I've experienced this more than once -- the first time when I was in my 20's and on live TV being interviewed about a local community group I was part of. The lights and live camera inexplicably turned my brain to complete mush, despite the fact that the interview was a completely friendly one. I've also had it happen in front of live audiences -- both as a speaker and as a musician.
But here's the interesting thing. I also love being up in front of an audience. I've performed as a professional musician (and dancer) and also given numerous talks. And, speaking of music, there are artists of the highest caliber who've struggled with debilitating performance anxiety.
And it's relevant here on HN. I was in a Founders Institute demo day a few years ago when one of my classmates had exactly this kind of meltdown.
But there really is a lot you can do to get a handle on performance anxiety. It starts with having plenty of practice in pressure situations. And with not being too hard on yourself if you do screw up.
It provides a release for the adrenaline so you're not fidgety. It is completely invisible to the audience. It gives you better posture, making you look more confident.
Try it next time you're anxious. Squeeze your butt.
edit: also one thing to practice in general. Next time you're waiting in line at a coffee shop or whatever, put the phone away, take your hands out of your pockets, and don't touch anything on your body or your surroundings. Stand up straight, hands loose by your side. Gently place thumb of each hand on its corresponding index finger. It's good practice for presenting a composed and calm body language. And you'll be surprised to realize that nobody else in the entire coffee shop cares or even notices.
Either way, it does help. I've used it plenty of times when speaking in front of large audiences.
In my mind, I performed like someone who had just picked up the instrument when in fact I had been playing for 10 years. The reality is of course a bit different, but that's the perception of the performance I remember, and I definitely did not perform the piece anywhere near as well as I had when practicing.
The public speaking twelve years later, which I had never done before (short of a couple of roles in school theatre), went great. I had minimal anxiety and I honestly thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This happened at General Assembly, back when they had both a for-profit educational system and a coworking space in NYC (and the company I work for was working out of there). One of their employees asked me to give a presentation of our product as the final presentation of a demo day they were having for one of their immersive web development classes.
I guess I just had impostor syndrome as a violist performing solo (had no problems in the orchestra, though obviously violists don't get much exposure in most orchestral works - not all though!), and didn't as a professional web developer with ~8 years of experience following presentations of people who literally had 10 or so weeks of experience, even though I'd never really spoken publicly before and my presentation was _entirely_ ad libbed; they literally asked me to present about an hour before the demo day presentations started.
I'm very curious if I'd be able to handle the public speaking as well as I did if I had to follow people who I perceived to be my peers and betters, but I've not yet had an opportunity to test the hypothesis; when I performed on the viola, the people who went before me I viewed as better musicians than myself, and I have no way of knowing if that was what set my performance anxiety off until I put myself in a situation where I feel like I'm not as good as the people who are performing with me.
It's totally frustrating because in every other aspect of my life I'm a very confident and positive, don't suffer from any anxieties, and am very much in control. I have little tolerance of can't, that is, I usually don't let fear of trying or other's lack of ambition stifle me. So to have something totally irrational take control over me, like it does, is bizarre.
I'd genuinely love to fix it at some point, but I'm in those situations infrequently, so I'm not convinced I'd be able to really nail it.
In reality, they are very well trained mechanics. That last sentance is curtesy of Dr. Dean Edell. I miss that guy.
We put doctors on pedestals in the states. I have found very few deserve this special treatment.
I'll get beat up over this post. I don't care. To the person I'm writing to, I had a horrid fear of public speaking. I actually got through college with only one public speaking engagement. It was a sweaty train wreck.
As I've aged, public speaking got to the point where my pulse doesn't even flinch.
Obviously this is a blanket statement, I'm sure this doesn't characterise every clinician. But I have seen this a lot.
Note: you will be expected to speak right from the start, but that's also kinda the point. Everybody understands that it can cause nerves, though :)
Learning how to do ritual magic.
I should add, it's not real magic. I do LARP as a hobby, and my character is a ritualist. This means I, and a bunch of other people, put on little performances in a ritual circle to perform various magical effects in the game. (The way it works is that the referees score us on how good they thought the ritual was, and then tell us what happened.) A ritual is typically 10-15 minutes with about five people and, depending on what you're doing, can vary between completely scripted to totally improvised.
Pressure-wise, it's interesting. In the game, rituals are important and expensive. They matter, a lot. A screwed up ritual will backfire, including and up to getting you (or someone else) killed. At the very least a badly performed ritual won't work, but will still use up a lot of in-game money. Get it wrong, and there will be consequences.
