Stage fright

Public Speaking Fear

Fear of Public Speaking

When you survey the public about what their biggest fear is, fear of public speaking is usually number one. That's way above fear of dying. For the average person, this means that at a funeral they would rather be lying in the coffin than delivering the speech!

However, these same people have no trouble talking on the phone. Or gossiping with two friends, or three friends, even three total strangers. But somehow, when it comes to public speaking or giving a speech, something happens. They get sweaty hands, dry throat, they stammer and stumble. The idea of standing up and talking in front of an audience terrifies them.

Why it happens

Your fear of speaking is actually a social phobia,  the result of a childhood trauma. Usually you are not aware of what caused it. But at some point you were publicly embarrassed, and humiliated. The most common cause is from schooldays. You were asked a question in class, forgot the answer, and the whole class jeered and laughed at you.

Your unconscious mind decides that enough is enough. It will never let you get humiliated again. So your mind makes sure that you never get into another situation like that. Your mind creates a fear that keeps you away. Over time, the fear gets bigger.  And then it expands the fear to include more and more situations. This is classic phobia behaviour. And like any other phobia, you can clear it quickly and easily.

public speaking


People who fear public speaking are actually reliving an event in their past. You fear feeling what you felt then, and dreading an outcome you know must come. The event was usually a public humiliation in childhood. The child was asked to speak in a classroom or similar, failed for some reason, and the whole class jeered and laughed. You felt embarrassed, ashamed, isolated, a loser. Your inner child never wants to be in that position again. Or it might just have been with a single person, and you never got the chance to make it right.

Your subconscious therefore makes sure that those circumstances never arise again. By preventing you from ever having to speak in public, the possibility of another humiliation is avoided. Your subconscious does whatever it takes to prevent you speaking in public again. If you ends up sick with fear in the toilet and can't go on, the subconscious is delighted. It means you don't have to face the audience. Your humiliation has been avoided. And the next time the idea comes up again, your subconscious will repeat all those things that worked so well the last time.


Getting confidence for public speaking is usually is centred on regression, metaphor therapy, or visualisation. Usually only one session is required to totally remove the fear.


Regression is a standard way of treating incident based fears. In trance the client is taken back to the critical incident in childhood. The client is then guided gently forward through the incident and asked to look objectively at what is going on, to realise that the affair was in reality harmless, that the person in charge should have done more to protect that child. The purpose of this is to create a different view of the incident, seeing it from an adult perspective, instead of from the child's perspective.

Very often reassessing the incident is enough to destroy the fear. The regression sometimes consists of replaying the incident, but this time with the client's adult mind guiding the child through to a successful conclusion.  Instead of being humiliated, the child triumphs. These impressions replace the old feelings of fear and dread. The result is that the next time the client thinks about public speaking, feelings of triumph and control come to mind, not fears. Regression is very effective.

Metaphor Therapy

The most direct way to deal with social phobia. I get you to think about your problem situation. I get you to imagine yourself there, and to feel the fear. Then we work on getting something to symbolize that fear. Together, we change the symbol of the fear until it changes into something else. At that point you fear has been removed. I then fill the 'space' of the old feeling. I get you to think of things that you have strong, positive feelings about, and use them to make sure the old feeling never comes back.


It is quite possible that the client has never given a public speech, so there is no success to build on. The visualisation therefore sets out to instil feelings of control. Under hypnosis the client visualises themselves preparing to make a pubic presentation. They are led through every stage from the initial request to preparation to arriving at the venue and then the actual delivery. At every stage they see themselves acting confidently, practicing fluently, saying lines that impress and persuade. It is impressed on their subconscious that they are in control, totally in control, that nothing can happen that they don't control. The purpose of this is to instill the belief that they can do it easily and naturally, that they already have the skills they need and that as long as they are in control everything will go right.

Future pacing engages your imagination in the specific situation where they will be speaking in public. The procedure is another visualisation, but this time visualising the actual room and the people who will be there. This gives you positive feelings associated with the room, the audience and so on.



Fear of Speaking at a Meeting

This client was an IT specialist working in the public sector. She is highly intelligent, studying at university for a PhD in Science and Philosophy. She is probably the most qualified person in the building. And yet, she feels anxious about speaking up in meetings in front of men. The trouble is, the IT sector is totally dominated by men. Often, she is the only female in the room.

It doesn't matter that she is the expert on the subject being discussed, or that she knows more than everyone else. When she has to express an opinion publicly in front of male colleagues, she feels timid, and unsure, and afraid to even give her opinion. This has happened in every company she has worked for, and even happened in her undergraduate classes at university.

Clearing her phobia

The normal way to clear a phobia is to get you to think about the situation you fear, and then get you to feel the fear. Once you are conscious of the fear, and can feel it somewhere in your body, it is easy to clear.

I used the Affect Bridge technique on her anxiety. However, she was not able get the feeling right there and then. This happens fairly often, because the person is too afraid of the feeling to call it up deliberately. So I changed to the Regression technique.

When I do regression, I hypnotise you into a trance. Then I take you back to some childhood memory, a memory where you feel a very strong emotion about something important to you. Once you have the memory, I enable you to be in that place and time, and to feel exactly what you were feeling then.

 public speakingIn this case my client took me back to a school room long ago. In that school room, the boys were allowed to do what they wanted, and the girls were disregarded. My client described an atmosphere in which the boys were encouraged, and helped, but everything a girl said was mocked and dismissed. I got her to really expand the feeling that she had when she was in that classroom.

