How to change your negative beliefs about speaking: 5 step plan

Choosing new beliefs
Choosing new beliefs

I sometimes work with clients who have seen themselves as poor speakers for a long time, often many years. They may turn up for coaching or come along to one of my courses with the attitude of “well I’ll give this a go, but it won’t really change anything”.

Our beliefs run our lives – they underlie how we relate to the world. But you don’t have to feel so stuck around public speaking, and you don’t have to sabotage yourself by letting your past experience dictate the present moment. Sometimes I think that we over-complicate things…so with the intention of simplifying, let me clearly spell it out for you:

Until you make the choice to be greater than your experience, your experience will be what defines who you are.

And when you choose to stay within these experiential limits as a speaker – and it is a choice – you lose opportunities for growth, possibility and power. I know that changing beliefs can seem to be a daunting challenge, and it can be. You may also think that I’m over-simplifying. But it can be as simple as saying “ok, I’ve had enough, I’m ready to move on now” and setting up a structure to monitor and change your self-talk.

So if you’ve had enough of lost opportunities, and are ready to stop allowing yourself to be defined by your past experience and your fear, here’s my 5 step plan for positive change.

The 5 step plan:

  1. Choose a new story: realise/remember that you can always choose a different thought, a different perspective around your speaking, despite any prior experiences, and no matter how dire you think they were. Where you are now isn’t the end of your ‘speaking in public’ story. One study showed that just 3 repetitions of a new routine is enough to begin long-term potentiation, or brain rewiring (Your Brain at Work. David Rock 2009, p.40).  Start rewiring yourself a new story!
  2. Expectations and goals: set them high in the long-term, even while they’re low in the short-term You want to keep high standards around what it’s possible to achieve (your expectations are largely responsible for your ultimate results)  while accepting that you’re going to feel short-term discomfort with a new, bigger ‘story’.
  3. Stop listening to that voice inside your head which tells you that you can’t really change. Have your negative moments, but don’t let them have you – there’s a difference. You are not your negativity or fear: you’re so much bigger than that.
  4. Start doing the work. Encourage yourself by thinking of  another area of your life where you have made positive changes – there will be one. Then begin talking differently to yourself: “in the past I believed X, and now I’m making a new choice.” Talk to yourself with emotion – energy in motion. This really speeds up the change process for you. Recognise that there’s a gap between stimulus and response, and in that micro-gap you have the choice to go with the old way of processing, or think and act differently. Try this experiment with your breathing: breathe in and out a few times, slowly and calmly without forcing, and as the last whisper of breath leaves your lungs, notice the gap which naturally occurs before you breathe in again. Anchor this gap in your breathing to your ability to choose a new response.
  5. Restart. Be prepared to keep restarting. it takes time, but every single time you choose a new helpful thought or action around your speaking skills you’re setting yourself up to succeed with your long-term speaking goals. I’ve seen it happen so many times with clients. You can do this.

Questions? Ideas? Let me know what you think of this article by commenting below!


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Comments (4)

  • Peter Watts Reply

    Powerful points, and all applicable to so many areas of life in addition to the public speaking field.

    at 12:21 pm
    • Sarah Denholm Reply

      Appreciate your comments, Peter – and I agree, I use these points when getting off track in other areas too. How we talk to ourselves is just so important, and often a reminder is all we need to then take the next step. Sarah

      at 10:24 am
  • Marion Reply

    I have given many presentations now, on Antarctica and on Spinning and I enjoy every moment of it!
    You are correct – it is all about mindset, and I would like to add that knowing your topic well gives the added confidence to give a great impression.


    at 8:06 pm
    • Sarah Denholm Reply

      Thanks for your comment Marion – how great that you enjoy giving presentations! I’m sure this means that your audiences will be enjoying themselves too…and yes, knowing your topic inside out really helps with confident presenting. Sarah

      at 4:24 pm

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