Also, rituals don't always go according to plan. Summoning the spirit of someone from the dead? You let the referees know ahead of time and they'll make sure that the appropriate player is available to play the spirit. Once they go on stage, you need to improvise, and they might be rather angry at being summoned. So you never really know what's going to happen, and once you and your team get some practice, you get good at covering and supporting each other --- I once completely blanked on my lines and it was covered so smoothly that I don't think anyone noticed.
But at the same time, it's all completely pretend. It's not actually you in the ritual circle, it's your character. If things go completely pear shaped and you all get thunderbolted to death, you know you'll be drinking beer with the people involved later and the story of 'How I said the wrong thing and got fifteen people massacred' will have gone into legend.
So, at least for me, it provides an oddly safe environment to practice high-pressure performance and speaking. I know that in the couple of years since I've started doing this I've gotten way, way better and standing up in front of staring faces and doing my thing, and that skill does translate into real life.
Although I suspect that in real life there's less chance of demons suddenly materializing in the middle of the auditorium and trying to kill everyone (although I've been to meetings where that could have been a mercy).
But after glancing through the write-up this does give you an amazing insight into just how much CONTROL over a narrative and an interview like this the newscasters have. it will certainly give me more insight the next time I observe what seems to be the slightest of hiccups.
It was actually not really good and I hope this guy will either get used to these "public" speakings or find a way to "get control" of the situation.
As a totally neutral outsider I just saw a guy having a bad couple minutes, still confident in himself but fumbling with the tension of being in a high pressure situation.
Reading the story of his feelings behind the moment was fascinating and oddly comforting having faced one or two situations of extreme pressure myself!
I'm really glad he had the courage and fortitude to write about what happened.
"He said his condition is "always going to be there" but the fact that it was out in the open was "immensely liberating" because he would no longer have to spend emotional energy trying to hide it."
In college, I was called on at the very last minute to host a roundtable sports discussion on the university radio station. Likely listening audience: a million or so. I was freaked out, knew not a thing about sports, and just as we were getting started I asked if we should kick off talking about football - only to be told it was the off-season. I then tried introducing the panel, but blanked on one of their last names. He was my roommate. This is how I felt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W45DRy7M1no
In my 20s I had a phone interview for a fellowship that would send me to South America, teach me a foreign language, and put me in the company of my idols for two years. During the call, I was struck with such debilitating anxiety I went totally off the rails. It went a lot like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0PUrNwvvBk
I spent 10+ years taking meds for anxiety. And I was super lucky that they worked a charm. I'm off meds, and in very good shape, but I know better than to write anxiety off. I'm seasoned at dealing with it, but expect to deal with it for the rest of my life.
> I waited there for about twenty-five minutes, absent-mindedly scanning old newspapers while watching the goings-on about the office and repeating what I wanted to say about the North Korean rocket launch over and over in my head.
As someone who is also an introvert struggling to pass as an extrovert at many times (though thankfully not on live TV, thank god), I can offer a little trick that helps to prevent these situations: practice out loud.
It's simple, but effective. When you encounter one of these "freezes" your natural instinctive response is to fall back on what you've practiced -- physically, not mentally. And what you actually practiced, Dr. Habib, is mutely thumbing through newspapers.
What I do when I have a big speech or talk is find some quiet room beforehand and actually practice my speech or talking points out laud, until I have them basically memorized. Then I throw out the notes and give an extemporaneous talk. It always goes different than planned, but when I get stuck my mouth automatically goes to start forming the phrases I had practiced and I get back on track. I get complements and people are super surprised to find out that I'm actually introverted and dread public speaking...
I have bipolar and social anxiety. When I'm in my "up", I can speak in front of a large crowd fairly easily and can't even come close when I'm in my down. Thing is, the two comorbids work together. If, for example, I mis-say something, my mood has a tendency to completely drop, which affects my social anxiety, which affects my mood, etc. It tends to last for about a week after that.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing can't be labeled as introversion vs extroversion. The problem is very, very complex and has many facets. Giving it an introversion label doesn't do any justice to the intensity of the problem. If anything, canonicalization of this sort seems to do more damage than good, as it gives a false sense of understanding of mental health.
I started creating online courses recently and while I can perform well under no pressure in the comfort of my own home while taking as many cuts as I need to get out what I want to say, I have trouble explaining things live to an audience.
