The 10 Psychological Stages of Public Speaking

I have spoken publicly about a dozen times in the last three weeks. Because this is more than usual, I have begun to notice a pattern in my own psychological state as I go through the speaking cycle.

A Speaker in Front of an Audience - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Splitcast, Image #180536

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Splitcast

It has been helpful to identify the components of this cycle, so I am not so surprised when they occur. So far, I have identified ten stages I go through in preparing to speak. (This assumes that I have never delivered this exact speech before.)

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Warning: this post is about my psychological states as I prepare. It may sound self-indulgent. If so, I apologize. I am sharing this in the hope that you won’t feel alone, if you do any public speaking.

Here are my stages:

  1. Enthusiasm. Someone invites me to speak at their event. I have a phone conversation with the event host to better learn what outcome they want to create. I am honored to be part of the event and get excited about the possibilities.
  2. Curiosity. I begin preparing. I usually create a rough outline, using OmniOutliner. I am not looking for too much detail; just the overall flow. I begin reading books, blogs, and other background material. At this point I don’t feel either positive or negative; I just enjoy learning.
  3. Creativity. I begin putting it together the speech. I love this part of it. I rearrange the outline (if necessary) and begin fleshing out the detail. If I am going to use a slideshow, I start assembling the visual components, using Apple Keynote and iStock Photo.
  4. Panic. As the deadline looms, I feel rushed. My anxiety level rises. I begin wondering if I will get it done in time. I estimate how much work I still need to accomplish and quickly conclude that I don’t have that much time. I end up tweaking my presentation right up until the minute I leave for the event.
  5. Despair. As I wait to be introduced, I feel ill-prepared. I go through enormous self-doubt and recrimination. A voice in my head whispers, You should have started preparing sooner. Or, You really don’t have anything to contribute. Or, This isn’t going to connect with this audience. If I could, I would push an ejection button.
  6. Confidence. As I am introduced, I hear another voice in my head: You can do this. Open your heart wide and play full-out. Don’t withhold anything. There’s more at stake here that you know. At that, I feel a renewed sense of confidence and excitement. I am fully present to the moment. I step into it with confidence.
  7. Flow. As I begin to speak, I look the faces in the audience. I begin to connect. I realize that there is indeed something at stake. I begin to believe that what I have to say is important. I get new ideas, recall stories, and see connections that didn’t occur to me in my preparation. This is where the real creation—the art, if you will—happens.
  8. Satisfaction. As I sit down, I feel satisfied. Regardless of the outcome, I have given it my all. I am pleased with what I was able to share. I feel gratitude for what just took place and a little silly for (once again) doubting the creative process. Oh, how I would love to eliminate stages 4 and 5!
  9. Depletion. My mood is usually elevated initially after I speak. But I always try to make myself available after my session to interact with the audience. I think this is important, but, as an introvert, it quickly depletes me. I find it difficult to focus on the person speaking to me. I begin feeling a little claustrophobic and am eager to get to “the alone zone.”
  10. Perspective. I always try to improve, so it is natural to begin critiquing my speech. However, I have found that I cannot be objective until I have recharged my spiritual and emotional batteries. It is much healthier if I push the “pause” button and wait for a while. Usually, I do best if I get a good night’s sleep first.

I don’t know if these stages are typical for most speakers or unique to my own personality and temperament. The main thing I have learned is this: when I begin to feel panic or despair, that’s normal. At least for me. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with how I will ultimately perform.

Questions: What about you? If you are a public speaker, do you go through similar stages?
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  • moveintoaction

    Michael, Thank you for sharing this! I just noted many of these same things in the past few weeks while preparing for more than my usual number of engagements. Mine is a much similar flow and pattern as yours, but I always remind myself right before I start speaking that even if I connected with just ONE person and encouraged or helped them, then I did what I was called to do. I also pray and know that I truly draw my strength from God and not from myself, and once I start speaking it is just amazing how it all comes together-the planning, preparing, and even the spontaneous things I couldn't have planned that connect with people ! I am glad to know that I am not alone, so thank you again for your transparency!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome. Your comment is a great reminder to focus on the ONE and not worry about everyone. Thanks.

  • http://www.kellycombs.com Kelly Combs

    I completely related to this! I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in the panic & dispair moments! But for me it isn't atisfaction, it's elation. I'm so hyped when I'm done. "I did it! YAY me!" Then comes the satisfaction after the adrenaline rush goes away.

