Should You Take Drugs to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking in Public?

hand with a pillYes, you read that right. Some individuals have such bad stage fright that they are resistant to coaching.

This post is not meant as a prescriptive that everyone take “something” to calm their nerves. Most people, with presentation or media training, can overcome their anxieties. They are content experts, but not experts at presenting themselves.

Drugs or Not?

Then there are the speakers who are content experts and understand the rules of making a presentation and answering the media’s questions. They just freeze when they step into the spotlight. They can’t assert themselves or speak up.

This doesn’t happen very often but if we’ve just described you, then our advice is to see your doctor and explain your problem. Ask if a beta blocker could help.

Some time ago we received a call from a very accomplished psychiatrist at a local hospital in charge of the psychiatric department. She had originally dropped out of medical school when it was time for rounds. That’s how terrified she was of presenting in front of her colleagues.

Even mental health professionals can have problems with anxiety when they’re required to speak in public. She eventually forced herself to return to school and earned her degree.

Fast forward. During our initial call, the doctor said that she was scheduled to make a presentation to the hospital’s Board of Directors. She was gripped with anxiety so we made an appointment to meet. Over the phone I talked her through the flow of our session and what to expect to help alleviate her fears.

On the day of her coaching session, she took two beta blockers just to confront her fears and which calmed her so that she could focus on her presentation and not her nerves.

We retooled her presentation for the Board and during her rehearsals she got to see herself on videotape as other people would see her.

She had built up in her head that she wasn’t any good when in reality she knew her subject matter cold and, with practice, she became very good at presenting it. After her meeting with the Board, she called to say her presentation went very well – but first she took her meds.

The Imposter Syndrome

Sometimes the imposter syndrome causes excess nervousness and anxiety. You feel like a fraud. The imposter syndrome is holding you back. A beta blocker might help.

Musicians and actors often take beta blockers for what’s called “performance anxiety.”

Their nerves prevent them from giving their best performance. They may forget the score in the middle of a piano concerto or mess up their lines in a play.

Pill BottleBeta blockers aren’t for everyone. We can count on one hand the number of our clients who have visited a doctor for a prescription. But in extreme cases, doctors understand that these meds can work in alleviating anxiety.

You should never self-prescribe by borrowing a pill from a friend or relative. It can backfire. We happened to see an executive on The Today Show that we had coached previously (but not for this appearance). She looked and talked like she was in a coma. Our guess is that she overdid the beta blocker solution. Or, that she hadn’t taken a “test run” before appearing on TV to see how the medication affected her.

For someone with severe anxiety, speaking in public can seem as difficult as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Before reaching for the pill bottle, though, contact a coach to see if it’s lack of training and not your nerves that is holding you back.

You are welcome to share your experience with performance anxiety in the comment box below.

2 comments to Should You Take Drugs to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking in Public?

  • I first met Joyce because of a competitive bid for Public Speaking to educate our top executives at Amdahl Corporation. Joyce took on an impossible task and excelled! Some of the executives ‘hated’ her as she interrupted, without apology, their Scotch break, football game watching and general lack of interest. But… Joyce prevailed.

    She taught these executives how to handle the media. How to have an agenda and stick to it. How to never let their emotions ‘get in the way’ but to use them to their advantage. . . .

    She also trained our sales executives. They do not speak with the media but are charged with presenting to senior executives around the world who are making 10’s of millions of dollar decisions on mainframe computers. (This is a few years back).

    On a personal side, Joyce is a powerful executive coach and a gentle soul. She is a true friend. We had a lot of fun and she selflessly guided me in my career on many levels. She is very observant and speaks her mind. I salute her!

  • Thirty-five years ago, I did a lot of speaking promoting a book, but not recently. I didn’t take drugs then, but I certainly could have used them.

    When I was invited to speak at an international photography conference in Turkey I turned to Joyce. rather than meds, for help. I wasn’t even sure how to begin.

    She worked with me to shape the talk, which I organized with a spread sheet: two or three points for each picture, and then practiced, practiced, practiced.

    It went so well that of the 30 or so photographers from all over the world, I was the only one asked to speak with a group of visiting students and their professor at the exhibition that ran in conjunction with the talks.

    Joyce, is a consummate pro. She gave me the confidence which I would not have had without her . . . and I am forever grateful.

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