Ep #76: How I Deal with Speaking Anxiety - Michelle Barry Franco

In this week’s The Thought Leadership School Podcast episode, we’re diving into one of the most common topics among speakers: Speaking Anxiety.

As a speaking coach, I get asked by some people, what do I do with speaking anxiety? Others will ask, how do I know what I should talk about? How do I answer this particular kind of question? 

The truth is, all of these things are coming from often a state of anxiety, which leads to an inability to think clearly on stage. 

So if we as speakers can learn to deal with that anxiety, if there are ways to release it, then we can bring our best selves, our most expressive selves to the experience, and that's what we want. 

And in this episode, learning how to handle speaking anxiety is exactly what I want to help you do.  I hope you’ll tune in!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Hear my personal story of how I got started as a speaking coach and why being in the spotlight isn’t really what’s most important to me (the answer of what is will surprise you)
  • Learn the four things I do to help release speaking anxiety
  • Why the belly breath is one of my absolute favorite anxiety reduction strategies
  • How I use prayer to release speaking anxiety even though I’m not a church go-er
  • What to do if you feel like your speaking anxiety is actually debilitating

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to the Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you're on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I'm Michelle Barry Franco and I'm thrilled that you're here. Hello. Hello. My Thought Leadership friends, this might sound a little bit different today because I'm recording from another hotel room and every one of them is configured differently. So I'm always trying to find this little corner of space when I need to record. If I was super organized, of course I would get a bunch of podcasts recorded ahead of time. So I'm not doing this while I travel, but here we are and I am not going to miss a week with you. So if this sounds a little bit different, that's why I'm really looking forward to sharing with you some insights that I've had during this trip. So, you know, I take this monthly trip to Washington D.C. and I get to work with amazing authors who are releasing their books into the world.

Part of that exciting adventure is we get on the red carpet together, there's a live stream and they come up in front of the camera and they talk about their books often for the very first time publicly. You know, maybe they've been telling their friends and family about it or their clients, but this is the first time they need to figure out how to talk about their book in a way that's pretty concise, you know, ready for the media. It brings up a lot of feelings for many of them. As you know, I've mentioned this at various points that when I started doing this hosting gig that this was a new kind of speaking for me. So I have had a lot of opportunities over the last five months as I've been doing this to work with a lot of people at once who are experiencing speaking anxiety and work with a new and different kind of speaking anxiety for myself.

I'm excited to talk with you about some of the things that I've noticed that I do and ways that I advise the authors who are experiencing that. Not every single one of them is having that same experience, but the ones who are the way that I talk with them about it and it's really helped me see for myself what I do to deal with my own speaking anxiety. People ask me all the time as a speaking coach, whether I get speaking anxiety and the answer is yes, I do. We're going to talk more about that, but before we dive in, I want to remind you that I'd love to have you in our Thought Leadership School Community, so you will find a link in the show notes, but you can go to the thoughtleadershipschool.com/Facebook again, it has the word that thethoughtleadershipschool.com/Facebook that'll take you straight to our group.

We'd love to welcome you in. I share tips in there. I have Freedom Friday where we talk about how to feel the most freedom as you're out there sharing your expertise in your Thought Leadership on stages and everywhere. I cover some Q and A's questions that I get asked all the time and we're going to do some challenges and have some prizes and stuff coming up. So would love, love, love to have you there. The second piece of business I want to cover is if you enjoy this podcast, would you do me a huge favor and really a huge favor to anyone else out there who needs this kind of inspiration and guidance and support. If you do a review when there are more reviews, it brings this podcast higher up in the search. So if you go over and do a rating and a review, then more people will find us and I would greatly, greatly appreciate it.

Even more than that, I'd love to hear what's resonating for you so I can do more of it. All right, so let's dive in deeper on the topic of speaking anxiety because yes, it is absolutely one of the most common topics. It comes in a lot of different costumes. Some people will ask, what do I do with speaking anxiety? Some people will say, you know, how do I know what I should talk about? How do I answer this particular kind of question? But really all of those things are coming from often a state of anxiety, which leads to often this sort of like inability to think clearly. So if we can deal with that anxiety, if there are ways to release it, then we can bring our best selves, our most expressive selves to the experience, and that's what we want. That's what I want to help you do.

