Have you ever said you’re triggered when speaking publicly – do you know what is going on and have you learnt what to do about it?

Being triggered refers to something that impacts our emotional state causing overwhelm, upset, or distress.  It often affects our ability to stay present and regularly results in a pattern of behaviour repeated throughout our life. 

It might be the sound of gunfire for someone with PTSD, or dirt on the floor for someone with OCD.  The reaction might seem out of proportion with the event because it’s bringing up past experiences. 

Nowadays “triggered” is a term regularly used when someone is uncomfortable with a response or situation, and it’s this we are considering in this article. We aren’t talking about post-traumatic responses or severe mental health disorders.  We are focused on that feeling of being scared or nervous, perhaps frustrated. It might show up by being shaky with a dry throat, a racing heartbeat or sweating. We might feel lightheaded or have a panic attack.

It is all a sign our sympathetic nervous system is activated controlling our fight or flight response. 

The SNS (sympathetic nervous system) affects many different parts of our body and it helps us when you might need to act quickly.  It improves your eyesight, reflexes, and endurance…. Think of being chased by a lion – you don’t need to be digesting food at that moment!

The issue is our SNS can be ‘triggered’ when there is no lion and whilst we need our body to be on high alert it can give a sense of panic in the moment.

Are you triggered by the thought of public speaking?

We’ve got a few tips to help you get it under control, so you can stay alert without being triggered.

Prior to the presentation

  • Know your subject matter really well so if you lose your place or get thrown off you can talk from a place of secure knowledge
  • Practice out loud multiple times – in front of others if you can and, if that isn’t possible, video yourself
  • Be organised – if you can visit the place, check out parking, and make sure your slides are uploaded or any documents you need are printed, don’t leave it to the last minute
  • Visualise the presentation going well, imagine every step, what you’re wearing, handling it all, and being congratulated afterwards.  Imagine it all going well so your subconscious brain gets to work in a positive way
  • Challenge your thoughts if they are negative – don’t allow your mind to spiral but bring it back to the reality of what is in front of you, what’s truth.

At any point before or during the presentation

Use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique

  • 5 things you can see (door, window, carpet, laptop)
  • 4 things you can touch (feet in your shoes, pencil in your hand)
  • 3 things you can hear (rustle of papers, bird outside, scrapping chair)
  • 2 things you can smell (paper, rain)
  • 1 thing you can taste ( a mint, coffee)

During the presentation

  • Get a couple of big breaths deep into your core – breathe in for 4, hold for 2, out for 8, three times
  • Don’t fear the silence.  If you have a moment of panic or lose track just be quiet.  What feels like an eternity to you is only a matter of seconds for the listener.  Use for 5-4-3-2-1 or deep breaths if you need to during the session
  • Focus on the material, not the audience – yes they will notice you are nervous but you’ll have got the information to them and that’s what they are there for – it isn’t a judgment on your presenting ability.

After the presentation

  • Keep in touch with reality if you’re prone to catastrophizing.  (eg – ‘it was a total disaster’ ask yourself if it really was all so bad – keep in touch with the truth.
  • Focus on three things that went well – celebrate your success
  • Do some deep breaths afterwards to re-center yourself.

If you’re looking for some inspiration after this article why not listen to the story of a female business leader.

And if you’d like to check out our videos visit YouTube where you’ll find a few of our short 1 minute tips and advice videos.