Oh Public Speaking, I’ll Make You My Friend Yet.

Today was my big evaluation, the one worth all the jelly beans. Well 40% of the jelly beans, to be exact, but that’s beside the point. It felt big, it felt scary. My principal observed for nearly an hour and rated me on an intensive rubric, which will be used to help determine my merit as a teacher. All weekend I obsessed. I memorized my lesson, practiced by myself, practiced with my husband, practiced in front of the dog. You get the idea.

This morning as I drove to work I talked myself through my anxiety and realized I have some pretty good tricks for surviving public speaking (none of which involve imagining the audience unclothed):

1. Remind yourself that the audience is there because they support and care about you. When I remind myself of this, I am able to smile at observers who walk into my classroom. I used to avert my gaze and pretend these visitors weren’t there, but this only made it worse. A quick smile and eye contact do wonders. The best part is that usually a smile begets a smile, which reinforces the idea that your audience cares about you.

I use this same trick in dealing with parents. I tell myself that we’re there for the same reason– because we care about kids. Recognizing a common mission, even in challenging situations, helps a lot. And, if you have no evidence that your audience cares about you, telling yourself that you love and/or care for them, regardless, can ease tension exponentially. I use it on the kids (and their families) all the time.

2. Smile and breathe. It’s the moments leading up to public speaking that really get to me. If I can remind myself to stop, smile, and breathe shortly beforehand, I feel much more relaxed. I’ve heard this is because both actions send a message to the brain that there is nothing to worry about.

3. Time passes quickly. Public speaking is one of the few instances in life where I am happy this is true. Before you know it, the experience is over. And, best yet, it’s really only the beginning that feels uncomfortable, once you get going, it’s fine. Remembering this eases the torture.

4. Practice, practice, practice. That book I’m reading, Practice Perfect, provides great motivation for practicing whatever you can before the big performance. The section I just finished is all about how if you practice anything to the point of automaticity, you give your body an opportunity to take over for your brain. That was my goal in practicing my lesson repeatedly this weekend– auto-pilot for the brain does wonders when you’re nervous.

5. Ask someone to think good thoughts for you. This might seem silly, but I swear it helps. Knowing that loved ones are out there rooting for me around the time that I will be speaking is amazingly comforting.

So, there you have it. My favorite tricks for performance anxiety. Fortunately, I only feel nervous about speaking in front of people a few times a year, (next up, Saturday school where 60+ pairs of parent eyes will stare at me expectantly for an hour). Until then, I’m happy to have collected some secrets to ease the nerves.

As a teacher I spend a lot of time putting on a show, but sometimes the performances still make me nervous.

As somewhat of an introvert, I definitely picked an interesting career.

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6 thoughts on “Oh Public Speaking, I’ll Make You My Friend Yet.

  1. kingmidget says:

    Too funny … when I saw the headline, my first thought was … how could you have public speaking anxiety, you do it for hours every day. I have no doubt you did well.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      It is odd– I have little to no fear of talking to students, but when I feel evaluated by peers/parents/administration, I get nervous, especially when rubrics are involved 😉

  2. kingmidget says:

    It is, by the way, the one fear I have that I probably dislike the most and wish the most that I could overcome.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Do you speak publicly often? I can’t help but wonder if doing it all the time would help…

      • kingmidget says:

        Rarely. But the circumstances in which I do are situations that are repetitive, so I’ve become more comfortable with them. They are more or less off the cuff contributions in board meetings that are typically not planned. My biggest challenge is with planned presentations. UUUUGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!

      • oliviaobryon says:

        I think that’s why I don’t get nervous with the kids, we’re together all the time. The beginning of a new year, I get a little nervous… I actually would prefer a regular planned presentation. It’s the unpredictable nature of the kids that makes it scariest for me, (will they behave? will it reflect poorly on me if they don’t?). I have some good stories about things my students have done while we’ve had visitors… If only I could tell them without getting in trouble 😉

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