So far I've gone up twice in front of 70 or so people for only 60 seconds to announce my course. It's material I know very well.
The first time was pretty bad. Not a total tank, but lots of fumbling around and eventually saying things in a way that wasn't very clear at all.
The second time was a bit better. It had a rocky start for the first 3-4 seconds (aka. life times when you're up there) but I pulled it together and something vaguely coherent came out. I kind of just went into auto-pilot mode with confidence because it's something I wrote out like 20 different ways when I was working on my introduction video.
I didn't study a script for either of them but I practiced what I wanted to say in my head while I was walking to the venue. Probably not the best plan, but I've never been strong at having to memorize long blocks of text, it's just not how my brain works.
I think you do have to study hard to give a good presentation but being able to improvise is critical, especially if you plan to take questions at the end.
The only problem with a script is you need to become an actor because it's not easy to pull off reading from a script without sounding like it's a script.
Usually after a few takes with the script, I end up with like 80% scripted / 20% improvised. I'd like to eventually flip that to 20/80, but I know it'll take practice.
The talk itself was ok, ish, oki, not great, as I relied heavily on my slides, however it was good enough (and the topic was good) - I have since gone on to write longer talks and deliver them...
The practice with a friend for me was so useful, and is worth it over using a mirror (for me), being worried about being embarrassed is fine - just throw yourself in and try your best, practice makes perfect. Good luck to all! :-)
Of course all situations are different and you are dealing with something else, but it's worth a shot.
it helps you to hear yourself specifically, and separates your physical distractions.
Oddly enough, the exact opposite works for me: don't practice at all (I suspect this won't work for most people). The clearest example I can recall is when I was at university - I had to deliver a short speech to the group (10 or so people) on a topic I knew fairly well, and prepared and basically memorised the whole thing (including practising out loud). On the day, I was a nervous, stumbling mess, and completely missed half the points I wanted to raise despite having the speech in front of me.
The following week, we had a debate on a related topic, with no advance warning (format was two teams of three, each person delivering a speech similar in length to the one mention above but to expect interruptions from the other side). Despite the lack of planning and preparation, I delivered my speech near flawlessly, handled interruptions without issue, and was the most outspoken person in critiquing the oppositions' arguments (my professor took me to one side at the end of the seminar and mentioned that I performed much better off the cuff). It was really weird to see that difference, as I thought it would go just as poorly as the last time.
Plan meticulously. Then, moments before entering the situation, deliberately tell myself to throw everything I've prepared away and react to each moment as it comes.
Play to the ground.
A doctor friend of mine passed along a recent NY Times article about how beta blockers may actually be able to cure the autonomous nervous system response and re-train the brain to not panic in otherwise panic inducing situations.
It's very exciting research and it's great to see non-psychoactive drugs used to combat mental issues.
Huh??? Drugs that combat mental issues are, by definition, psychoactive. If beta blockers weren't psychoactive drugs, they would have no effect on anxiety.
As your body goes through these physical reactions your mind starts whirring.
It's possible that calming your body helps you to calm your mind.
I read about that a few years ago, so gave it a go before high-pressure situations where, previously, my mind and attitude were fine but my body was going nuts, and.. the fight-or-flight response has either been heavily diminished or even absent. I consider them a major win with only occasional (several times a year) low dose use but YMMV.
I'm sure they run into people who forget what they were going to say, or get distracted, or try to go off on tangents, quite regularly.
I think the biggest problem for me is that the field I'm in, despite being in technology, seems to favor outward personality types and views social phobia as a strong weakness. Even mentioning issue feels like it has potential enormous career growth impact. The most recent job I worked for, it got to the point where I actually went to HR and talked to them about it, including the ADD/hypomania comorbids. Absolutely nothing came from it, which only furthered my thoughts on others' appreciation for mental health.
I saw a comment yesterday saying that we're going through a positive mental health phase shift now, but I'm seeing the exact opposite. I see a large amount of "othering" towards those with mental health issues. For what it's worth, a majority of the HN type personalities I've met over the years are just as guilty of this.
It's definitely something to work on, but the problem's always in regression. It's incredibly easy to fall into the pit of going the easy route of isolation, etc. That said, the biggest help for myself is to be actively aware of my own emotional state as a pseudo third party. It's a strange meta way of thinking about yourself, but it's incredibly effective in managing the mostly daily issues.