  • http://thatguykc.wordpress.com ThatGuyKC

    As I try to take advantage of more opportunities to present at work and in hopes of public speaking on occasion #4 & 5 definitely trip me up. #7 is probably the most energizing and exciting.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    I don't do any public speaking, but I go through pretty much the same ten stages when leaving a comment on a blog. (After a good night's sleep, I'll critique what I just wrote.)

    • Gail

      Lol :) Can't wait for your critique :)

  • http://www.succeedspeaking.com Shawn

    As someone who works with some of the most seasoned professional speakers as well as aspiring/emerging speakers, it's refreshing to see you admit the feeling of #5 (despair) — we all have that yucky self-doubting inner voice. Thank goodness #6 follows so you can get in the moment and let things flow. Great post, Michael! Thanks for sharing.

  • Dalene

    I do a lot of public speaking and if I am presenting something new (to me), then I go through all these stages too! Due to the nature of my job I find myself giving the same presentations over and over. The panic & despair stages are gone (whew!) but so are the enthusiasm, curiosity, and creativity stages. I find myself looking for ways to make changes, other than just little updates, to use some creativity. As a fellow introvert, I do find my self depleted afterward as well.
    Thanks for putting to words what so many of us feel!
    Dalene

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think that’s an important distinction. I have a slightly different cycle if it is a talk I have given before.

  • http://twitter.com/rahulusfbcm @rahulusfbcm

    Wow, this describes what I go through perfectly. I thought I shouldn't be feeling like this! Thanks so much for posting about how we speak. Please send some more wisdom from the conference!

  • http://www.lantzhoward.com Lantz Howard

    I like what you said about the eject button. This is reaffirming to know that I am not the only one that this happens to. I correlate speaking back to my days of playing basketball and getting prepared. They are very similar in nature. As soon as tip off happens I have tons of fun.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s a great comparison!

  • http://jeffreyholton.blogspot.com Jeffrey Holton

    I am honestly happy that this post is resonating so well with other public speakers.

    I admit that I haven't had nearly enough opportunities to speak in public to large audiences, but I didn't see a lot of this ringing true with my experience.

    I think the ENFP version would read something like this:

    1. Elation. Wow, someone wants me to speak!! Ohmigosh. Wow, they haven't called back to change their minds yet!! Oh, cool!!

    2. Outline: the night before the speech, open up OmniOutliner, get distracted by Google News, and eventually write three words on a napkin. Accidentally leave napkin in jeans that wind up in the laundry.

    3. Speak: Whatever.

    4. Hope the phone rings again to start you over at #1.

    Or maybe introverts are just naturally created for public speaking engagements! :)

  • http://www.kathyfannon.com Kathy Fannon

    It's nice to know the 'professionals' panic and feel inadequate too. Part of my training for school will be learning to do workshops and public speaking scares me! I know, like you, once I actually begin and get into the flow I will do fine. Until then, panic and despair will be my companions! Oof, I feel butterflies just thinking about it!

  • http://revtrev.com revtrev

    You've done a good job reading my mail when it comes to preparing. I've learned at times to start with the creative, once I'm confident in the topic. I guess you do the same outlining things first. I think depletion comes for us who get our energy on our own. True extroverts might have a different name for it.

  • http://larryhehn.com Larry_Hehn

    This definitely resonates with me. As a fellow introvert, I can especially relate to the desire for the "alone zone" after speaking. I had never really given all the different stages much thought until now, but I think you've identified them well, Michael.

    I have also noticed that between stage 4 and stage 9, my hands are always ice cold, no matter how warm the room is. I've often wondered if anyone else experiences that, but it's not usually something that comes up in conversation!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      My hands used to be ice cold. I also used to sweat terribly. But thankfully, with experience, both symptoms have subsided.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I like you more and more with every post you write. I had no idea you’re an introvert, but I totally relate. It sucks it out of you. Completely. Thanks for sharing this. I spoke three times last week and it took me all weekend to recharge. It makes me feel better to know that a phenomenal speaker, like Michael Hyatt, goes through the same emotions.

  • http://musicroad.blogspot.com Kerry Dexter

    I do not do a lot of public speaking myself at present, though I have in the past. Tweaking up to the last minute has never worked for me, neither did cramming for exams until the last minute, for example — I find it better to reach a stopping point and let things settle in.

    I work a lot with musicians, and many of my friends are musicians as well. It's interesting to me that there are so many different ways they prepare for and react to performance, some exactly as you describe, others quite differently. For all of them, though, the expereinces you mention in your section on flow are part of things.

