Help! My mind goes blank!

Nicola Harker, doctor and coach, plays a game to explore the neuroscience of public speaking and fear.

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You stand up to speak, you glance at the audience, and your mind goes blank! 

Or you set up the video camera having prepared your content to go live, and then you have absolutely no idea what you were going to say!

Does this sound familiar?  Have you convinced yourself that you can’t do videos, or lives, or public speaking because you will fluff your lines?

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing videos for the subscribers to this magazine.  I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my ideas with you all, and I was all prepared and ready to go.  But I also had some tricky stuff going on in my life, and the night before I was due to record the videos I had a terrible night’s sleep.  Nevertheless, I didn’t have any choice, my husband had arranged to take the kids out for a couple of hours whilst I made my recordings, so it was now or never.

Since working as a coach, and specifically focusing on the neuroscience of stress and success I have become fascinated with the way our brains work.  So for some crazy reason, despite feeling very tired and having quite a tight deadline, I decided to play a game whilst making my videos!  I know, most people would keep it simple, but not me!

As I checked-in with my plan for each video, I observed my thoughts and what was happening in my body.  Each time I caught myself thinking “I’m tired, this is going to be tricky” my mind went blank and I fluffed my lines.  I felt heavy and almost close to tears with the burden of the task. 

Each time I reminded myself that I have so much to say and that readers would want to hear what I was going to share, my mind was clear, my energy was high, and making the videos was easy. 

I started to push my thoughts towards fear and fatigue, just to see what would happen.  The results were startling – my mind felt full of cotton wool, I felt like I had tunnel vision, my breathing felt tight, my mouth went dry. 

Then I stood up, did a little dance, made myself laugh, chatted through in my head my purpose, my goals, my excitement, my vision for helping other people to break out of burnout and thrive, and my mind became clear as crystal and my energy zoomed back up again!   It was an instant reaction.  I made the videos with ease and actually enjoyed myself in the process!

It’s easy to label yourself as “good” or “bad” at public speaking, but in truth, our minds are very flexible and it’s possible to change your emotional state in seconds.  I find that humour is a great antidote to fear, that music or motivational thoughts drain away the stress response, and movement such as jumping up and down or dancing for a few moments are very effective.  Possibly also because my dancing also makes me laugh (luckily there was no-one watching!).

The next time you catch yourself saying “I can’t do public speaking” it’s worth checking what impact your thought processes are having on your physiology.  You may be judging your abilities based on chemical reactions in your body that are easy to change.  It’s normal to feel scared and most people feel the same way as you.  It's also totally possible to over-ride that response by harnessing your physiology.  Perhaps it's time to play the game to work out what helps your brain to relax and become clear!

Nicola Harker

Coach and Mentor (ex-doctor) and teacher of Self-Compassion, Nicola Harker Coaching

Using neuroscience, self-compassion techniques and coaching as well as high-performance techniques I help my clients free their potential and get back to their true selves so that they can thrive in life.