A woman from Romania wrote
and asked Adam Khan this question:
I DON'T KNOW what kind
of anxiety problem I have exactly. I don't really have physical
symptoms but at social situations, like parties or speeches or
facing many people at once, I feel the anxiety of an important
examination. I feel an intense fear and I want to go away quick.
I have an eating disorder
and I will start a support group in my area (Romania) in January.
I feel I understand EDs pretty well and I can communicate very
well with one person at a time, however more people at once scare
me. I feel I am inferior to them and constantly worry I will
blow it. This is really important to me and I feel I can help
Do you have any advice
on how to look forward to this with more ease? I am afraid I
will be so damn anxious that everybody will notice it (my face
starts trembling) and will laugh. :(
This is really weird because
I seem to like to strike up conversations and people think I
am intelligent and funny. I have no problems initiating with
men either. Once I am at ease, I communicate well.
Here is Adam's answer:
AT ONE TIME, I HAD EXACTLY the problem
you do, so you asked the right person. I have always been at
ease around one or two people, and I like to interact with people,
and I like to talk, but then when I got up in front of a group,
I got really nervous and shy.
Here's how I got over it:
First of all, I realized that being nervous
in front of a group is natural if you're not used to it. It's
like swimming. If you've never been in a pool or ocean all your
life, and you get pushed into deep water, you will feel scared.
If you've been swimming since you were a kid, you wouldn't be
scared at all.
It is an entirely different situation to
talk to a group than to talk to one or two people. They are not
the same task, no matter how much they look the same. More people
means you don't get feedback and nods and the give-and-take you
get with just one or two people. And nobody is interrupting.
It's totally different, and you aren't used to it. You haven't
worked your way up to it. If you spent three weeks talking regularly
to three people, and then another three weeks talking to four
people, and so on, you would have a chance to get used to it,
and you probably wouldn't be scared when it went from 49 people
So that's the first thing: Realize there's
nothing wrong with you. It is normal. You may be a little more
nervous than some people, but less nervous than some other
people. And even people who have been doing it for a long time
often get "nervous." I'd say almost all people. In
fact, a famous talk-show guy here in the U.S. named Johnny Carson,
who had a show on TV before a live audience for years and years,
once was having heart trouble, so a doctor was keeping track
of his heart rate. Right before he went on stage to do is opening
monolog, Carson's heart rate went from 80 beats per minute to
150! And this was a guy who had been doing it every day for years.
That was the second very important thing
I learned: Stop calling it nervousness. Have you ever competed
in sports? I used to do track and field, and before every race
I got "nervous" but I never thought of it as nervousness;
I called it being jacked up or amped or pumped up. I was ready
to go. I expected to have butterflies in my stomach. I expected
my heart to beat faster. I knew the adrenaline was helping me
be my best.
So the second thing, and it made a big
difference, was that I stopped trying to resist my adrenaline
rushes. I stopped trying to get rid of them, and I stopped calling
it nervousness. It is the same feeling you get when you are on
a roller coaster and you PAY for that! Your orientation to the
feeling, your interpretation of it, makes it either anxiety or
excitement. So make it excitement by thinking of it in those
terms. Welcome the feeling and use it.
That's the third thing I did: I USED that
adrenaline rush. Here's what I did, and I think it was the most
important thing I did: Since every time I thought about an upcoming
speech, I got an adrenaline rush, I thought maybe I could use
that as a reminder. Even the smallest passing thought would give
me a rush. So every time I felt that rush, it was my cue to think
about what I really wanted to happen. I wanted them to
understand, I wanted them to change their lives, I wanted them
to be happier, I wanted their lives to be better. I wanted to
have a good time. I wanted to crack them up. I thought of as
many things as I could think of about why I really WANTED to
speak to those people, how important it was that they understood
my message. I made each adrenaline rush a new infusion of desire.
Every time I had a little adrenaline rush,
I did either that, or I would go through my outline in my head
so I knew the order of my points really well. In a short talk,
you will only make three or four main points, so when you get
a little burst of adrenaline, say your points to yourself in
order. Then you will know you have it down really well, and you
will know you won't forget the order of the points. That, in
itself, makes you feel more confident. And, by the way, that's
the only thing I memorized. NEVER NEVER NEVER memorize your talk.
Only think about what you'd like to say, but never rehearse it.
That is one of the worse things you could do.
Another thing I did that might have been
at least as important is that I made sure everything I said,
every point I made, every illustration I used, were things I
really liked a lot. I made sure it was all stuff I liked to say,
I felt good about, I felt was true and good and enjoyable to
say. I took out any illustrations that I just thought would be
merely clever or anything like that, and replaced them with illustrations
I knew I liked, regardless of whether or not I thought the audience
would like them. I tried to have as much personal integrity in
the content of my talk as I could.
And when I spoke, I gave all my attention
to my message. I didn't worry about how I looked or what my gestures
were or any of that petty stuff. It was all about the message,
all about sincerity, all about really helping these people. That's
what I did, and it worked great. I never would have believed
it was possible, but I actually ended up looking forward to speaking,
I liked it and enjoyed it. I wish the same for you.