Public Speaking Tips for the Socially Anxious 

This is the longest and least funny of all my posts, but I felt led to share because my dread and avoidance of public speaking held me back socially and professionally for a depressingly long time. I ruled out entire jobs or career tracks if they involved talking to groups of people in any sort of formal way. In undergrad, on the first day of the semester, I would excuse myself to use the restroom so I wouldn’t have to introduce myself to the class. I would have a sick feeling in my tums for weeks leading up to a presentation, and when the time finally came I would just mumble through it as quickly as possible. Finally when I realized I *had* to go to grad school, and in grad school I would *have* to present stuff pretty often, I began to not just suffer through presentations or talks, but actually try to be good at them. It has been a long road full of embarrassing stumbles and inappropriate sweating, but now I’m not bad and kind of enjoy speaking in front of people. So, for those of you who would rather burn off your left pinky toe than speak in front of people, here is some advice from a former public speaking coward just like you

 Care about what you’re saying more than what people think about you When you focus on the best way to convey the info you’re presenting, you stop worrying as much about what you look and sound like. Sometimes it helps to take a step back from your talk and think about what you would want to hear someone else cover if they were giving the same talk. It’s not about you, it’s about the info.

Love your audience, even when they’re ru-ru Empathize with what it’s like to sit and be confused by a rambling speaker. Remember how bored you’ve been, and how it never made you hate or disrespect the speaker. Not once, but *twice* someone has fallen into a deep slumber during one of my presentations. One was an undergrad, but the other was the most prestigious faculty member in my grad program. I won’t lie, it actually made me laugh out loud. Some of the feedback on my talk was, “not sure why Alzheimer’s Disease is funny..” I also had a few sorority girls who used to mean-mug me whenever I taught. I highly recommend that you make a decision to think that sort of stuff is hilarious instead of intimidating, and carry on like your BFFs with everyone in the audience.

Don’t look at people who make you nervous There are some people – my own advisor, actually – who I *cannot* look at while I talk. Some people’s “listening faces” just come across distractingly grumpy, disdainful, bored, angry, etc. Don’t be derailed by accidental RBFs! I suggest looking for those 2-3 ppl who smile bravely and pleasantly throughout your talk, and talk to them.

Don’t plan to be funny This may shock those of you who know my jocular nature, but I **never** plan to crack up my audience. I’m not saying don’t use humor – but 1) if you plan for humor and get very nervous, it usually falls flat and makes you all the more uncomfortable and 2) it’s usually funnier if it’s genuinely in the moment. Trust me – nothing will give your audience the squirmies more than feeling vicarious embarrassment for you after a failed joke.

Practice saying your talk out loud, especially transitions This is an absolute must for me. Even if I can see an image, concept, or info very clearly in my own head (I often organize info in my head as a flow chart, vin diagram, or some other spatial organization), when I start to say it out loud, sometimes I realize it’s *really* difficult to communicate what’s in my head to any human being. One of my sisters is the best at Gallociphering, but most people are lost. So even if you have a great PowerPoint presentation and it all makes sense in your own head, take an hour or two to actually say your talk or presentation out loud. It’s best if you have a friend willing to subject themselves to the torture of listening to your practice. But, it can also work to give your talk to the mirror, or record it on your phone so it you have a bit more pressure to keep from lapsing into “saying” it in your own head. I’m also strangely sensitive to the feel of a room – fluorescent lighting and the smells in nasty old rooms nauseate me when I’m already nervous. So, if possible, try to practice in the same room that you’ll be speaking in. Or at the very least, take a peak and know what the set up will be like.

Don’t write out word for word notes  If you don’t have enough time to go through your entire talk, practice saying transitions and main points out loud. What your audience needs the most help with is getting the “take-aways” and drawing the connections between the info you’re presenting. Everyone has to figure out what works best for them, but I’ve found my talks go best when I memorize main points, transitions between slides, and the most complicated or technical concepts and details in my talk. But for the “filler” stuff in your talk, I would leave a little flexibility for yourself to improvise to a certain degree, so you’re not woodenly reading off a script. How much flexibility you give yourself will need to scale with your comfort in public speaking in general. When I first started speaking, I would clam up and go into autopilot, and just rattle through the bare minimum info. But as you get more experience, you’ll become become more comfortable going a little slower, pausing in-between points or slides to make sure you’ve covered everything, or coming up with examples on the fly.

Own your screw ups Sometimes I forget a pertinent piece of info, or a sentence I had smoothly rehearsed comes out as a incoherent jumble of nonsense. In the past this would have mortified me and ruined the rest of my talk. But I’ve learned that it works fine to pause, offer an endearing smile, and say something like, “Let me try that again.” And then carry on.

Visualize success As goofy as it may sound, vividly imagining myself KILLING IT in a talk gives me confidence when I’m actually up there. Whatever you do, don’t imagine yourself failing. You are likely to prophesy your own failure.