My senior year of college I was tasked with giving a presentation on an entire semesters worth of work to the class, no problem - except the catch was that you weren't allowed to have any notes with you. I'd never had an issues with presenting or speaking in front of audiences before, a little bit of nerves like most people, but nothing more than that. Well the day of the presentation comes and in my mind I knew ahead of time that it wasn't going to go well - I'd never given a talk to a class with no notes and I had convinced myself that without something to reference I was going to screw up. Well 30 seconds or so before it's my time to speak I begin to get the fight or flight response and start to have a panic attack - mind goes blank, heart literally pounding, I'm frozen. I don't really remember what I said, but I remember spouting off a lot of "umms" and "fucks". It sucked.
I eventually got over that embarrassing moment, but I'm convinced that I've now actually taught myself how to easily have a panic attack during moments that trigger even the slightest bouts of performance anxiety. Conference calls, medium-sized meetings, you name it, my body triggers an anxiety response - something that I never had a problem with before, it's debilitating, and I fear that it's holding me back in life.
The only thing that works for me (that i know of) is taking beta-blockers when I know ahead of time that I may be "in the spotlight" discussing or presenting something at work. They work wonders and really silence the physical responses that the body produces that are ultimately the catalyst of a panic attack, but the effects don't last veery long. So unless I'm popping pills all day, I'm basically always on-guard and fearful of those impromptu situations that pop-up where I could be called upon to speak - an "unmedicated" me could easily freeze-up slip into panic mode.
I sympathize with Dr. Habib and I'm wondering if anyone else on HN is in a situation similar to me and how they're coping, treating or hopefully curing it.
I don't have any answers, except that this is really where a professional can help you out. Dr Habib actually has been dealing with this sort of thing for a long time and was quite successful, it's just that the issue with him being live on air was so different and he wasn't really prepared for it. He seems to have worked on strategies with professionals. When you read his blog post, you can see that he's not defeated by this experience, but is going to use it and take lessons from it to work out more strategies to prevent it from helping.
(I hope that the ABC asks him back again when he has dealt with the issue, he is an expert and what he has to say is actually very valuable).
There are a lot of great professionals that can help with anxiety and panic attacks. As someone who uses a pyschiatrist, a psychologist and was referred to a guy who helps people with adult ADHD (a life coach I guess), it has been incredibly helpful. Not sure where you live, so I don't know how much it costs but if you can afford it, or you are lucky enough to live in a country that helps pay for this, then speak to your doctor and get a referral to someone.
Only other bit of advise around this I can give is to forgive yourself if you make mistakes, and if you do go to see a medical professional and you don't think they are the right person to see, don't feel bad about finding someone else. Any true professional psychiatrist or psychologist won't mind, as they know that each person has different needs and not everyone they see will be a good fit for that person.
I've found practice does help. I scribble down a bunch of notes on what I might say, then record myself with my webcam reading the notes. Surprisingly I'm nervous even doing this exercise. Then I watch the payback and repeat until I'm somewhat comfortable.
Fittingly, I'm drawing a complete blank on the singer's name :-)
ETA: Ah! Wikipedia comes through for me. It was Harry Connick, Jr. (I just pulled up male pop singers and scanned the list. I remembered the guy was a "Jr.") -- Aha! Here's a video clip  of him talking about it -- though I don't think this is the same one I saw. Okay, I had some of the details wrong. Anyway, there it is.
 http://theweek.com/speedreads/589588/harry-connick-jr-met-fr... -- starts at 2:49
No. You practice in front of a group, as contrived as it may be, and you have them shut up, and you give your whole talk. And you get used to the feeling of icicles going through you. You learn to breath through them and get familiar with how long they last. The fact is, you are riding inside an incredible machine, and it will pump itself full of crazy chemicals when you put it on stage. You can't let their power surprise you.
Edit: All that said, I'd offer my solidarity to Mr. Habib as well. I've certainly frozen up worse myself, and in much less high pressure settings.
In Australia, there are a lot of organisations trying to help de-stigmatize mental health disorders and illnesses. We still have a very "she'll be right" culture, which meant that men in particular have hidden their inner turmoil and not dealt with their mental health issues. But lately we have had a national conversation around this. Things that have helped:
* We made Patrick McGorry Australian of the Year. Patrick is Professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has been very influential in studying and improving early intervention services for youth experiencing mental health problems.
