How Do You ‘What-If’ Yourself?

  • What if people see how anxious I am?
  • What if I have another episode of panic as I’ve had in the past?
  • What if I freeze and forget what I am going to say?
  • What if I lose my place in my notes or run out of breath?

We need to be more aware of these negative thoughts which becomes a self-fulling prophecy leading us into a terrified emotional state. Catch these destructive thoughts and redirect them before you spiral into frightful despair.

Some examples of answers to the disempowering questions above are:  

  • I’ve been hiding this fear for years relatively well. Just because I experience these internal anxiety symptoms with much intensity doesn’t mean they appear to others even as much as a fraction of what I make up in my mind.    
  • I’ve gotten through other situations of panic before and I can do it again. I am learning tools to change my mindset which will dramatically reduce my conditioned reactions of fear.
  • I trust my brain to go on autopilot, meaning I can experience extreme anxiety AND at the same time also speak coherently and make sense.
  • I have the right to take my time. A pause may feel like 30 seconds to me while to the audience when it’s only about 5 seconds. Taking a pause and a deep breath comes across as being a more confident speaker and gives the audience more time to process what’s being said.

After having these “what if” negative scenarios turned into more realistic, true thoughts, the next step is to keep your self-talk neutral and away from catastrophizing.

Example: “If/when my heart races, I will go into a full panic attack, then all my symptoms will show. I will pass out or have to run out the room.”

Replace that with this neutral statement, “If my heart races, then my heart races. Do not escalate your physical sensations into more negative thoughts, creating a vicious downward spiral.

My heart has raced before, it’s not a big surprise to me, and I was able to handle myself relatively well in prior speaking situations.”

Another “what if” technique is to turn it into a positive experiment. Instead of, “what if all these bad things happen”:

  • What if I surprise myself and have less anxiety than usual?
  • What if I learn these new tools from Janet’s books or the workshop, and I look at it as an experiment? As I test out each new tool, what happens to my physical sensations and anxious thoughts?
  • What if I channel my anxiety into excitement?
  • What if I’m truly able to connect with a few people in my audience and provide them with useful information?
  • What if I get a completely different (positive) reaction/feedback than I thought possible?

If you want to go all in – “What if I get a standing ovation after my speech?” Okay, that one is a bit far-fetched in the beginning, but you never know, right?

Personal note: My closest experience to a standing ovation was at Toastmaster’s giving a speech about – you guessed it – the fear of speaking and my long struggle with it. The woman with the timer got so wrapped up in it, she forgot to hold up my timer cues to wrap up, and my speech went over by about 5 minutes. Everyone was too caught up in what I was saying to notice!

Try on these new questions and ways of thinking, and start experimenting. Email me and let me know how it goes : )

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