Metaphor therapy for fear

I then went back to my original plan to work directly on her fear. I asked her to think about the fear as an object, a visualization of how that fear fear appeared to her. She told me that it was like "a black brick with other feelings inside".  This description was telling me how her unconscious mind thought about her feelings of being put down. In all likelihood, this feeling was not just about the classroom experience, it was probably also associated with feelings of rejection and dismissal from other parts of her childhood. Somehow her mind had got the idea that whatever she did she was going to be ignored and rejected and hurt.

So the therapy consisted of trying to get her to get rid of that "black brick". I tried many ways to encourage her to get rid of the brick. She had real difficulty in imagining that there was any way that she could smash this brick. I suggest that all sorts of ways that she could do this. Eventually, she agreed that she could put into an industrial crushing machine. The moment that her mind was able to allow her to drop it into the machine it was transformed. Out came blossoms of white and blue petals. The aim of this therapy is to transform the fear object into something else. In this case she did it almost instantaneously, the moment that she could agree it could be done at all.

Making sure the fear has gone forever

I then tested to be sure the old situation had changed. I asked her "thinking abou

t going into meetings now, how does that seem to you?" She said, "it all seems easy, it feels completely different".

To make sure that she did not recreate the problem in her mind, I gave her a powerful visualization. She was not just in a meeting and speaking, but dominating the meeting. Then I put her deeper into trance. I got her to imagine lying in a wonderfully comfortable bed having a dream about walking in an orchard.  In that orchard there were blizzards of white and blue petals swirling around her. These petals lifted her up and carried her out of that place. The blizzard of petals allowed her to open up to the possibility of being different. I then linked the blizzard of petals to her visualization of being in a meeting and imagining all those petals filling her with confidence and power.

When I brought her back to the present, she said "I feel completely different. I can't wait to get back into a meeting!"


Public Speaking Cases: 2

This client was very nervous and fidgety when she sat down. She seemed reluctant to even tell me what her problem was. She told me that she's got a new job, and hates it when they all sit around, and everyone has to introduce themselves and say who they are.

I explained about metaphor replacement therapy and how it works. I told her what I was going to do. "Think about being in a large room with many people. and it is slowly coming to your turn to speak." I was trying to get her to move into the feeling. But I found it was very difficult to get her to say anything. I kept going on about how she felt in doing her introduction, and she just wasn't speaking. She was giving me hardly any feedback at all.

Getting the feeling

public speakingSo I changed it to get her to imagine being the bridesmaid at a wedding and having to stand up and address the whole audience. I emphasized how everyone was looking at her, she was the centre of attention, and the whole thing depended on her getting it right. It would be remembered forever.
I asked what she was feeling. She said "a little nervousness, tenseness". I asked her where she was feeling it, and she indicated it was in her chest. So I went on with that and after a lot of prodding, persuasion and encouragement, she finally said "it's like a cloud".

I asked her what she would like to have happen to the cloud and she said "go away". Then I asked "what would that mean for you", and she replied "no fear". And finally, I asked her "what could you do then?" And she replied "anything". This set up the logical link between her actions and the outcome.

Changing the image

I tried to get her to make the cloud bigger.  Then make it smaller. Even after a lot of prodding, she could not get it to go any smaller. I explored the properties of the cloud: it was a black cloud, heavy, floating in front of her, it was round. I asked her to look at it from the back: it was just the same. "Can you move it to one side of the other." "No." I suggested the cloud might rain, it might shrink, it might get thinner, it might change colour, all the things I could think of.

Eventually, in desperation, I said "just imagine that you could push that cloud". That seem to work. She eventually said "it's much further away." I kept persuading her to push it away and I was asking her how she was experiencing it. and what it looked like now, and she finally said "it's disappeared".
Something that usually takes ten minutes, took over 40. This woman seriously did not want to talk about her problem, even as a metaphor.

However, when the cloud was gone, I tested her by asking her to think about the whole wedding thing again. She said "the feeling has gone, it's just not there." I tested it again later on, and she said "no, it is definitely gone. I usually get the feeling of tension in my chest and that just isn't happening now."

Origin of her public speaking problem

My feeling is that her fear of public speaking was actually linked to a much earlier fear from somewhere deep in her childhood. I think that she was afraid of something very much deeper, and was not going to allow me to get anywhere near that feeling. She agreed.

I was anxious that she did not leave with the idea that she had not been hypnotised. So I explained  that metaphor therapy actually was a form of hypnosis. And she said something very interesting. She said "when we were getting rid of the cloud, I felt that I had gone inside myself. That I was very small and my body was very large. In particular I felt my hands were huge. I wasn't speaking because I felt unsure of what to say, what was wanted".

I wonder if that had anything to do with her earlier reluctance to speak? But it doesn't matter. It is gone now.



The ability to speak confidently to a group is a skill that pays off handsomely in business. Don't let nervousness in public put you off. Learning to be comfortable behind a microphone is easier than you think.

Your session lasts about an hour, and costs $120.


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