Getting comfortable with being seen, heard and read

As artists, writers, and messengers, we have work we want to share with the world: Something to say, write, or show.

But for those of us on the more sensitive side, the intensity of being “seen” in this way can be completely overwhelming.

A story for you

Today I want to tell you a story about a woman who went from being terrified of being seen, to writing, blogging, teaching, and speaking her message in the world.

Here it is:

In her 10th grade English class, this woman — a girl, then — was asked to choose a poem, read it to the class from the front of the room, and speak about how it related to her own life.

It was the first time she had been asked to give an oral presentation on such a personal subject. She had never enjoyed speaking in front of the class before, but this took her anxiety level much higher.

When the day of the presentation arrived, she had practiced endlessly, but she was still so nervous and tense about the whole thing that as she sat in the hallway before class, she had tears streaming down her face. Her friends didn’t know what to do or say. Knots were twisting in her stomach, she was as pale as a ghost, and she felt like she could be knocked over with the slightest breath of wind.

When the bell rang, she mustered herself into the door and sat at her desk, her head spinning with pounding voices and everything she was supposed to say. She was so nervous that she couldn’t concentrate at all on the teacher’s or on the other students’ presentations. The class dragged on interminably and she was in agony waiting for her turn, watching the clock ticking closer and closer to what felt like a death sentence.

Then suddenly she realized there wasn’t enough time left for her to present — the bell was going to ring! She was off the hook!

A huge wave of relief swept over her. She was saved. The bell rang, and she left, practically levitating out of the room.

But then the next day at school, she had to face the same situation again. She cried in the hallway again. She sat through class on pins and needles, again. And the class ended without her having to speak, again.

It went on like this for days, literally. Even over a weekend. It must have been at least 7 consecutive school days of this torture, including the crying and her friends not knowing what to do with her.

It was truly, truly awful.

Finally when she did give her presentation — it went fine — and it was actually behind her, only then did she feel true relief from the anxiety that had built up inside her.

I’d like to tell you that she learned from that experience that public speaking wasn’t so bad. But she didn’t.

Instead, she swore then and there never to speak in public again.

It didn’t quite work out that way, with more schooling to come. But she was crystal clear that she would NEVER speak in public voluntarily. NEVER.

Until, of course, she realized that she actually had something to say. Something that was important to her. Words she wanted to share, verbally and on the page.

Her message.

That’s when things really changed for her.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story, coming soon.

Your turn

Your comments are welcome.



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~> Now my son and I are reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and loving it.


  1. Oh, my! What a subject.

    I wrote an essay for an english class that was excellent so the teacher asked me to read it to the class. I was terrified, but I got up and read it. I was shaking so badly that I could hear my knees knocking.

    Another time in 10th grade at a Catholic school I was in a piano recital. We had to memorize the piece of music. I wore heels for the first time – 3″ – and had trouble walking up the stairs to the piano. I was so nervous that I forgot the opening – so I made one up! It was actually pretty good, only my teacher and I recognized the mistake. Then I was pounding the pedal so hard that the piano started to roll across the stage away from me. I managed to stretch enough to finish the piece, but it sure was touch and go.

  2. Hi,
    I’m sooooo glad you’re writing about this topic. I am a singer/songwriter/performer/actress who is also an HSP. I found you while I was researching HSP.I am so grateful for your site, your insights and your encouragement. This topic is every so appropriate for me. I’ve had these gifts in the arts since I was little but had incredible anxiety about performing my whole life. The HSP in me has been silently suffering in turmoil while the rest of the world sees this confident performer. It’s an act , a show, a lie. Sometimes I drink behind the scenes just to calm my nerves. But we all know where that leads so I’ve been trying to keep it in check. But this incredible overstimulation I feel at rehearsals, at performances, and while interacting with my fans and audience before and after a show, has almost caused me to quit the business a million times! “It’s just not worth this torture!!” I say to myself. But I haven’t quit. I’m still in it and still dealing with the duality of “looking the star” while “feeling so shy and scared inside.” I know I’ve been given a gift so I don’t want to walk away from my God given talents but I don’t want to live a life tortured by anxiety, fear and terror either.

    I rarely see this topic discussed in this way so, again, I thank you and look forward to the rest of the story!

    • Sabina, I’m so glad this subject is speaking to you. It does sound like it is right up your alley, with all the performing you do. I think many performers are highly sensitive; it’s too bad we don’t have better and more support for that.

  3. still to this day I feel like the young person you’ve described here… slowly and carefully I’ve started speaking up first when possible so as to at least alleviate the mounting anxiety caused by having to wait my turn. I’ve managed to avoid “real” public speaking for the most part and I’m still dreading the day when I step up to the mic and into the spotlight for real the first time. I keep reaching outside my comfort zone in preparation for that moment, nonetheless. I have something to say and I’m stepping up and saying so in a variety of ways that swaddle me from being TOO exposed just yet. I’m getting more and more capable of putting myself out there and can’t wait for the day when I am truly ready to speak publicly. I suspect that when I’m finally ready, I’ll be right on time to deliver just what my audience needs to hear! Perhaps there’s something about the importance of what we have to deliver that makes the prospect of it so frightening…

    • Lydia, I love how you are gradually moving yourself out there more and more with your message. Lovely way to go about it.