After all, I do this because I absolutely believe that self-expression is one of the most powerful paths to health and well being. Did you know that's why I do this story for a whole other time, but when people ask me, how did you become a speaking coach and what makes you want to be a speaking coach? I always feel like I have to give this long winding answer. Not exactly the best example of a person telling their own story, and I'm supposed to be a speaking coach, but the truth is it's never been about speaking for me. It's never been about the stage. It's definitely not about the spotlight. It's about self-expression. I absolutely know that some of us are called to share our stories and our expertise to change other people's lives. It's just this calling. We don't know why we got it, but I'd heard some more of these stories over the last week where different people told me, Oh, I've known since I was very young that I was going to be speaking.

I didn't even know what the topic was yet. It's so interesting. I absolutely know that this is a calling, and yet we also have human brains. We have human bodies, we have the human experience that is riding along, that's carrying forth this call and speaking anxiety for many, many of us is a normal and natural part of that. But it doesn't mean it's easy and it can actually get in the way of us realizing our dreams for impact and making a difference and growing a thriving business using speaking and Thought Leadership at the center. So I want to help you move through that by just talking about why did I actually do, what do I do when speaking anxiety rises up for me because I still even now decades later after having spoken many times in many, many different contexts, I still get very, very, very nervous.

Sometimes I have some specific memories of particular speaking events where I really, I mean I thought I might turn around and run one in particular that comes to my mind that really helped me articulate the four things I'm going to share with you that I do to help release. Speaking anxiety was a number of years ago. I think they had started my business. It was early in my business and I somehow came upon this job posting and you know if you are an entrepreneur, you may have experienced this. I've seen some head nodding when I've talked about this at live events that you know sometimes it feels so hard that you're like, I'm just going to get a job. Like a job feels easier even though you know exactly what you want to build and you can just imagine it. And see it and really want it to happen.

I was in one of those phases and at that particular moment I also saw a job posting for basically doing exactly what I love, teaching public speaking and communication courses for a training company.  When I looked it up, it looked like a really cool company. Alot of them I wouldn't necessarily want to work for, but this one looked really cool and so I went through a little bit of that in my head. Like, wow, you've created your own training program that people love, are you really gonna teach someone else's IP and all of that. Anyway, I got through all of that and decided, yes, I was going to apply for this job and there were a lot of other things going on in our life at that time and so it just felt simple in that moment. So I submitted my resume, was surprised and delighted to hear back from them and went through the interview process and I got to a final interview phase.

This was not a trivial process. I think it was the third or fourth time that I was talking with someone in this company and they wanted me to do a presentation, so this is what I do, right? It was a presentation about some aspect of communication, not about public speaking because it just felt too meta, which makes sense, right? They're like, we don't want you to come in and speak about public speaking, even though that's what I do all the time, by the way. I also had to go in and talk about something that was slightly different than what I normally talk about, but definitely within the communication realm. I've taught many communication courses in college and absolutely have expertise in those areas, even if I'm not teaching it as much. I was excited about this opportunity. I spent a good amount of time preparing my talk.

Luckily I know how to prepare a good talk. Then I started practicing and then I started refining and then I started practicing and refining and this is all good. This is what I also talk with clients about doing. But then I practice and refine some more and I practiced and refined some more and then it was like one o'clock in the morning and I'm still tweaking the presentation and that's when you know that there's something else going on here. When I just checked in with myself, I was experiencing just this overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety. I think I had put all kinds of, you know, if I can't get this job that am I really cut out to even run my own business. If I can't get someone else to see how good I am, how am I going to get clients over and over and over again.

Our brains are so fascinating. When I checked in, I could feel that my whole body was just zinging right. This thing with anxiety, so I at least had the awareness to stop tweaking, just land on where I was and start practicing from there so that at least I knew what I was going to go over the next day in the presentation. The next morning comes, I did not sleep hardly at all. Of course, I've done other presentations before and after this, but this one in my brain, my brain was saying, this is high stakes, this matters so much, so I'm losing sleep. All of that and I remember driving to this interview and just picturing myself pulling over at the next exit, going to a coffee shop, getting a coffee, kicking back, scrolling on social media and just totally bailing on the whole thing only because simply because the feelings in my body were so strong.

