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How is Public Speaking like Learning how to Surf

By Dayna Kneeland

The first time I went surfing it was a battle. Me against the waves. I was the clear loser. It took me a while to realize that fighting against them would just result in me getting towed under and spit out on shore like a beached whale again and again.

Any attempt to brace myself against them was futile. It was clear that if I was going to learn how to ride them, I would need to work with, not against those powerful waves.

The same thing is true when it comes to public speaking nerves. Our instinct is to clamp down and barrel through, or withdraw, avoid, or escape the feelings.

But feelings are also like waves. They roll on in, sometimes without any warning, and they subside on their own time. If you try to stop them, you end up getting towed under, desperate to reach the surface.

Here’s why.

When speaking nerves hit, two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline are released, that prepare your body to fight or flee.

This impacts how we breathe, our heart rate, body temperature, muscle control…the list goes on. Long story short, it’s a very real experience and it’s truly uncomfortable.

But, the more we try to resist these feelings, the more they persist. This is because we do things like hold our breath or suppress our natural instincts. 

The result is that the experience of fight or flight in our nervous system intensifies and things get even more out of whack. Instead, you need to learn how to work with the adrenalin, not against it.

It’s not about changing what you are feeling, but instead changing your relationship to what you are feeling.  

When it comes to public speaking nerves, it’s important to understand that you are dealing with a big energy. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed.

But it won’t help if you try to fight it.

The good news is that you can learn tried and true breathing, visualization, somatic and mindset techniques that will help you harness that raw energy and transform it into genuine connection.

You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to catch that wave and surf it safely to shore.

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