns out. We want to get it over with; we want to be rid of the anxiety and pain. We want to get to the other side as quickly as possible. It takes strength to face life as it comes, step by step just as it takes patience to accept that some things in life cannot be hurried along. It takes courage to be
emotionally present to our experiences so that they can touch us, shape us, and enrich us. If we can, then we not only get through our experiences, but we get something meaningful from them. I will always treasure the memory of one of my dearest friends who courageously faced an extended and ultimately terminal illness. She taped a note to her computer and looked at it every day, week after week, month after month, as she faced the rollercoaster ride of battling cancer. With a nod to psychologist Ram Dass, the note said, “Be here now.” We can try to get around life. We can try to take a shortcut around the pain. We can try to circumvent the difficulties. But
we can’t actually avoid the journey. If we try to do so, then the shortcutting itself becomes the journey. And that is what we will most regret. Through our days — and at the end of our days — we do well to be guided by my friend’s motto. Be here now. Dr. Jennifer Kunst is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified psychoanalyst in private practice in Pasadena, Calif. She recently wrote Wisdom from the Couch: Knowing and Growing Yourself from the Inside Out.