Flow beats Fear – manage speaking anxiety

Moments of crippling fear in rock climbing and public speaking fear - actually, they have a lot in common. Flow beats fear.

In both situations fear has a negative effect on performance - and getting into a 'flow' state has a positive effect - beating fear.

But what are those affects and how can they be avoided?

Here are 3 core fear affects unwrapped - followed by 3 core cures that will have you soaring high and taking up every challenge that comes your way when it comes to public speaking (and rock climbing if you like!)

Fear Public Speaking

A fear of pubic speaking is not rational but it is very real and can lead to missed opportunity and frustration - to put it mildly. Fear triggers many thoughts and feelings in your mind (our fight and flight brain) ... and in an instant those feelings have a negative impact on your performance.

The good news is there there are ways to take control of that fear and therefore enhance performance - 3 core tactics are unwrapped below - I wouldn't leave you hanging!

So just what is it that happens when fear kicks in? These 3 affects of fear are very relevant to public speaking (and climbing):

  • Tunnel vision
  • Negative imagination
  • Habitual thinking. 

Let's look at these affects of fear and you will see how they will sabotage your public speaking success (if you let them).

1. Tunnel Vision

So there you are - half way up a rock face - or standing in front of your audience....

Enter fear

Everything closes in - all your focus turns inwards and you fail to look outwards - around and about you at your surroundings. 

  • Your creative brain shuts down
  • It is all about you - self-focus strangles outward-focus
  • You fail to spot opportunity as it arises
Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options. 

Simon Sinek

Tunnel Vision

2. Negative Imagination

You need to stretch to reach a hand-hold - you need to open your mouth and start your presentation with an engaging moment....

Fear steps in

  • All you can think of is what can go wrong
  • Exit rational thought - enter out-of-control emotions
  • Past 'failures' flood your thinking
Imagination is more important than knowledge. 

Albert Einstein

Negative Imagination

3. Habitual Behaviour

This climb is a new challenge you should be embracing - this speaking opportunity is one you wanted to really make the very most of....

Fear has taken hold

  • You become dull 
  • You cling to your comfort zone
  • You fall into default behaviours that don't fit this new challenge
Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken

Warren Buffett

Habitual Behaviour

Fear is inevitable - but it doesn't have too negatively affect your performance - there are tactics. 

3 ways to conquer Public Speaking Fear

1. Head Up

Let go - stay in control but let go enough to come out of your head and be present - aware of everything that is going on around you. Your performance will feel more natural to you and to your audience - you will see where the best hand-holds are - you will see where you are heading and how to get there.  You will enjoy the experience.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Oscar Wilde

Head Up

2. Flow

This is a job of work - and you need to concentrate. There is a wonderful state known as flow - experienced by rock climbers, actors and presenters to name but a few. It is when you are focused, present and instinctive. Perfect state for rock climbing and public speaking! You ditch the script and connect with the whole experience - including your audience. This quote comes from one of my favourite books - I recommend it highly!

Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


3. Positive Imagination

Unrealistic positive thinking can be a hindrance - too many cheesy memes don't help! However - deciding to visualise all the good things that can happen rather than the bad - well that is a good plan.  Remember that your audience is on your side - not out to destroy you! Let the rock work with you not against you.  Switch into the place in your brain that says - 'I will feel great when I have succeeded in this challenge'...  

What we think we feel - what we feel affects are performance - simple!

Every human has four endowments - self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.

Stephen Covey

positive imagination

To sum up...

As I have compared rock climbing to public speaking - It seems fitting to end with some wise words from a great free soloist climbers Alex Honnold and Steph Davis:

 'A combination of factors makes people feel fear, then they assume that the fear means it’s dangerous...I think it’s important to untangle the various threads that lead to the feeling of fear.' (Alex Honnold)

 “When I’m not being held back by fear, I’m free to really enjoy climbing, and I’ve spent a lot of time figuring that out.” (Steph Davis)

Unless you are precariously balance on the edge of a very high stage with an audience of wild bison - you are not actually in real danger. 

The great feeling you get from freeing yourself from fear - being in 'flow' and in touch with your surroundings (audience) ... well that is well worth the effort of the climb!

About the Author Trisha Lewis

I help people become more effective communicators through the kind of coaching that offers a safe space to explore and rehearse and better understand the impact they have. My blog is full of insights and tactics that will help you break down the barriers that prevent you from being a truly effective communicator. These insights are based on my own experience as well as the issues raised during coaching sessions and workshops.

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