It really is incredible how our bodies can react and how that dynamic between the thoughts we're having in our head and the resultant, the feelings that come from that can just really hijack our whole experience. I did show up. I remember leaving a message from my best friend right before I went in saying, okay, I'm going in and, and then hearing one from her when I came out, which is such a gift, but I remember I took a belly breath, which is one of my favorite absolute favorite anxiety reduction strategies. If you want a simple one, learn to belly breathe, but that's not what I'm going to talk with you about because really there's sort of this process that I seem to go through kind of naturally and I want to offer it up to you so that the next time you have what your brain is telling you as a high stakes presentation, talk, online, offline, whatever it is that you can maybe check in on these different possible places where you can release some of that and feel some freedom.

The first thing that I noticed that I do is I normalize it and I noticed this as I was talking with some of the authors this week and with a couple clients last week that we're doing some pretty exciting speaking. One of the first things I do is tell myself and talk with clients. Yeah, that makes sense that you're feeling all of that. Our primal brain says danger, danger. You have a great possibility of being ousted from the tribe. If you stand up there, you express your ideas with conviction, passion. There's a chance that people aren't going to agree with you. And if they don't agree with you, they might kick you out of the tribe. And if they kick you out of the tribe, then you're gonna die, right? Therefore, public speaking can lead to death in your beautiful brain's assessment. It's a primal part of our brain that is always trying to protect us.

That's its job to just make sure we don't die. So yes, it's normal. It's a normal part of the human experience that we react this way when we're about to stand up and share our ideas with conviction and confidence. Now that doesn't mean every single person experiences that and we definitely don't experience it the same way. So it's not that you're not normal if that doesn't happen for you, and it doesn't always happen for me anymore. But if it's happening for you, the first thing is to really see that. Yeah, that makes sense. That's your brain's natural reaction. Your body's natural reaction to your brain having thoughts like, Oh, this is so scary. Basically we might die. Although it's not articulating it that way. The first thing is to normalize it. The second thing that I do is I open up through it. There's this moment of, Oh, where I realize, Oh, I'm having a lot of anxiety and then I think to myself, well of course you are.

You think this is high stakes. You think this matters like in a big, big deal way. Maybe there are people around you, by the way, telling you that it matters. This is high stakes. If we don't get this deal we're done for, you'll hear all kinds of things. But here's the truth. Really, really the truth. Nothing is that high stakes, just nothing is. It's just your brain's saying that because in the whole scheme of this beautiful lifetime, I promise you, whatever happens on that stage, it's gonna fall away to some other new experience to a whole new learning and a whole new phase of who knows? Maybe another awesome opportunity to deal with speaking anxiety. The point is, it's never as big of a deal as our brain is telling us that it is so normalizing at first. Then once I'm recognizing it, I go to that place inside my body.

This isn't like a strategy, it's more like noticing and I invite an opening. It's a little bit wordless. But if I were to put words around it, I would just say that it sounds like, okay, let's open up around that. I just open up through that anxiety and here's what happens. It just creates space. If you think of this big ball of dense anxiety in the center of your body and it might feel like a knot in your stomach, some people describe it that way. Well I guess the way I would describe this is think about if that not were something that you could bounce off of a wall or a hard surface and then it would kind of like splatter like shatter open, like a water drop that turns into a splash kind of thing. So it's not that it's all gone, it's that there's space between, so it doesn't feel like this heavy, solid, immovable thing right at the center of you where your expression is going to come from.

So I open up through it. And then the third thing that I noticed that I do, and I noticed this just tonight when I was getting ready to go on the red carpet, I do a little prayer. I would call it a prayer even though I'm not traditionally, you know, in the, I don't go to church and, but I love prayer and I love this idea of prayer. For me it's a moment or a couple of moments of concentrated but spacious but open. You know, there's a levity to it, but just like love and attention on, in this case I always think about who I'm there to serve, how can I be most present for this audience and what they need and want the reason that they came. So that's the third thing is I prayed to serve. You can think of this other ways you can think of it like, you know, I closed my eyes, spend a moment connecting in with the divine and offering up my intention to serve.

