Exercise Speech ‘Scare’ (Fear) Away!

HOW a public speaker manages and hides Speech Anxiety symptoms during a public presentation is the topic of my 7-part C.O.N.C.E.A.L. series.  We are on part 5 using the acronym C.O.N.C.E.A.L. = E for exercise!

Preparing good speech content and practicing will not reduce the physical nervous sensations (called “speech fear or speech anxiety”) because most of the anxiety is physically felt.

Let’s understand your physical symptoms.  The sensations of fear are caused by the “Flight-Fight Syndrome”, or the parasympathetic  nervous system response to fear (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12745792). When the prospect of doing a public speech triggers this response, adrenaline is poured into the body, providing the energy to run or fight back.  Of course with speech fear you are not able to use this excessive energy your body is providing. The result is overwhelming adrenalin-fueled physical reactions which we are studying how to manage.

What are these physical reactions?  Most people shake or quake under the adrenaline rush. Others experience uncomfortable tummy aches often called “butterflies”. Some people feel lightheaded.  You cannot prevent or control these feelings simply by preparing the public speaking content.

How does exercise help? The body’s full-capacity to respond to the adrenaline rush needs reduced.  If you approach the stage performance with your body at full-capacity you will have trouble managing it.  You will feel and potential look nervous since the symptoms are at full-throttle.  The goal of pre-speech exercise is reducing your body’s capacity to respond fully to that adrenaline rush. Exercise fatigues your body’s response and creates a more manageable situation.

Even after 35 years of professional speaking experience, I still exercise to gain control over anxiety symptoms.  Every time I have a major presentation, I exercise 2 days prior and then again the morning of the event.  I work my biceps, quads and abs to help control and conceal shaking during the speech. It helps me feel in-control of the symptoms and able to conceal them from the audience. 

Specific exercise suggestions.

  1. How much exercise do you need?  That depends on how much you already exercise.  You want to exercise so you feel it, but not so much that you hurt.  In other words, fatigue your muscles but don’t exhaust them.
  • When do you do this exercise? I recommend you exercise 1-2 days prior to your speaking engagement.  The results of that exercise are felt 1-2 days later when lactic acid and muscle recovery occurs. 
  • The areas to focus exercise are the arms (biceps), upper legs (quads), and abs.  These are the most obvious recipients of adrenalin, often shaking these body parts when the Flight-Fight Syndrome kicks-in.
  • Finally I recommend you lightly exercise one more time the morning of the event. Endorphins can provide a feel-good, relaxing sensation.  According to a psychologist friend “endorphin release that takes place during the workout, which induces a sense of pleasure/well-being in the system.  This feeling is incompatible with stressful, negative emotions and thus, the anxiety is reduce stress”.

Exercise doesn’t have to involve the gym. It can include:

  • Dance    
  • Walking      
  • Running 
  • Swim       
  • Play w/kids
  • Walk beach/mall 
  • Cleaning 
  • Reorganize something
  • Take a class
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Walk pets

In conclusion, to appear more confident and calm, exercise will reduce your body’s capacity so you do not respond fully to the adrenalin rush from the Flight-Fight Syndrome.  This exercise is best if it takes place a day or 2 days prior to the speaking engagement. When you exercise you should feel less inclination to shake and have more control of your body and symptoms, allowing you to continue public speaking with less issues.

I invite you to comment.  Are there particular exercise suggestion that readers use to control physical speech-fear issues? 

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