  • Davey

    Not "public" speaking, but I do give speeches for classes, etc. School assignment type stuff. I agree with all of your points… That basically sums up the stages one goes through when they prepare…

    *You are an introvert?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, believe it or not, I am an introvert. I get recharged by being alone.

  • http://www.AlwaysOnVacation.com David

    This is really helpfully especially I'm going to do first public speaking in November. Every time I imagine of myself in front of people, my anxiety level rises … I already starting to question myself if I can do it or the audience will get me message, or …. This is a lot harder then I thought! Oh great, my anxiety level rises again now …

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Congratulations. You are normal!

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    You get an A+ for self-awareness! Can't wait to hear you speak sometime…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Geoff. Hopefully, our paths will cross.

  • http://www.blaneyoung.com Blane Young

    Thanks for being so transparent!

    I love this:
    Perspective. I always try to improve, so it is natural to begin critiquing my speech. However, I have found that I cannot be objective until I have recharged my spiritual and emotional batteries.

    I have to make sure to apply this as I review myself and others on my team!

  • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    I think so, too. I have heard it said that you expend in a 45-minute speech the equivalent of a full day’s work.

  • http://www.ImpelMinistry.com David Lawrence

    Michael,

    Thanks for posting this! I'm speaking more and more now, and i can feel it as well!!

  • Carlo

    Thanks for sharing, Michael! There's more than enough value here to "justify" turning the focus onto yourself for one post.

    I'm catching up on all my blog subscriptions and just read a Beth Kanter post also on public speaking/presenting. It made for a good one-two combo with your insights. Beth's blog:
    http://www.bethkanter.org/heather-gold/?utm_sourc

  • http://twitter.com/HDYDmarketing @HDYDmarketing

    I have literally just finished my own social media semianr for small business and, lo-and-behold, this is the first blog post I read. I went through all of this and then some! Great insight and thanks for sharing :-)

  • http://twitter.com/AndreaAresca @AndreaAresca

    "Do you go through similar stages?" – Definitely, YES!
    I always feel unprepared and all sort of doubts come to my mind! Even if I write a manuscript of my speech (but I speak without it) I still change many things till the last minute.
    But I see that – if you worked hard in preparation – the "flow" of the speech will show how much you did before.
    Usually, I try not to think of my speech just after delivering it. At least 24 hours later, I can "rationally" review it and understand what I did well and where I can improve.
    Another very useful thing I sometimes do is listen or watch myself a couple of months after: it's incredible how this can help improving!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I do that, too. Video is especially helpful.

  • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    I totally agree on the ending. If I can start and end strong, I can make it work.

  • Marc Buxton

    I definitely share a lot of your sentiments. I speak quite regularly, several times a week usually, and being an introvert, I can certainly relate to number 9! I just want to shake a few hands and then hit the car and the hotel….but it doesn't work that way, and it is helpful for people to connect with the speaker afterwards (just think about the reverse situation, when you are in the audience).

    -Marc

  • http://www.nextreformation.com len hjalmarson

    Michael, its a great summary – one I have come close to writing a couple of times, but perhaps with less clarity. And as a writer transitioning to speaking, I think there are particular challenges I face – which other writers doubtless share!

  • greentub

    Yep.

  • http://twitter.com/rodneyeason @rodneyeason

    Thank you for posting this Michael. I always replay even "successful" talks and think about what I could have said differently. Or, "if I would have strung together this thought with that piece, it would have made the point stronger."

    One thing that I started doing is having my assistant schedule blocks of time on my calendar without my input. Having these times makes me accountable for spending more time on these talks. Plus, she sees when I should be working on the presentation and periodically asks me how it is going.

    This helps me out a lot and forces me to spend the time on a presentation to make it better.

  • http://actioninternational.org/stewart Brian Stewart

    Mike, thank you very much. Excellent post.

    On a related topic: do you (or anyone reading this blog) have a recommendation for a portable projector and screen? I do some speaking overseas (on mission trips) and need to get a projector and screen in the next two weeks that I can take on my trip.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’m sorry, I don’t.

  • marguerite

    This was very helpful! It helps me to give my speech to others before I deliver. I often make changes according to their suggestions.

  • http://twitter.com/barryengelman @barryengelman

    Any post that gives good information and phsyco analizes you at the same time has got to be great…I think.