You can use whatever words you want, but there is a bit of a calling in a higher power. Something bigger than me because really that is what feels like fuels my greatest expression. I can plan and plan and plan exactly how I'm going to say something and it's always a little bit different. Even if it's the intonation of the way that I say what I plan to say. It always shows up differently at that moment. I really feel like it's a partnership with something that's greater than me. I don't know how to define it, I don't know what to call it, but it definitely feels like it's there. That's the third thing I do and that's a really beautiful moment and it does release a lot of that sense of tension. Then the fourth thing that I do is I release my attention from it entirely.

So now that it's gotten spacious and lighter, and when I say it, it almost is like a physical thing inside my body. This feeling of anxiety, but now that's lighter and more spacious. I have this opportunity, it really feels almost like a turning away, although there isn't a negative energy to it. There's a okay, we're all good now. Now let me move on from thinking about myself and doing this perfectly and what I'm going to say and how I can say it so that everyone will think it's awesome or whatever my brain is trying to tell me that I have to do because I've created all this spaciousness and levity. I'm able to just release my attention from it so that I can put my attention where it belongs, which is with this audience and with my desire to serve, which is back on the message that I'm here to share and all of that excitement that I have for the ways that I can help this audience change their lives.

Now I know that we all experienced speaking anxiety in different ways and I have worked with enough people way over a thousand people individually had conversations with them about their message, about their talks, and I know that there are that you may be someone who feels like your speaking anxiety is debilitating. Maybe you've even been told that you have an anxiety disorder and anxiety issue. Here's what I want to offer for you. If you're called to do this, then this is your invitation. This is your invitation to see how you can move through that.  I say this as someone who has been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and who has experienced, I once many years ago had a panic attack. I had a series of panic attacks, but one of them lasted three days where I couldn't get out of bed and absolutely couldn't go to work, couldn't talk to anybody.

I'll never forget those days. But I can also tell you, it never happened again. While I do experience anxiety, I would absolutely not say that I have an anxiety disorder. That's interesting because anxiety, quote unquote runs in my family. So again, quote unquote, we all have anxiety in my family. No, I know why that story runs through my family. Yet I have seen in my own life profoundly that we can have a lot of feelings rise up in our, we couldn't even have what feels like almost paralyzing feelings rise up in our body and we can still move through them. Especially when we recognize that every time we're having that kind of reaction, it is always 100% of the time a result of the thoughts that we're thinking and the cool thing is you don't have to know how to change those thoughts.

You don't have to go do a bunch of work on those thoughts. The more you see that it's a lot of thoughts that's causing that reaction in your body, the more you can look toward the place that's underneath those thoughts. The place that's beyond those thoughts and there's so much spaciousness there. There's so much more freedom to move, to turn your attention on, your desire to serve, to do all the things that I just talked with you about, to normalize the experience, to open up, to deliberately go into that feeling in your body and open up through it to do a little prayer or send some thoughts out into the universe with your intention to serve as you go up there to speak and finally to release your attention from this anxiety and move it where I know you want it to be, which is on sharing that message.

I know that if you're here, if you're still listening to this podcast, you were made for this. You were made for this, that call that you're feeling inside you to share your story and your expertise. That's your sign. You have been given that sign because you are meant to go out and change lives with your message. The rest of this that we're doing, dealing with the anxiety, moving through it, learning how to craft a talk, learning how to create a slide deck if that's going to be part of your message. All of that is just the work of it. It's just the work we get to do on our path to creating beautiful life, changing impact for others. It is such an honor for me to be on this journey with you. Thank you so much for being here with me today and sharing with me and this topic. I know this can be a touchy one. I want you to know I'm sending all kinds of love and care and I know that whatever's rising up in you, you can move through it and I can't wait to see you out there doing that. I'll be watching. Keep me posted and I'll see you here next week. Take a care

Thanks so much for being here with me on the thought leadership school podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book. Beyond applause, Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking at speaksoitmatters.com/free book.

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