3 strategies for dealing with public speaking anxiety: Lessons from a pro athlete

Fans often ask my wife, pro equestrian Elisa Wallace, if she still gets nervous. Her answer is always: yes.

Even at the highest levels of equestrian competition, it is not uncommon for athletes to involuntarily evacuate the contents of their stomach before an event. With pressure coming from large numbers of spectators (in person and on television), the hopes and dreams of fans and country, and — most importantly — the internal desire to do justice to the potential of her equine partner, a spike in adrenaline is impossible to avoid.

That involuntary physiological response is completely natural. It is a function of the fact that Elisa cares. If it didn’t happen, something would be wrong.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this this adrenaline response in my own professional life. Although still relatively new to speaking in front of very large audiences, I’ve been public speaking now for a long time, both as a teacher and as a scholar. It seems that no matter how much experience I get, I can’t overcome the experience of an involuntary adrenaline response prior to taking a stage.

This is something that I worry about, since I know that this response has an impact on my ability to think clearly, and to recall even the most well-practiced talk tracks. I worry about a quivering voice. I worry about fumbling about on stage, dropping things, and losing my train of thought.

Recently, I asked my wife how she deals with this kind of pre- performance stress response. She gave me three pieces of advice, based on her own experience as a professional athlete:

1. Embrace it.

The only reason you experience an adrenaline response prior to engaging in a public activity (or any activity for that matter) is that you care. That’s a good thing. The worst thing you can do is to stress out about stressing out. Instead, expect your adrenaline to spike and embrace it as an important part of your process. By simply reinterpreting this physiological response as working for you instead of against you, you can transform a hindrance into a helper.

2. You deserve to be there.

A lot of our anxiety comes from insecurity. For anyone with a realistic self-concept, it can be difficult to overcome ‘impostor syndrome.’ Whether you are a professional athlete or a public speaker, remember that you have worked hard, and the only reason you are there is because others want to see you there. You are there because you are already respected, and others already value your opinion. You have nothing to prove. Just do what you came to do.

3. Get pumped.

(1) and (2) are about mindset. This point is about how to get there. Many professional athletes have mastered the art of creating portable fortresses of solitude. They put their headphones on, listen to music, and tune out. Elisa has a ‘pump up’ playlist on her phone. Prior to going on cross country (the most thrilling and dangerous of her three phases), listening to music is helpful in two ways. It simultaneously (and paradoxically) helps you to tune out extraneous information so you can focus on the task at hand, and distracts you (in a productive way) from the importance of what you are about to do. Preference, of course, is music with driving bass lines, which we know from research has the effect of boosting confidence as well.


Originally published to horsehubby.com

Death is a Fact of Life

“Phamous is dead”

Those were the first words I heard my wife say as she entered the house after morning chores. She had obviously been crying.

It had been a tragic accident, most details of which are still a mystery. Strong and magnificent though they may be, horses are also surprisingly delicate. Like gigantic toddlers, horses also have an uncanny ability to get themselves into trouble and in the most unusual ways.

This was not the first time I have been exposed to equine death. A year or so ago, I witnessed an accident during an event on cross country.  I was called to assist in restraining the horse as veterinarians were faced with no other humane alternative than to give it the ‘pink juice.’ It was hard. I cried. Read more

Four-Star Horse Husband Shares His Philosophy on Life, Love and HorseHubby.com

Story by Susan Friedland-Smith for Sidelines Magazine

Dr. Timothy Harfield, eventer Elisa Wallace’s horse husband of three years, documents a behind-the-scenes look at the life of United States Olympic Eventing Team reserve rider and Mustang advocate from Jasper, Georgia, via weekly Wallace Eventing vlogs. In addition, Timothy has fully-embraced his horse hubby role by cleaning stalls, feeding horses and holding “stuff” when asked. He co-hosts a monthly Horse Husbands Horse Radio Network podcast and founded the hilarious blog HorseHubby.com. Sidelines caught up with Timothy and learned more about his thoughts on love, horses and amoeba eventing.

Read complete interview here: https://sidelinesnews.com/general/timothy-harfield-the-four-star-horse-husband-shares-his-philosophy-on-life-love-and-horsehubby-com.html

Why You Should NOT Vlog like Casey Neistat

I discovered Casey Neistat in November 2015, following an interview with Tim Ferris, and immediately suggested to Elisa Wallace that she start a vlog.

Elisa Wallace is an elite equestrian athlete, competing internationally at the 4 star level (there is no 5 star level). She is an American mustang trainer, and vocal advocate of mustang adoption through the Heritage Mustang Foundation. She is also my wife.

For years, Elisa and I have worked to create high quality video for YouTube. We have produced a large amount of competition footage, but have also worked to document the journey of each of her mustangs. Our first series was a little rough, but it captured the imagination of a lot of people (for us, anyway), who followed Elisa’s story with ‘Fledge’ through to an incredible freestyle performance what won them first place in the Extreme Mustang Makeover and the distinction of fan favorite.

We were no strangers to story-telling when Tim Ferris ‘introduced me’ to Casey Neistat (neither Tim nor Casey know me from a hole in the ground). Casey’s vlog was instantly inspiring. I showed some videos to my wife, and she was inspired as well. On November 8, we uploaded our first vlog, which was viewed 3,000 times in a single day. Not bad. There was absolutely no way for us to commit to daily film making like Casey, but we figured that a weekly schedule was doable, and so committed ourselves to uploading every Monday. We were very inspired by Casey’s approach to film making, and incorporated many similar elements in our episodes. But there was no way for us to vlog like Casey.

First, we simply don’t have the equipment. Equipment is expensive, and so my philosophy has always been to use the least expensive solution, and only to upgrade when my skill and/or need made upgrading necessary. I used iMovie for years before switching to Final Cut. The bulk of our footage is still shot using the front-facing camera on Elisa’s scratched-up iPhone 5. Second, Elisa would rather not talk about herself. She is becoming more comfortable in front of the camera, but she would far rather tell the stories of her horses than dwell on her personal life. As she has earned more fans and followers, she has let them more and more into what happens ‘behind the scenes,’ but the focus of her screen time is still predominantly oriented toward education and the lives of her horses. Third, we don’t live in New York. A boosted board would be impractical at the barn, and the urban scenery and people-rich tapestry that provide the backdrop for Casey’s videos are at least 70 miles away in Atlanta. We have animals, bugs, lakes, and trees.

It’s okay to vlog like Casey Neistat, as long as you don’t vlog LIKE Casey Neistat.

One shouldn’t imitate an other’s aesthetic as if it was a formula for success. Success is earned, not copied. What our differences from Casey forced us to do is to be inspired by, and emulate, the spirit of his film-making instead of his style. What Casey emphasizes over and over again is that it’s not about the technology. It’s all about story. Through our inability to imitate Casey Neistat, we have imitated him indeed.

Since starting Elisa’s vlog, we have learned a lot about her voice and her audience. We have experimented a lot. What began with imitation, has morphed into something very special. What initially took many hours to produce each week now takes far less time and results in something of much higher quality. Knowing who you are and why you do what you do makes the creative process far easier. A mixture of stories, training techniques, and personal vignettes, Elisa’s vlogs are very much her own, and in a way that also provides significant value to her fans. It has been wonderful to see her audience grow as a result of the regularity of our uploads, because it means bringing that much more attention to the potential of American mustangs, and generating support for Elisa and her dream of representing the USA in international competition.


If you are interested in our vlog series, and in following Elisa’s journey, you can watch every episode, beginning with the most recent one, here: