Hello to all of my ADHD peeps, and ADHD loved ones,
If public speaking causes you lots of anxiety a good place to start is by yourself. Like they say, practice makes perfect. By knowing what you’re going to say like the back of your hand, your brain has the information in there and is more likely to remember it even if you are extremely nervous. But knowing what you’re going to say doesn’t help prepare you for getting up in front of the audience itself. Taking the idea of exposure therapy, you can start by practicing alone. Set up a practice space, it can be your room, living room, or outside, just set up a space to practice. Although it may feel silly, it can be very beneficial to have an “audience” while practicing by yourself. You can set up a crowd of stuffed animals, empty chairs, or even the flowers in your garden. But having something that you’re talking to will help you get comfortable talking towards an audience. You can also practice looking out at your audience in this situation which can help you feel more comfortable while you’re talking. After you feel great about your inanimate audience, move on to an actual audience of people you’re comfortable with. You can practice in front of your family, some friends, or your partner, but you want to make sure you’re working with someone who can give you supportive feedback on your performance. By practicing in front of people you’re comfortable with you’re reinforcing the act of public speaking in your brain which helps increase feelings of control of the situation which helps decrease anxiety. Other things you can do to help decrease anxiety while actually speaking is focus your attention on someone you know in the audience. For example if you’re giving a presentation for school/work, when you look out at the audience, look at a friend. Focusing your attention on someone you are familiar with and you know won’t judge you helps to distract from worries about the other people in the room. It allows you to look at your audience without freaking yourself out more.
A similar approach can be taken for social interactions where you’re in a room with people you don’t know or are trying to make new friends. One great thing about the internet is the abundance of resources available. You can easily find videos that show how to successfully start a conversation or videos of new people meeting. By watching these you can learn new things you can do to help you be successful in new interpersonal interactions. Our brains learn so much by observing others do things, it really puts the whole “do as I say not as I do” thing to shame. By watching movies, videos, or real people in a park/classroom/bar interact your brain is taking in all of that information to incorporate into your own future actions. But the best way to get better is to practice. This is one area where you really just have to put yourself out there, even if it makes you uncomfortable. You can tackle new interactions easier by creating a go-to list of conversation starters to turn to every time. If you know what to ask to start a conversation it will be that much easier to get started. If you listen and ask questions you can keep the conversation off of you which will help take off the pressure of thinking of what to say as well as cause the other person to think you’re easy to talk to. This will help to create a positive interaction that will be remembered and will make it easier the next time you go to talk to someone new. Like everything practice makes perfect.
Social anxiety is a very real problem that a lot of people experience to varying degrees. But it doesn’t have to control your social life. You can have social anxiety and still have a very good social life and be a great public speaker, you just have to work with yourself. Exposure therapy is one of many ways to begin tackling this problem and I hope some of this discussion can be helpful for you.