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The Naked Truth Behind Overcoming Public Speaking Anxieties

By Gianna De Salvo

It was the night before my first solo primary school recital. The next day I would be in front of 150 students, parents and teachers with all eyes on me and I needed to be prepared both mentally and vocally. The trouble was that as much as I prepared vocally, I would still sing off key. My tone deafness would make sure of that. And my mother's advice as I sat riddled with anxiety? Why, to imagine the audience naked of course. The old adage, "naked people seated in the audience means you feel more in control on stage." I was never quite sure how it could work - nor did I ever really put the theory to the test. That is until recently. And you know what, it really does work!

In NLP (Neuro-Lingustic Programming) terms, imagining a scene not as it is, but as you would like it to be in order to release anxiety, is called a "positive hallucination." This sounds bad, but it isn't. It is actually quite a useful tool to use in any number of situations - including being interviewed, negotiating a salary increase from your boss or even public speaking. If you can psychologically lighten a stressful situation to take the edge off it, you are one step closer to completing the task effortlessly and successfully. And one way to do this is to imagine your potential employers, boss or audience naked. Or, you could use a "positive hallucination" scenario to imagine them speaking in a funny voice, dressed as clowns, resembling your Uncle Pete - whatever makes you personally feel more comfortable. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

So what is NLP anyway? In a loose sense, it can be explained as a way of thinking about our minds and environment. As the name suggests, it is made up of three of the most prominent building blocks of human experience - neurology, language and programming. The neurology part pertains to our bodies and how they work; language is, of course, how we communicate with one another; and the programming component is how we perceive the world around us. Ultimately, NLP is a realization that while our environments may not change, we can still change the way we think about our surroundings and react to them appropriately. It is a multi-dimensional process that gives us humans more control over our minds, and in turn, greater control over our behaviors. And it is precisely this type of understanding that can help us mentally clear away negative thoughts and focus instead on what we are seeking to achieve in life.

The techniques of NLP are most often used as a part of a therapy session with a qualified hypnotherapist. In the above example, a hypnotherapist may make the suggestion that the next time you are in front of a large group that you picture them naked (or imagine a scene that would put you more at ease) and then take you through the day as part of a visualization - from beginning to end - seeing yourself achieving the reaction that you are seeking afterwards; for example the audience's approval and applause. You can then trial-run this scenario over and over again in your head as part of self-hypnosis, which the therapist can teach you, until it is implanted in your subconscious.

Surprisingly, when the day actually comes, you will find yourself at greater ease because you've already "seen" and rehearsed the positive outcome. And, in some respects, your mind will already think you've already been through the process once, or a number of times, and been successful. Although the mind is powerful and advanced, it can be easily fooled. It sometimes has a difficult time realizing the difference between a real memory and a rehearsed one. So the more successful talks you give (real or imaginary) the more your brain expects a positive outcome to be achieved. Thus, the easier it is for you mind and your behavior to adapt accordingly.

So even though that day as a girl, singing terribly in front of a full auditorium, gave me some anxiety of public speaking/performing for years to come, it's only taken a couple of hours of NLP and visualization to realize that it is much easier to be in control of myself than to control the situations I find myself in. And besides, depending on the type of audience you are presenting to, it may be fun to imagine them naked anyway.

Gianna De Salvo is a licensed Cognitive Hypnotherapist working in Southwest London. She specializes in working with clients with stress or anxiety related issues.
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