The 10 Psychological Stages of Public Speaking

I have spoken publicly about a dozen times in the last three weeks. Because this is more than usual, I have begun to notice a pattern in my own psychological state as I go through the speaking cycle.

A Speaker in Front of an Audience - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Splitcast, Image #180536

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Splitcast

It has been helpful to identify the components of this cycle, so I am not so surprised when they occur. So far, I have identified ten stages I go through in preparing to speak. (This assumes that I have never delivered this exact speech before.)

Warning: this post is about my psychological states as I prepare. It may sound self-indulgent. If so, I apologize. I am sharing this in the hope that you won’t feel alone, if you do any public speaking.

Here are my stages:

  1. Enthusiasm. Someone invites me to speak at their event. I have a phone conversation with the event host to better learn what outcome they want to create. I am honored to be part of the event and get excited about the possibilities.
  2. Curiosity. I begin preparing. I usually create a rough outline, using OmniOutliner. I am not looking for too much detail; just the overall flow. I begin reading books, blogs, and other background material. At this point I don’t feel either positive or negative; I just enjoy learning.
  3. Creativity. I begin putting it together the speech. I love this part of it. I rearrange the outline (if necessary) and begin fleshing out the detail. If I am going to use a slideshow, I start assembling the visual components, using Apple Keynote and iStock Photo.
  4. Panic. As the deadline looms, I feel rushed. My anxiety level rises. I begin wondering if I will get it done in time. I estimate how much work I still need to accomplish and quickly conclude that I don’t have that much time. I end up tweaking my presentation right up until the minute I leave for the event.
  5. Despair. As I wait to be introduced, I feel ill-prepared. I go through enormous self-doubt and recrimination. A voice in my head whispers, You should have started preparing sooner. Or, You really don’t have anything to contribute. Or, This isn’t going to connect with this audience. If I could, I would push an ejection button.
  6. Confidence. As I am introduced, I hear another voice in my head: You can do this. Open your heart wide and play full-out. Don’t withhold anything. There’s more at stake here that you know. At that, I feel a renewed sense of confidence and excitement. I am fully present to the moment. I step into it with confidence.
  7. Flow. As I begin to speak, I look the faces in the audience. I begin to connect. I realize that there is indeed something at stake. I begin to believe that what I have to say is important. I get new ideas, recall stories, and see connections that didn’t occur to me in my preparation. This is where the real creation—the art, if you will—happens.
  8. Satisfaction. As I sit down, I feel satisfied. Regardless of the outcome, I have given it my all. I am pleased with what I was able to share. I feel gratitude for what just took place and a little silly for (once again) doubting the creative process. Oh, how I would love to eliminate stages 4 and 5!
  9. Depletion. My mood is usually elevated initially after I speak. But I always try to make myself available after my session to interact with the audience. I think this is important, but, as an introvert, it quickly depletes me. I find it difficult to focus on the person speaking to me. I begin feeling a little claustrophobic and am eager to get to “the alone zone.”
  10. Perspective. I always try to improve, so it is natural to begin critiquing my speech. However, I have found that I cannot be objective until I have recharged my spiritual and emotional batteries. It is much healthier if I push the “pause” button and wait for a while. Usually, I do best if I get a good night’s sleep first.

I don’t know if these stages are typical for most speakers or unique to my own personality and temperament. The main thing I have learned is this: when I begin to feel panic or despair, that’s normal. At least for me. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with how I will ultimately perform.

Questions: What about you? If you are a public speaker, do you go through similar stages?

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