Tuesday, 9 February 2010

"How to land on your feet when speaking in public"

The BBC World Service has been replaying a broadcast of Lucy Kellaway from October 09, in which Lucy gives tips to would-be public speakers.  She says she finds public speaking more frightening than spiders or getting mugged in a dark alley.  Most people feel the same. Lucy skims for tips all books on the subject that cross her desk.  She ends with a couple of simple tips: (i)  Practice, practice, practice and (ii)  Junk all aids such as powerpoint.  Also "never read your speech".  All fine tips.  But what about the *fear*, Lucy?  What about the spider on the  mind?

Most people hate the thought of public speaking because they get the fears: butterflies in the stomach, or worse, strong adrenaline rushes that can cause "brain freeze", or wobbling voice.  So why doesn't anyone mention the best way to overcome this: Beta blockers, such as Inderal.
I confess that 30-some years ago when I first had to speak in front of a room full of colleagues, I got nervous and got the voice-shakes.  A doctor mate of mine suggested Inderal.  Marvellous.  This drug stops the reaction that causes the rush of unwanted adrenaline to the brain, too much of which causes the discomfort of hyper-nervousness, sweating, voice shakes, mental blanks and so on.
The knowledge that you could not, literally could not, get the adrenaline rush that causes the shakes and "brain freeze" was liberating, comforting and confidence building, so that you could concentrate on what you wanted to say, not worry if you were going to have a complete mental blank.
Ever since when I had a public speaking engagement I took a tab an hour before.  Thus I went through a career in the latter half of which I did a lot of public speaking in front of large audiences, and was often complemented for my calmness and control.  I didn't tell them, but I tell you: Inderal, baby.  I'm sure I could now speak in public if I had to, without the Inderal, but why take the chance.  It's harmless and non-addictive (one bottle lasted me years).
All the Beta Blocker does is stop something happening (hence the name "blocker"); it does not give you any chemical to make something happen.
Inderal:  my number one tip to get that spider off your back. Don't get mugged again, Lucy. You heard it here.
Postscript: closer reading of Lucy's piece reveals that she does indeed mention a beta-blocker.  So I guess all I can say now is that I would have given it more prominence.