Not sure what is happening to me but I have been called to speak at meetings and am now unable.  I have never had to speak before but never really had a problem at job interviews and such, but now I cannot speak.  My eyes twitch, my voice shakes and I am so nervous.

I was recently asked to go speak for a taped interview and I could not do it.

I do not know what to do and I hate to appear like a failure and if I want to move up with my career I am going to have to overcome this and be confident. 

I appreciate all help and suggestions, this is very stressful.

jnuttall's picture

The first thing to know is that you can fix this.  It's going to take practice and hard work, but you can overcome this.  

It may help to understand that the emotional reaction you are feeling when you are put in a situation to speak publically, is probably because you were conditioned by some prior event, where you were put on the spot, or unprepared to speak in front of an audience.  You may not even explicitly remember it, though you probably do. 

The fight or flight centers, your amygdala and limbic system of the brain, can cause vivid implicit and explicit memories of emotional events to form.  Sensory triggering of these memories is lightening fast... the circuits from your sensory systems to the limbic system are way faster than the circuits through your concious control (your pre-frontal cortex).  Once you experience a trigger, your limbic system causes a chemical (neurotransmitter) reaction in your brain that your concious control centers cannot easily stop or overcome. You are then chemically wired for some period of time... anywhere from several minutes to an hour. 

The trigger can be visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, or a combination of several senses.  Maybe the visual sight of people around a table looking at you combined with the auditory sense of silence.  Sometimes just understanding what your triggers are can help you overcome.  For example, if everyone looking at you in silence is your trigger, you could try opening your presentation with a question to get your audience talking, or directing their eyes to a visual prop (picture, slide), or both.

The trick is to rewire your brain, through practice, to prevent the emotional fear trigger from happening.  I would suggest you find a coach, and use the Manager Tools coaching model to work through solutions. 

Create opportunities for small and repeated successes, then build on them:

1.  100% script a speech and read it to a group of friends.  Confess your problem to them and enlist their help.

2.  Prepare and practice... the best speakers rehearse over and over and over.  They sound "off the cuff" because they are relaxed and confident, but they have rehearsed.  Ask Mark and Mike how many times they have presented the EMC conference... and how many times they presented it to a mirror, or a friendly audience, before they did it in front of a client for money.

Best of luck.



adtz's picture

 If this is  a new condition i.e. you were able to speak before and this has changed, get a medical check up.  There are several different things that can cause this kind of change.  John's advice is spot on for handling basic anxiety, but certain conditions have a physiological component.  For one such, see Scott Adams blog: 

GlennR's picture

Toastmasters offers a supportive environment for people wishing to improve their speaking skills. Go to and enter your postal code to find a club near you. Each club varies in personality so you may want to visit several.

Other benefits from joining TM: Because speakers speak on a vast array of topics, you're going to learn new things (and frequently these speeches are humorous so you're going to be entertained as well). I still walk out of many meeting super motivated thanks to various speakers. TM is also a great place to network both professionally and personally. Finally, through volunteer officer positions you have a chance to improve your leadership skills.

The price is right too. Although membership varies, here in the US, in my particular club I think I pay about $40 every six months.

Desiretosucceed's picture

Thank you everyone! John, I had a job interview and was prepared for it. A panel interview, all men and it appeared as if I was set up to fail. I could not answer one question. And immediately walking in the room my nerves hit!

I have an appointment with my GP on Tuesday and going to Toastmasters on Wednesday. There is only 1 local Toastmasters that does not conflict with time. 

I will follow suggestions and post back. Thank you. 

scm2423's picture

Ask yourself what's the worst thing that could happen if you find yourself unable to speak in front of a group.  Is it a life & death situaltion, propably not.  Is it a job performance issue, ok, discuss it with your manager, in most cases they want you to succeed so they'll be able to help you.s

Desiretosucceed's picture

It is not job performance at all. It is more job interviews and the invite to speak for a promotional video.  In the video I know the girl was frustrated with my inability to answer, plus how can I be promoted to the next level if I can not answer job questions. 

I feel uneducated and unprepared but that is not the case. 

I have goals for my future but unless I get this in check I will not be able to go much further.

GlennR's picture

It occurs to me after reading these later responses that you have something in common with veteran actors and actresses. Stage fright. Even some of the most famous and talented actors still suffer from it. But as the old cliche states, they get the butterflies in their stomachs flying in formation. They're still there, but they're not as disruptive.

I hope Toastmasters works out for you. Whether it does or does not, the single greatest criteria for effective public speaking is to rehearse your presentation over and over  again until it becomes a part of you. As for job interviews, get a friend or family member to help you role play. The more you rehearse and role play, the greater your confidence. The greater your confidence the more the butterflies fly in the same direction.

Good luck, (...and like others I define "luck," as when opportunity meets preparation.)


Desiretosucceed's picture

Thank you everyone, I attended my first Toastmasters meeting today and saw all levels of speakers, even the one that appeared as nervous as I do.  I will certainly be back.  I did enjoy it and think I can benefit from it. 

ProcReg's picture

I read "The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking" by Dale Carnegie. I've used the techniques he suggests for years when I have a presentation to give.

Oddly enough, the message of the book is to practice. That's the cliffnotes version, but Carnegie does such a great job of writing, it's worth the read. 

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." - Theodore Roosevelt

"Public opinion is a weak tyrant to that of private thought." HD Thoreau Walden