  • stlukespastor

    Depletion – In addition to personality traits, part of this can be attributed to the input and use of adrenalin that has "fired you up" to speak but is now gone. Many Pastors report that Sunday night/Monday are some of the toughest times for them emotionally. Some speak of how they find that they are more prone to temptation, even after a very wonderful service. Some even feel guilty about it but what they see as a "let down" is actually a much needed pyscho-physical healing process.

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  • http://www.rowentree.com April Rowen

    Wonderful post! This one should go down in your 'Post Hall of Fame'. Reading this makes it feel possible to become a speaker (because at this point, I gulp when I think about it). Sans steps 4 and 5, of course =D

  • http://midlandjack.blogspot.com Jack Hager

    After 32 years of public ministry; I still find it incredible that the Lord would call and equip me. I concur with your points, and find the most difficult time after a week of speaking (though older than dirt, I still speak at 5-7 teen camps each summer)I go into a sort of self imposed shut down…which poses problems when I get home to my wife who wants to hear all about it. I struggle more one-on-one than I do from the “platform.”

  • badmash

    I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

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  • http://ruach.wordpress.com David

    Thanks, I find this to be very helpful since I have definitely experienced stages 4 and 5 and have been tempted to give up at that point. I also identified with the desire to get alone afterward but realizing that I needed to interact.

  • http://thedefaultlife.com Sam M

    wow, really interesting to see my own thoughts in here. thanks for suggesting omnioutliner!

  • http://www.liveonpurposecoach.com Deneen

    Thank you so much for your transparency. I have felt everything that you stated. After my speeches, I still second guess some of the content. However, when someone walks up to me and tells me that a comment that I made really hit home with them. I know that I have hit the mark and that is worth it all!

  • http://www.fixyourtodolist.com/blog Jeffrey W. Cox

    Thanks as always, Michael, for sharing such deep insight. It is nice to see that I’m not alone in these stages as I’m very similar.

    Related, I really appreciate you recommending The Executive and the Elephant. It looks like the Elephant takes over in steps four and five, then the Executive in six. I’m excited about this book as it describes myself to a tee. I’m a slow reader and not too far into it, but excited to get through it as I think it will be a huge help in situations like this.

  • Shane

    I think it is interesting that, for you, the “art” is during the delivery; not the creation. I am a pretty easily distracted speaker; therefore I try to corral my thoughts as best I can prior to speaking. I find that the art must come earlier during the creative stage. However, I do wrestle with just being natural during the speaking event. Thanks for your insight!

  • http://ceciiil.wordpress.com cecil

    Hello there,

    Great stuff, thank you so much for sharing it. It’s roughly the same for me and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one in that case.

    I especially like the despair/confidence switch right before the start.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    As a public speaker, I too go through similar stages as enumerated by you. In fact, fear grips when I think of public speaking. This inertia could be overcome over a period of time and experience. The saying, “practice makes perfection” also holds true for public speaking.

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  • Maureen

    I used to go through those stages but I’ve eliminated a lot of the last minute stress and tweaking by using mind maps to speak from. I’ve done a lot of researching on how the mind works and a lot of it points to the idea that mind mapping works because the brain organizes things naturally in maps. I can use visual cues to remind me of the facts I want to share and it opens up the possibilities of creatively adding content “on the fly”.
    I used to have problems with timing but when I do a dry run of the speech I include cues as to how long each section of my speech should be. I can now time a speech to within 30 seconds of how long it needs to be. Tony Buzan has a great book on mind mapping.
    Maureen
    60 Minutes Toastmasters

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    I have gone through some stages of these. Not sure why I thought of this particular talk, but I remember going through one stage that isn’t on the list. I call it “What was THAT?!?!” LOL! However, I can tell you I learn a LOT that day. :)

  • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

     This is similar to what I go through every time I preach.

    I rarely get the satisfaction part though, I jump straight to the internal critique before the depletion sets in.

    I also have the bad habit of asking other people for immediate critiques, especially my wife.

    My next speech isn’t for over a month and although I’m comfortable with the topic, it will be on a new topic and at a conference, which will be knew to me.

    I’m starting to get really nervous even just doing the outline as I think of the number of people who will be there and the different skill/experience levels they have.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I know it helps me when I can shift my thinking from me (how I will appear) to them (what they need). Just a thought.

      • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

        Mmm, good thought!

        There are a lot of factors in play here, but you’re right, if I can put them out of my head and focus on the attendees and what they need, this is going to be a lot less stressful! :-) 

  • James

    Michael,

    You set me free on this post. It was like you were in my head the whole entire time dictating my thoughts. Thanks for sharing