  4. Being visible and being seen is a huge deal for me and I’ve actively worked on it for many years. In high school I remember being so afraid to even say my name during role call that I could barely talk. Later, when I was in the wine business, I found myself giving a presentation in front of 200 people and I was shaking so hard I’m surprised I could walk. But the weird thing was that I was also excited by that opportunity, and it was the combination of terror & excitement that lead me to learn how to be a presenter. There is *no way* the earlier me would have dreamed I’d be comfortable in front of people, and even though I still get nervous I always make it through and end up glad I did it — completely mind boggling and I’m grateful :) Thanks for taking a stand, Jenna.

    • Isn’t it amazing how far we can come? Thanks for commenting, Kris. And for being visible!

      (Same goes for all of you who have commented.)

  5. Hi Jenna,
    I, too, had a horrible time speaking up.

    Although not as a child. I spoke up regularly. Yelled things in class. Was a class wit. Loved to get up there. Then I started to get punished for speaking up and also I almost needed glasses over night. I started a new school where I had a not-so-nice teacher.

    By high school, I could barely speak and knew it was a detriment. I changed majors in college to avoid speaking! Have an essay coming out on this that I will send when it is published in June. I managed to conquer it. And have been working on it ever since.

    Now, I can say that I could speak in front of most anyone and not be nervous. I love to put myself in confrontational public speaking situations so I learn how to maneuver around folks that don’t really want to hear anything that doesn’t rubber stamp. I’ve been yelled at galore, had my words twisted around, been treated like a 2-year old. I’ve learned what to say in those situations. It’s empowering to stand up to folks who don’t want you to feel powerful because then you are not afraid of them.

    I always ask a question at a public meeting. Great way to get over the fear of getting your voice out there! Super duper topic. G.

    • We sure do get mixed messages about speaking up and out, don’t we? I avoided speaking too — as much as I possibly could. You are a great role model for overcoming that and powerfully finding your voice. Thanks for the comment, Giulietta.

  6. Your article really brought back memories, and helped me to see how far I have come as a presenter. My first time speaking in public was during my first year of college in my teacher training program – I was studying to be an elementary school teacher. I had to present my first lesson plan to my fellow students in preparation for presenting to elementary students. It was awful – my mouth was dry as cotton, I couldn’t remember everything I had practiced saying, my voice cracked, and it is truly by the grace of God that I got through it at all. I was terrified that I might not be cut out to be a teacher after that experience, but somehow I found the courage to keep going. As I think about the remainder of my career, I have continued to be thrust into roles that require me to speak in public – as a teacher, a human resources director, and a career counselor – I constantly had to be in front of people. And now it comes fairly easy to me – I no longer get nervous when I have to speak and I can actually enjoy the experience. I think the Universe has been preparing me to take on the spotlight most of my life, and when I actually step into the role of being a writer, I think I am going to have to step into a much bigger spotlight. I am looking forward to your call next week that will be addressing this topic – I want to make sure that I know how to take care of myself so that I do not become overwhelmed and want to hide out.

  7. Thanks for the story Jenna. It helped me get in touch with that little girl in me who feels tortured by thinking of the spotlight. I could feel the agony of the girl in your story. It helped me feel compassion for myself.

    And thanks Giulietta for your comments. You made me remember all I have done for myself in order to get comfortable, and even in VERY uncomfortable situations. I’ve handled some and with aplomb. And G, I never realized how meaningful your Twitter handle is: @GiuliettaSpeaks!


    • Thanks Mary! It must be in my subconscious. I didn’t realize until you mentioned it how appropriate GiuliettaSpeaks is! Glad you can appreciate how far you’ve come. Feeling comfortable in uncomfortable situations is a gift!


  8. I can relate to the little girl in your story. I remember a grade school flutophone concert I was supposed to solo in, and I was so relieved when I got sick and couldn’t go!

    As an adult, I’m less afraid of being “seen” in writing, and it’s one thing to participate in a discussion, quite another to be putting my own words out there by themselves. I also completely relate to your last few lines about it feeling important enough to say. I look forward to the rest of the story!

  9. Hey Jenna

    This topic struck such a chord in me! It made me think of when I was 10 years old or so, and I had to give an oral in front of the class, I was so absolutely overcome by sheer terror that the teacher made everyone close their eyes or put their heads on their desk while I spoke. This terror stayed with me for years, and I only realised much later that it was strongly related to being an HSP.
    Well, one day, a couple of years ago, I faced my fear head-on. I offered to speak to a group of psychologists about horses as gifted coaches in emotional intelligence and social skills. A subject very close to my heart, but I am not qualified, and they are. Me, speaking to a group of therapists about emotional intelligence!
    Anyway, my fear and my nerves were very, very intense before and during my presentation. But they loved it! And asked me lots of questions and expressed a lot of interest afterwards. This dealt a huge blow to my fear, and I must say I’ve never felt the same terror of speaking in front of people since.

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