Anxiety and the Fear of Public Speaking

When I was in highschool, the thought of public speaking made me want to throw up. I would stress and panic over it and I would be nauseous all day. I would shake and nearly cry at the thought of having to get in front of a classroom to present whatever it was that I had to do. The more I got my anxiety under control, the easier it got, but I still struggle with it to an intense degree.

To get my college degree, I am required to take a business and professional speaking class. I would be lying if I said I jumped at the opportunity to take it right away – as I am currently taking it in my junior year. I thought that the class would help me immensely but the anxiety remains. I still am nervous to a high extent, I still nearly throw up each time I go to present, and I still shake terribly. I am not as stressed before going up to present, but it is during the presentation and after that gets to me. Sure, I am becoming more comfortable with talking in front of a group of people, but the anxiety remains.
So you might be asking: How does an anxious person get comfortable with presenting in front of a group? The short answer is: you don’t.

Those of us with anxiety are obsessive. We want everything to be perfect to the point it plagues our minds. We stress out over every ‘um’ and the thought of stumbling and fumbling over notes in front of everyone makes us anxious. The presentation I had to give last Thursday was a required PowerPoint. You want to know what made me the most anxious? The thought of getting up in front of the class and starting my PowerPoint the wrong way. I stressed about hitting the stupid ‘start presentation from the beginning’ button. I stressed about whether I should email it to myself or I should put it on a flash drive. But what if the flash drive didn’t work? What if the class saw the start to some of my emails? Was my presentation informative enough? Maybe I should’ve done an easier topic. Is the presentation too intense for some people?

I have gotten to the point now that telling myself that everyone else in the room is nervous doesn’t help. People telling me that they too are nervous doesn’t make me feel any better. Meditation doesn’t work. I have gotten to the point now where I just have accepted the fact that public speaking is unavoidable. I’ve gotten to the point where I just need to be one of the first presenters, get it out of the way, and return to the back of the room to stress over everything that went wrong. It has been four days since my presentation and I’m still stressed about it.

Being a good public speaker doesn’t happen overnight. A public speaking class doesn’t mean you’re willingly going to jump at the opportunity to speak in front of the class. Being anxiety ridden and obsessive equals out to you just having to find a way to be comfortable. Maybe that means going first and getting it out of the way. Maybe that means going last and leaving it in the past the moment you sit back down. Maybe its hours of prep work beforehand (or none at all).

Being anxious doesn’t mean you are a horrible public speaker – as most people can’t even tell I have anxiety when I speak. It just means that you have to push your boundaries and make it so that you are comfortable. Find what makes you comfortable. Remember that every speech has a beginning but also must have an end. That being said, once you start you are that much closer to being done and sitting back in your comfort zone.

Vulnerabilities Part 2

Whenever I first started therapy in my junior year of high school, now 4 years ago, I was embarrassed to say I started therapy. I didn’t want to go to begin with, but as I’ve continued my mental health journey I got more comfortable with sharing my life story. That being said, I’ve become very open and have encouraged people to start therapy. I am the first to start stories with “So in therapy the other day…” or “My therapist said…” I have become someone that is transparent about my struggles and about my mental health journey – and have truly become a mental health advocate. I’ve posted on Facebook about my struggles, and hell, I’ve dedicated an entire blog to my anxiety.

All of that being said – I am still vulnerable.

Yesterday I had to do a presentation in my Business and Professional Speaking class. Yes, you read that correctly. I identify myself as an anxiety ridden little bean, and yet I’m in a class where I have to speak in front of other students. That statement alone shows how much I’ve improved in four years’ time, considering my senior year of high school I had to deliver a small speech from Great Gatsby and nearly threw up. Anyways, whenever it came down to choose a topic, I decided to talk about my anxiety.

Going up to it I was super confident, my professor was eager to hear what I had to say, I talked about it with my therapist, and I felt like it was a really good topic. Making the PowerPoint proved to be difficult, but while practicing my speech I was finishing around 8 minutes – over the set time limit. With a flash drive in hand, I wasn’t nervous until I sat down in my class and looked around at the other students. What would they think of me? How would I go to class afterwards with everyone knowing I have a mental disorder? Would they think differently? I have slowly grown with this class of 12 students, and yet, I was being so raw and open with a group of strangers. Sure, I had other classes with some of the other kids, but they didn’t know me.

When it came time to present – nothing was helping. Breathing techniques, meditation, telling myself that every other person was also nervous, absolutely nothing. By the time I got up to present, my hands were shaking as I turned in my notes to my professor, anytime I pointed to the board my hands visibly shook with fear, and my voice stuttered the entire time. I rushed it so much that I was below the required time frame of the speech by several seconds. What turned into a speech that could be stretched to 7 minutes and 51 seconds turned into a rushed and anxious speech ending in 5 minutes 55 seconds. I felt as though I was going to vomit and felt extremely anxious before, during, and after the presentation.

I don’t regret it in the slightest.

I got to open up my journey to a class of only 12 students. I got to tell them about my struggles. I shared photos of me dancing on stage and showed pictures of my picked to shit fingers after an anxiety episode. I was open. It was raw. It was me showing my demons to the classroom. It wasn’t easy, but it was vulnerable. I could’ve talked about the history of ballet class, I could’ve talked about how to sew pointe shoes. Instead I showed my struggles. In my research statistics show that someone, if not several, of those students needed to hear what I had to say. They needed me to come out and be vulnerable, if not for me, then for themselves.

Being vulnerable is in no way easy. It is not a walk in the park. I did it with shaking hands, busted up fingers from picking, and a speech shorter than the 6-8 minutes required. But I did it. I opened the room up for discussion. I helped open the eyes to students to show that even ‘normal’ students struggle, and hopefully I made those people realize that they weren’t alone.