Speech Anxiety

What happened when a Toastmasters Club member got speech anxiety at the wrong moment. A real life example of someone overcoming public speaking anxiety.

Some incredibly valuable lessons for all of us.

What Happened To David

It's not his real name, but everything else in this article happened exactly as described.

David was due to evaluate another Club Member's speech. An evaluation is timed at between 2 to 3 minutes. It's designed to give the speaker some immediate feedback. We normally structure it using the CRC method - Commend, Recommend, Commend.

It was well into the meeting, about an hour after the start. There had already been three impromptu speeches, and three prepared speeches, plus a couple of evaluations. It was a small meeting and the atmosphere was quite jovial, with lots of laughter.

David is a very new Club member. He has done his introductory, 'Icebreaker' speech, but he still admits to feeling very anxious before speaking.

The time came. He was asked to come up to the lecturn to deliver his Evaluation.

He asked to be excused.

He said he had just been hit by an attack of nerves in the last 30 seconds. He described it like 'having a ton of bricks fall on me'.

What Happened Next

David delivered his Evaluation and did a great job. He spoke with absolutely no nervousness in his voice. His evaluation was clear, to the point and he used CRC like an old pro.

He nailed it.

Then he sat down.

What Else Is There To This Story?

A whole lot as you can imagine.

Here's what worked.

He was encouraged by the other people present.

Specifically he was told two simple things.

First that he could just stand up at his table and deliver his evaluation from there. He didn't have to come out the front to the lecturn if he didn't want to.

Second we explained that he couldn't get his evaluation wrong. We explained that an evaluation is all about how the speech made him feel. Since it's entirely his opinion, whatever he says is ok.

These two pieces of understanding were all he needed.

When he did the evaluation you would have thought he'd done a hundred of them.

What We Can Learn About Speech Anxiety From This Example

There's so much it's hard to know where to start. Here are the main lessons we discussed after the event.

  • People en-courage-ing other people can make all the difference.
  • Speech anxiety can strike unexpectedly, and sometimes just before a speech. It's unwise to pretend it won't happen to you. Better to be prepared for it.
  • The anxiety had absolutely no basis in reality. David showed beautifully he was more than competent to do the short evaluation speech.
  • Sometimes making the situation less daunting can help. He was ok speaking from his table. It helps if the meeting can be flexible about its procedures.
  • People use intense language when they feel anxious, and they describe things that aren't really there. A ton of bricks is a heavy load of building material, and would do anyone a lot of injury! Afterwards he laughed about this and saw what he was doing to himself by painting that picture.
  • He now has one more experience to call on, the next time it happens. He did it. He was afraid for a few moments. And then he did it.
  • In situations like this where's there's no time to practice more, the best weapon to use is Understanding. With some gentle encouragement David understood he was ok, and he could do it. Plenty of time later to work on Practice.
And what about Love? The all important third leg of no fear public speaking?

Well, just reflect on this for a moment.

Isn't it interesting to watch what happens when one person stumbles?

It often tells you more about the other people around them, than about the person themselves. After all there are other ways a group could have reacted to David's plight. Ridicule. Yelling. Coercion. Even punishment.

Whenever I've seen a person go through something like this with public speaking though - every single time it's happened, the other people in the room help them out. Words of encouragement are spoken. People smile. Slaps on the back. Confidence seems to flow into the person who's struggling somehow.

David's speech anxiety was a struggle for him. It was also a chance for others to express their simple humanity.

It won't be on the 6 o'clock news but it's inspiring to see. It happens a billion times a day on this planet in all aspects of daily human existence.

Whether we realize it or not, it's what love really looks like.

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