How I Overcame My Intense Fear of Public Speaking (and Singing!)

confidence vagus nerve Apr 21, 2021

Maybe you can relate to what I’m about to share today…

For most of my life, public speaking has been a huge challenge for me.

This may come as a surprise to some, especially considering that I’ve played music in front of stadiums of people for nearly two decades … Or that I now make my living by teaching classes and facilitating workshops to groups of all sizes…

Whenever I found myself front and center—without the security of hiding behind my drum kit or the camaraderie of my bandmates—I felt exposed. And with that came nearly unbearable levels of anxiety.

This was frustrating for me, because I had important things I wanted to share. Things I knew could help enrich the lives of others…

But there was a big problem: I absolutely despised the sound of my voice.

Where my fear all began

When I think back to my younger years, this aversion isn’t all that surprising:

Take, for instance, the one time the head nun of my elementary school told me that I wasn’t “up to par” with the other kids singing in the 5th grade talent show…

Or when I joined the 7th grade speech team and my voice cracked two sentences into my first-ever presentation—prompting me to freeze on stage in front of an auditorium full of people.

Or the time someone I really admired said they had a hard time listening to the “thin, grating sound of my voice” after I’d performed an original song at a Rusted Root show the night before.

Pretty harsh, right?

But perhaps the most unfortunate thing of all was that I let these experiences shape the narrative I told myself. For many years, I truly believed that I was agonizing to listen to, and that maybe I was better off just keeping quiet.

Of course, this negative view majorly contributed to my fear of public speaking and muted the little voice inside that desperately wanted to chase a certain dream...

I’ve never admitted this before—but before throwing myself into drumming back in junior high, I actually really wanted to pursue singing.

But instead of ever letting myself try, I always found a way to shoot the idea down. Without skipping a beat, the same inner monologue would kick in: “That will never happen, dude. Your voice sucks!”

Even though in recent years, the transition from touring musician to college professor pushed me to confront this fear head-on…

And despite having years of experience speaking in front of groups…

This belief about my voice remained.

Finding my true voice

In 2010, several unaddressed issues in my life came to the surface, so I decided to take a little time out and embark on some “soul searching” (or what some might refer to as a “midlife crisis”).

After a lifetime of feeling shame about something that, deep down, I knew I truly wanted… I decided to record an album of all original music with my new band, the Sun King Warriors.

What really put the wheels in motion for me was surviving my first major health scare. I decided that I wanted to give my kids and wife the opportunity to hear some of the musical recordings they had inspired… just in case I prematurely kicked the bucket.

I had also decided that I owed it to myself to at least try.

I’ll be honest, blocking out the naysayers in my head wasn’t easy. But taking part in this project made me confront these narratives about my voice.

I decided to look up some vocal warm-up tutorials on YouTube and ran through them during my commute to work.

I made the choice to work at it and train my voice until I developed a sound that I actually felt comfortable with.

After just a few weeks of doing these exercises, something amazing happened…

My voice started sounding fuller and stronger. I noticed that my voice was developing depth, accuracy, and range.

And the changes weren’t just physical. Something was happening in my head as well…

I actually felt good about the way I was sounding.

And not only that, but my mind was clearer than usual. And my mood was great, too; I felt relaxed… and strangely happy.

Naturally, these immediate and positive effects gave me the motivation to continue with the exercises.

Even at work, things were improving—without me actively trying!

During my lectures, I noticed that my ideas flowed more effortlessly. And I hardly had to refer back to my notes. Plus, I was able to speak louder for longer, without my throat feeling dry and sore halfway through the class.

So the solution to my lifelong problem was this obvious? All I had to do was participate in a little vocal training?!

The whole-body benefits of vagus nerve stimulation

What I didn't realize at the time was that these vocal warmups were also stimulating my vagus nerve—the longest nerve in the body, which starts at the bottom of the brain stem and travels all the way down to your abdomen.

Whenever my voice stimulated this nerve, it triggered my body to release a cascade of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins.

It wasn’t long after that I discovered the mechanics of sound healing and immersed myself in the science behind activating these crucial systems within the body.

And nearly 10 years later, I’ve made a habit of doing my vocal exercises daily, especially on long drives.

I do them before recording podcast episodes, before shows with my band, before conference presentations… really any time I know I’ll be projecting my voice in front of a group of people.

As a result, my confidence has vastly improved, my voice is strong and resilient (even after singing a three-hour gig), and most importantly, I have a reliable tool I can use anywhere to calm me down, increase my focus, and lift my mood.

The 2-minute trick to strengthen your voice—and confidence

If you think you could benefit from speaking (or singing) more confidently, here’s one of my go-to vocal regimens that I like to call “buzzing.”

  1. Commit to a time and place where you can do this exercise each day.

    Remember, the doing the exercise daily yields the best results.
  2. Set a timer and perform the “buzzing” vocal technique for two minutes.

    I made a sound clip that walks you through this technique. Simply click here.
  3. As you become more comfortable with “buzzing”, feel free to perform this for longer, or incorporate your favorite sacred word or meditative mantra (ex: “Om” “Amen,” or “Hallelujah”). Even chanting elongated vowel sounds will work.
  4. At the end of your session, take a minute to note of any immediate changes. Do you feel calmer? Happier? More clear headed?

    And over time, you can expect changes in the strength, tone, and durability of your voice.

As long as you choose to make it a priority, anyone with a voice can enhance and improve it. And as a result, you’ll be better equipped to share your gifts, talents, knowledge, and experiences with those around you—ultimately, making the world a better place to be.

Be Well,


P.S. – To learn more ways you can use the power of your voice to improve your physical or mental health, I encourage you to check out my free Absolute Beginner's Guide to Sound Healing. Simply click here to learn more about it, or to get started today.


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