3 Ways to Eliminate Public Speaking Anxiety (and other kinds of social anxiety)

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My husband and I got married in our (very small) backyard, with forty of our closest friends and family. We wanted it small and intimate. The ceremony was co-created with our guests such that each was invited to bring a reading, item, book, reflection… anything they wanted (a joke began early about performing an interpretive dance but no one actually took that to fruition) while Jim and I had our vows and a few other readings we asked our officiant to share. We were all in a circle and people brought amazingly creative stories, readings and thoughts to the ceremony. It was beautiful and meaningful and I felt very connected and loved – both in relationship with my new husband and with our families that day. After we lingered with the very last guests, Jim and I ventured off to a nearby beautiful inn for our wedding night, peacefully exhausted.

Then, at 2am, I woke to the inevitable Post Party Syndrome (PPS).

Some of you are already nodding your heads. But for those of you who don't yet identify, this is the part after a party where you replay the event in strange and convoluted detail, wondering if you did and said all the right things (or worse – did or said anything horrific that you just didn't realize at the time.) It's a horrible feeling, PPS. If you've ever felt it, you also know its power. The most benign exchange suddenly appears laden with negative energy in this hazey replay. Did she look at me funny when I shared that story about the guy on the bus who handed her a suggestive note? Was she mad that I shared that in front of her new boyfriend? And – Oh no! I didn't thank Auntie Lola for her amazing chicken noodle dish! She must think I am so ungrateful!

Or maybe this doesn't happen to you.

In any case, presentations can be very similar for many of us. Stick with me here, I know it's a strange segue. But really there is an aspect of performance in both of these events. We get nervous about performing (as the center of attention at an event or in a public speaking engagement) for fear of being negatively judged. Most of us want to be liked, especially by people we like, but really by everyone (some of you will argue this, I'm good with that.) We up the risk of being rejected/negatively evaluated when we put ourselves into the spotlight. Of course, we increase the chance of being seen as a brightly shining star, too, but that's not what we focus on at 2am in the middle of PPS.

Post Party Syndrome was coined by my friend Kathleen ten years ago. It has been a handy concept since when I want to explain my overly long analysis of an event to my husband. This morning I realized that PPS can be applied to post presentation experiences as well.

I also realized this morning that I have actually discovered the KEY to eliminating both kinds of PPS.

Refuse to Replay.

Yep – it's that simple. Simply turn your mind's eye away from any replay events related to your “performance”.

I can tell you this with confidence because I spoke last night in front of a group of just over 100 women at The Network of Entrepreneurial Women here in Central Oregon. I co-presented with the very smart and charming Lynn Wenger of Webprodigy on using social media networking for business. The presentation went beautifully – I had so much fun (a really good indicator that it's going great), the audience was engaged with head-nodding, questions and laughter. I had a line of people who wanted to further the conversation with me afterward. See – this is good fun!

Then this morning, I started down the PPS road. Uh-oh, I don't remember actually reading the quote out loud that I had on that Facebook Page slide… Then somehow I stopped myself. I reminded myself that I had a GREAT time, the feedback was positive and engaged, and this nit-picking detail isn't going to help me. Certainly not right now, in the PPS danger zone period (at least 24 hours, maybe 48 hours after the event, I'm guessing.)

So, that's my number one tip if you have a tendency toward PPS :

Refuse to Replay the event for at least 24 hours – preferably 48 hours – after the event. Anytime visions of the event visit your mind's tv screen, gently set them aside – even if they appear to be fun memories at first. Sometimes this leads you from happy memories to worried ones. Just don't go there yet. You can most definitely revisit all the good feelings after your PPS danger period has passed.

And while I'm at it, here are two more things that I have found help eliminate PPS:

  1. Get Busy Maximizing the Outcome of the Event. Speaking is an extraordinary business building opportunity. It dramatically increases your expert-status, it allows you to connect with a whole room full of people and it increases your confidence (if you prepared well – which of course you did.) If you had conversations with people after your talk, connect with them via email the next day to share a thought you had since or to give them a resource you promised. This is good business, of course, but it also distracts you from PPS.
  2. When PPS creeps in, remind yourself that it's NOT about you – and move on. The opportunity to speak to a roomful of people is a gigantic privilege. The event coordinators as well as every person in that room is trusting you to provide real value for their time given. You work hard to put together information that will honor that trust, that's why you get asked to speak. So remember that this is what it's all about -being of service to the people in the room and giving them even more than they asked for. While it feels and looks like a performance, it really is about sharing and contributing. If you did your best at that, then feel fabulous about that. It's all about them, not you. That can be so reassuring. Now carry on with your day.