An example CBT ‘vicious circle thought form’ for Public Speaking Anxiety..


… an example handout/worksheet – use it as a template to catch and change your own thinking and behaviour… click on the above image to view/enlarge, then read the below practical guide.

Some new
suggestions to replace your Negative Automatic thoughts:

  • I am fortune telling something that hasn’t happened yet, and may not happen at all in the way that I’m excessively worrying about – are my extreme statements rational and based on solid evidence? Did I ever do any public speaking and survive? Do I have any evidence against my dramatic thoughts?
  • It is not ‘about me’, and it’s not Broadway or X Factor – this is about the information that I’m presenting – I’m really just a messenger, and I aim to do that competently.
  • I understand the information of the presentation.
  • There’s no need for me to demand of myself that I perform really well and impress everybody and be thought of very highly – it’s more rational to think that I’d prefer to do well, rather than that I must do well – I’m a human being who has anxiety about public speaking, just like millions of other people – and that’s ok, I can only do my best.
  • I can manage my physical discomfort (fight or flight) in a number of ways, and everybody has it sometimes, even those without anxiety disorders.
  • It’s perfectly normal for people to worry that others will judge them negatively if they hear their voice shaking or see their obvious discomfort – but actually, many many people have visible nervousness during public speaking (at least at the start) – and people are never terribly bothered.
  • I can cope, it’s more true to say that I’d prefer if I didn’t have to cope, or that I feel I’m not coping well – when I use that kind of extreme statement it only serves to maximise my discomfort and make me want to abandon the presentation with avoidant behaviour, and it’s untrue.



The physical bit: “So, what is it with the trembling and shaking?!” –
It’s classic primal Fight or Flight / panic attack physiology – and can happen at low, moderate or high levels – click HERE to go to my blog post explaining it in detail – the following are the main culprits and symptoms:

  • Oxygen overload: disrupted breathing, shaky voice, hyperventilating.
  • Stress Hormone Adrenaline overload: heart racing, muscles tense, primal physical readiness, overheating/sweating/shaking.
  • Stress Hormone Cortisol release: butterflies/sick feeling, dry mouth, bowel movement.
  • Oxygen / Adrenaline stimulus: dizzy, unfocussed, blanking

Once you’ve suffered from anxiety attacks, it is likely that the first hint of, and the fear of, the physicality of it is enough to set it off, rather than the thoughts that caused it in the first place. We fear the fear itself. So it is important we understand the actual science of it, and that we have awareness that it is our bodies attempt to help us, it assumes the primal fight or flight response is appropriate in this case, even though it’s not – and it primes your body for extreme physical exertion even though its not required. Learn exactly what each stress hormone is doing and why.

play-fof-movie-UTexasWe cannot stop fight or flight in its tracks – we must instead let it happen, for many people it will last 2 to 3 minutes and then settle down. You may manage the oxygen overload with a deep breathing exercise – this is discreet and can be pre-emptive. Understand the exact science of fight or flight, telling yourself that it’s ok, that there is no tiger or danger, and that it’s truly a fascinating and beautiful process if there were actually a danger to you (yes, seriously!), and that this primal response is why we human beings still walk the earth, while the hobbits et al are fossilised in stone – all the while replacing our self talk with helpful realistic processing of the event, instead of the ‘tiger like’ irrational and incorrect Negative Automatic Thoughts that take over and cause all the trouble. You can do this!  And practice acceptance and living in the present (ie just getting on with it as best you can until either your body returns to homeostasis, or until the event is over.).

nopanicIf your anxiety is extreme and results in moderate to high fight or flight anxiety (panic attacks), go to your GP to discuss the possibility of medication to take for these events.

– a popular prescription is beta blocker tablets which will depress your central nervous system to prevent extreme fight or flight, and/or anti-anxiety benzodiazepine medication like valium or xanax , even if only until you’re able to manage the event with your new CBT coping skills alone.


General tips:

  • List evidence against your negative automatic thoughts (for instance, did you ever do any kind of public speaking and survive? Did you ever see another speaker who showed nervousness, yet they survived? and so on…).
  • Accept an anxiety disorder, (even if it’s ‘situational’ / only in occasional situations), as a real disorder that you will learn to manage, and do not have to be ashamed of. It is neither good nor bad, right or wrong – it simply is what it is, unfortunate for you and your hard luck, and you’re working on ways to fix it, but for now, it’s here and it’s an illness like diabetes or high blood pressure, or even a broken leg – it’s a fact that you will deal with and manage as best you can.
  • When giving a presentation, remember, it‘s about the content – its not about you! (or your ‘cool’ or your hair, or your clothes or your weight…). If you saw a TV newsreader have panic attack symptoms while reading the news, you’d be very surprised, and might not have ever registered the ‘person’ before, because you’re only there for the data/content. Remind yourself of that – and choose a person you admire that is about their message / data, and not concerned about themselves personally or others perception of them, and visualise this person when you begin to worry – this will help to ground you with rational/critical thinking.
  • Tell yourself that you would ‘prefer‘ to do very well, rather than ‘demand‘ that you must and should do very well or else it’s awful and tragic. You are a human being with frailties and flaws, you accept that, and are only doing your best.

Plan your environment and presentation so that it best helps with your problem:

  1. Learn deep breathing techniques to control your physical discomfort.
  2. Have a fan plugged in beside you if you ‘overheat’.
  3. Wear green base foundation/concealer if you blush (a department store consultant can help you with that)
  4. Get ready well in advance and plan a comfortable and smart wardrobe, and look your best.
  5. Learn and use Mindmapping to prepare, organise and recall the presentation content in your head – so that you are word perfect and comfortable.
  6. Give yourself a break – feel free to do a ‘death by PowerPoint’ with text and graph filled slides if you must, and present it by ‘reading’ them out without any ‘performance’. It’s not ideal, but needs must if your condition is extreme and your goal is simply to get through it with no drama.
  7. Thought stop and interrupt negative visualisaton by visualising success instead, including past achievements and successes.

You’re ready, yes? Go………

Click ViciousCirclePublicSpeakingTemplate to download a PDF of the exercise)

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