Freezing When Speaking In Public


I like to think things through before I speak, and I’m shy in public. This makes department meetings hard for me, as I feel put on the spot when our supervisor calls on me. Often what comes out of my mouth isn’t phrased as well as I’d like. I often think of what I should have said as soon as I leave the meeting and  wish I could arrange a do-over.

When I shared this with my supervisor, he said, “You just need more confidence and need to practice speaking up. You have good thoughts.”

This freaked me out, because I realized my telling him my fears would make him more likely to call on me. I became very anxious when the next meeting started. When he my supervisor called on me as I’d feared, I fumbled through what I wanted to say. My coworker who doesn’t like me,muttered, “Dumb and dumber,” under his breath and the employees sitting next to him laughed.

I totally shut down after that.


You’re not alone. Lots of people freeze when they’re put on the spot, particularly those who want to think things through first. Here’s how to come up with quick answers more easily – take a slow deep breath. When you breathe slowly and deeply, your right and left brain hemispheres work easily together, and you need both for quick answers. When meetings end and you walk off, you probably relax and breathe, with the good answer you’re capable rising to the surface.

Further, you’re likely a predominantly left hemispheric person who likes logic, problem-solving, and analysis. Predominantly right-hemispheric people thrive in situations full of emotion, creativity and intuition. In this case, anxiety and being put on the spot pulled you into your right hemisphere, where you reacted and lost easy access to language, a left hemispheric function.

Next, stop giving insulting jerks like your coworker so much power. He attacks you partially because that’s who he is, and partially because you let him get to you. In doing so, you turn a momentary chuckle into a showstopper.

The next time he mutters, ignore him. After all, his calling you “dumb” he doesn’t prove you lack brains; but that he’s an employee who feels the needs to make stupid comments. What could be “dumber” than that?

The most important comeback you need is an internal one. When you let coworkers shut you down, you play his game and call him the victor. You can of course, prepare an arsenal of memorized phrases to have at the ready the next time he messes with you. For example, a casual, “Not dumb enough to take your bait,” or “OK, my office, 3 o’clock.” If he asks, “What do you mean?” you can say, “You mutter a lot. I want to give you the chance to say whatever it is, out loud and to my face.”

Finally, your supervisor may be right, practice may help, as long as it doesn’t slam you backwards.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Send your questions to her at or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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