Case Study: Fear of Public Speaking


Presenting Problem

David was a business school student studying at one of the top MBA programs in the country. He was a solid student, head of a school club, and had an active social life that balanced nicely with his professional and academic one. While David was on the road to being groomed as a future executive, he became more and more aware of the anxiety that accompanied him during public speaking. Simply preparing for a talk would begin to cause an adverse reaction in his body that included sweating, increased heart rate, tightness in his chest, sweating, butterflies in his stomach, and an overall uncomfortable feeling. David realized that given his goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur, his career would lead him to speak in front of large groups of people. In addition, he would have to pitch his ideas to board members, top executives, and investors.  Despite the idea of having to do these things caused him to be excited, execution of delivering the talks caused an unwanted response. Having heard me discussing the fear of public speaking with a friend of mine, he approached me to discuss his case further.

Background Information

David was always a good student, and pursued his academic undergraduate studies at a competitive college in Boston, Massachusetts.  While in college David made the realization that he was attending, what he considered, an extremely eliteuniversity where competition would be fierce and numerous smart and talented students would surround him. From this realization, David strived to stand out and be different, and thereby increased his competitiveness in order to achieve his goals.

During his undergraduate career, David was in class he was commenting on material that they had been studying when he lost his thought mid sentence. Immediately he was unable to concentrate, calm his mind, and bring himself back to what he was initially discussing. David, eventually pardoned himself, and the class resumed their discussion without the pertinent information David was unable to provide.  From that moment, David began to feel a sense of incompetence in public speaking. He made the association that from losing his train of thought people would think he was not smart. As a result of this incident, before public speaking David would begin to feel anxious, nervous, or hesitant instead of feeling focused, prepared comfortable, or at ease.

David’s goal in working with hypnosis was simple:

                        Be relaxed before public speaking

 Method of Treatment

Before meeting with David I had him provide me with a handwriting sample. This sample was prepared on a blank sheet of paper with no lines, no margins, and no requirements other than to write about how he would like hypnosis to help him and then to sign the document.

It should be noted that during the review of handwriting analysis, the document is not read for content until after a series of analysis has been done upon the printed text itself. Upon reviewing the document, I noticed that David had been dotting his “i” not directly over the stem of the letter, but rather over the following letter or even the one two letters down. One particular place this was seen was on the wordspeaking. On the word speaking, David had actually dotted the “g”.  One other pertinent element of his handwriting sample that stood out immediately was his signature. David only signed his first name with a squiggle line and two hash tags under it, as shown here:

When discussing his sample with him he stated that he did this on all his documents, whether for school or business.  When a person signs only their first name it is an indication that they have a strong urge to be seen as an individual. What was interesting that we discussed after I mentioned this fact, was that David was in fact an identical twin. While he loved his brother, he was in constant struggle to be seen as unique rather than identical. The underlining scribble below his name, is an indication that David was money driven. That he valued money in his life, and through his drive to be unique he would also feel this compensation through monetary value as a scale of worth.

In order to move forward with helping David move past his fear of public speaking, it was necessary to ask David how he wanted to feel before and after his talk. In our sessions we worked directly with large group talks rather than small group discussions or class work. David outlined the following:

Goals: Feel relaxed before public speaking, and to be ready for “start up weekend” which is a large conference where entrepreneurs come together to discuss their ideas. David would be going there to pitch his idea as well.

In a perfect situation Davids days and moments before his talk would go as follows:

  1. Prepare to the best of his ability before the talk
  2. Wake up the morning of the talk feeling prepared that he had studied, rehersed, and was confident in the information he would be providing
  3. Feel refreshed from a good night sleep
  4. Get excited about the knowledge he would be bestowing on the group of people he was presenting to
  5. Having arrived at the talk, he could get on stage and “own it” (being in total control with a plethora of information)

When he asked if he had any advice for friends of his that had similar issues with public speaking he stated that some of the best ways to prepare and be ready were to:

  • Practice speaking by yourself
  • If you become flustered while on stage that you can take a breath and simply move on to the next topic
  • Relax
  • That even though there are more people in the audience its no scarier than being in front of a small group of people.

David and I also did some word associations with the term “anxious.” When David was asked to state five synonyms for the word anxious he stated the following:

  1. Nervous
  2. Hesitant
  3. Lack of confidence
  4. Scared
  5. Tepid

All of the above feelings, goals, and perfect execution would be addressed through one session of systematic desensitization while in hypnosis.

The key to success for replacing a feeling of anxiety or nervousness is to get in touch with the counterbalancing feeling of relaxation while in hypnosis. Since relaxation and anxiety can not coexist, it was important for David to feel the state of deep relaxation so that when he felt anxious he would be able to replace it with a feeling of relaxation. Davids visualization of relaxation was the beach. Once he had focused in on all the sense of what the beach provided when thinking about relaxation we were able to move forward with our systematic desensitization of public speaking.

Still in hypnosis, David was asked to bring up the positive feelings associated with the information he would be presenting to his group during a public speech. He was asked to get in touch with his knowing he was smart, prepared, able to produce any information on the spot because he studied hard, was a bank of information, and he was well practiced. Once in touch with his preparedness, David was asked to visualize step by step the process of waking the morning of the talk, feeling prepared, excited, and relaxed. While watching David his body was extremely calm until moments before getting onto the stage in his visualization. His hands became to fidget, thus indicating that he was having an abreaction dealing with his reaching for a goal that seemed relatively unobtainable at the moment. David was asked to take a deep breath and move past that feeling of anxiety and replace it with a feeling of deep relaxation. The key to Davids success for overcoming his fear of public speaking was to allow his subconscious to know that he was providing the audience with very important information. This became a driving force behind his visualizations and later in his actual public speaking.

Having desensitized David to the anxiety around public speaking, we also conducted a series of leaving those feelings in the past. That his fears had once served a purposed, but no longer were needed to continue forward with him on his path. Since David had a strong ability to visualize, he was asked to walk through the door of his subconscious to see this fear in the corner of the room. He was able to destroy this unwanted characteristic leaving him with only a small souvenir he could bring with him as a reminder of his overcoming his fear.


David did go to the start up week conference and was able to deliver his speech without any anxiety or fears. He was able to bring up his feelings of relaxation and increase his excitement about all the information he would be “bestowing” to the crowd of people.

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