* The ABC put out Mental Health Week, which was great as it allowed a national conversation around mental health
* Governments, whilst still largely failing at providing adequate mental health services, are at least starting to provide more funding and get real about this issue. Even Tony Abbott, who I have almost no respect for, increased funding for mental health even though he decimated the budgets of pretty much every other department.
* Andrew Robb, a senior minister in the Abbott and Turnbull governments, had a very bad case of depression and took time off with the bi-partisan support of all sides of politics. He has been one of the LNP's most effective ministers (whilst I can't stand the TPP, it is probably true that he is the most effective Trade Minister this national has ever had) and has shown that you can have mental health problems and still be effective in the workplace.
* The Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue have really made in-roads into mental health awareness. Both organisations are there solely to advocate and increase awareness of mental health issues. Beyond Blue (though they've had problems internally in the past) has an incredibly effective spokesman, Jeff Kennett. Kennett was one of the most successful (and highly controversial) Premiers of the state of Victoria. When he speaks, people in power tend to listen, and he has been very vocal.
* Just yesterday the Victorian Police Commissioner has finally admitted that mental health issues in the Victorian Police Service are at the top of his list in terms of matters that must be addressed. He actually admitted that the suicide rate is alarming, which 6 suicides of police officers this year, of which 2 happened in the last two weeks.
* With a mental health plan, you can get 10 free visits a year to a psychologist. This is extremely helpful, especially for those on lower incomes.
That said, we have a long way to go. Frankly, health services are not funded correctly. In NSW, Cumberland Hospital (which I was once admitted to overnight) is a degrading, disintegrating and appalling institution. It is one in which I will never allow myself to be admitted to ever again.
I am hopeful, however, that Australia as a nation is finally maturing about our understanding of mental health problems. It's honestly good news, and one which all sides of politics are really trying to address.
Absence of it:
Up to some point in your life its not there at all. I remember in our school, we used to have a teacher's day. I which teachers would take rest, and students from higher classes would go and teach junior classes. Per student you were required to take 3 classes. And I remember going to all three of them, totally free and un-encumbered. And did that with flying colors, in my opinion. At that stage in life, I didn't know what stage fear was, as it was totally absent. I call it the innocent phase.
Onset and very acute straightaway:
When I was in college. I came from a background where we had good written English, but didn't have fluency in speaking. And I think that made me very self conscious in my new environment. There were occasional hiccups in conversation in English, in a very friendly setting, but I felt very embarrassed. And although everyone is rather kind, but it led to some people slotting me, and they would choose to talk to me in Hindi, the next time, and it was all in good intent, without malice. But you can imagine, what kind of effect it had on me. I began dreading things like any project presentations in front of the class. Stopped asking questions in the class. And of course camouflaged all of this very well - by trying to carry a non-caring air. Hey I was a 20 year old then.
Working on it, and it being there in a low intensity way:
This phase carried on to my work life. But the intensity was less. But this was a good phase to work on this problem. I tried to reason myself out of this. I told myself things like: "Why do I need to fear people? They are just here to listen to me. Something which I can offer them. And if I am sincere and honest and humble, then what do I need to be afraid of? They won't hit me?" . Another thing which helped me do well is thinking that, I will start the presentation, by confessing my extreme nervousness, and request the audience to bear with me. Surprisingly, this relaxed me a great deal. I never had to do it, as I felt better just by thinking this.
Another thing, which helped me was prayer. I feel in a more equanimous state by the act of praying - and I have made suitable modifications in my thought that I am conversing with nature, instead of God. (I don't believe in a lot of aspects of religion. But also believe and have experienced solace by it. Agnostic. Full disclosure.)
A dormant demon?:
Talking about now. I don't feel that intense kind of anxiety now, in speaking. And thankfully so. I think Startup life also helps in that regard. As there are hardly any BS presentations, or needing to say things you don't believe in. If you have to speak to VC, its to get them to invest. If you speak to an audience, you want to describe your idea, which you believe in. And also being honest, I felt, helped a lot. As it puts you in the right frame of mind. So of course nervousness is there, but much less. I was lucky to speak in front of a rather large audience in the early stages of this Startup journey, and I did not feel as anxious.
But once you have experienced, this kind of anxiety. You can never be too sure. It can surface, at any unprepared moment, in the middle of an answer, when you grow self-conscious. I guess the simple key is to acknowledge it, and try to reason it out. Even if you stutter or stammer. Apologize with a smile. Take a deep breath. Think. And speak to the human (or humans) who only want to know what you think. Cheers!