Pray Not just for yourself, but for your audience members, too. Especially if they’re going to be evaluating you in some way (e.g. decide whether or not you deserve this job), pray they will be filled with graciousness. Personally, it’s important for me to be anchored in the knowledge that I have access to the most intelligent, powerful being in existence – it reallllly makes those mortal, fallible committee members and undergrads seem much less threatening.

Enjoy it! I used to consider public speaking a miserable ordeal. If anything, I just hoped to survive without dishonoring the family name. But seriously, it’s possible to actually have fun while you speak. Although public speaking DOES have the potential to humiliate you in front of a lot of people, it also has the potential to make you shimmer like a competent diamond in front of a lot of people! Think about how difficult it is to get people’s attention and have influence. Yet for 30 min to an hour, you have a whole room of people’s attention and the opportunity to influence, teach, or convince them of something! Yowza! Don’t waste it 😉

How to be emotinally disabled forever

I talk a lot about how to Forget It and Drive On (aka FIDO), but I was recently convicted about how narrow minded I have been. Some of you don’t feel like FIDOing, but want to Remember and Stay Here (RASH). In honor of symmetry and inclusivity, I’m offering 10 steps that are guaranteed to kick any efforts at FIDOing right where it hurts. This is especially helpful for RASHing when it comes to romantical angst. Lean in and listen up!

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Poster RASH child. He’s even sitting down. (pixabay free image)

1) Talk about your heart break obsessively

Talk about it with your mom, sister, friends, hairstylist, Trader Joe’s cashier.. Don’t be duped by sneaky changes of subject – whenever anyone tries to distract you and talk about something uplifting, skillfully work around that positivity and drive your depressing convo down the court (SPORTS REFERENCE!! WHAT?!).

2) Create shrines in physical space 

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This is how you should think about your local Wendy’s (pixabay free image)

Did you used to get frosty’s with your ex-bf at your neighborhood Wendy’s? Make sure you declare this space Sacred and try to create as few new memories there as possible. That way, if/when you do find yourself at that Wendy’s, you can be flooded with memories of that person. When the moment is right, make sure you confide quietly to your friend group, “I’m sorry.. it’s just that.. we always used to come here for Frosty Friday.” Then let a gentle river of tears run down your cheeks. Quiver your lips for extra effect.

3) Picture obsess 

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Let’s pretend this dude is staring at a picture (pixabay free image)

Don’t let personal time go to waste doing anything productive or refreshing. Jump on the interwebs, and go through every picture you and your past love ever took together – especially ones that mark momentous occasions (e.g. the first night you kissed). Zoom in on the person’s face. Think about how great you looked together. Print out the pic that brings back the most painful, bittersweet memories, and post on your ceiling so it’s the first thing you see every morning.

4) Define yourself by your pain  

It’s important to make sure that this event defines you. You are no longer a 27 year old female with a PhD, you are a heart-broken 27 year old female with a PhD.

5) Never stop asking “But.. Why???!”

stringconspiracy
This is the way to understand why she broke up with you. (this is a meme.. surely no copy-right issues here…?? PLEASE DON’T SUE ME)

Make every attempt to understand every action and intent that led to the situation. Whatever you do, never think to yourself “I may never know – that person’s behavior and those events could have arisen for several different reasons, and that’s okay.” No ma’am!  It is *not* okay! I suggest making a string-conspiracy board to figure it out.

6) Revel in the drama 

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^sepia is an excellent way to intensify your feels. (pixabay free image)

Whether you’re feeling sad, mad, guilty, jealous, etc., make sure you just dive headfirst in that ocean of dramatic feels. Make it clear to everyone that you are A LITTLE EMOTIONAL RIGHT NOW. One of my fave ways to do this is to post cryptic, depressing status updates on social media.

7) Split your life epochs around the event / person 

Thinking about your life in years, education (e.g. high school, college, grad school), or jobs will not do. The period of your life before you dated Jo-Jo is now “Pre- Jo-Jo” and the time after “Post- Jo-Jo”. Everything hinges on this event. It has split your heart, therefore it must split your life.

8) Refuse to cut your losses or accept that you may have been snookered (aka taken advantage of) 

If you think someone wronged you, obsess over how you could have avoided the situation in the first place, how you can seek revenge, or how you can avoid EVER being taken advantage of again. Bonus: guaranteed to ruin all future relationships, romantic or otherwise!

9) Make playlist of feelsy music

Think along the lines of James Blunt’s “Goodbye my Lover.” Whatever music gives you the feels and reminds you of the person, play it loud, play it proud, play it on a loop.

10) Binge watch movies and TV shows that give you the feels

Similarly, stick in that rom com or rom dram that reminds you the most of your relationship when it was happy, and let your ticker marinate in the misery. Think about how your reality was so close to whichever fictional story. Decide that you deserve for that fictional story to be your life.

Good luck, RASHers! Let me know how this goes for you!

Have any more useful RASH tips? Please send them into me!