The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you're born and never stops - until you get up to speak in public.
There are moments in our lives where we feel as though we have mastered our emotions. In these moments we feel we can accomplish anything, face any challenge and rise above all obstacles. OK, so these moments may be few and far between but they don't have to be.
In a previous blog posts, we talked about how the brain has triggers in the form of emotional memories or, in some cases, we could call them emotional scars. When we face an event that triggers these memories, our amygdala steps in. That's when we have an emotional outburst, are paralyzed by fear or even act violently; this is what I call The Almond Effect®.
So our experiences of the perfect moment can be overwhelmed by the experiences we would prefer to forget. Like the time you got up in front of your peers to give a speech and the words just disappeared from your brain.
Where did the words go?
Well they didn't just vanish from your mind they merely got caught up in the neural static transmitting from your limbic region to the frontal lobe (neo cortex). You were paralyzed by fear.
A fear of public speaking is common. Some people say they fear it more than death itself - big call :) But it is the case that many people become anxious; their heart rate quickens, they perspire and find the words hard to come by. It is our brain reacting to a perceived threat - most likely the fear of humiliation from speaking in public and not being perfect.
What are your early memories of speaking in public?
Now the reason your brain perceives a threat is mostly to do with those emotional scars you are carrying. You may have been humiliated when speaking in front of friends as a child or you may have forgotten your lines in the school play and had to endure everyone laughing at you. You may have been told to keep quiet as your opinions didn't count. However minor these may seem the emotional impact was enough to leave imprints on your brain.
Try these five steps
Here are five steps for overcoming fear of public speaking:
Take it in - Don't try to ignore what's happening to you. Allow yourself to feel your emotions as they come and try to understand your reactions. Look at the situations that trigger your fears and figure out what may be the underlying causes. In other words, think about your fears. Work out whether your fears really justify the physical and mental harm that you are doing to yourself and your personal and work relationships by letting them get to you.
Action - Be proactive in overcoming your fears, challenge yourself to face them. If you fall off the wave then get right back on. If you're anxious about trying something again, ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen to you if you fell off again - and constructively work out what you would do about it. Then try again.
Discipline - Once you have rationalized your fears, set yourself some goals and a plan to achieve them. Commit to the plan and hold yourself accountable to take small steps to reach your final destination. Remember the journey is just as important as what is waiting for you at the end.
Expression - Do not be afraid to express your feelings, bottling them up will not make them go away. It is OK to be afraid of speaking in front of others and you are not the first or last person to be derailed by your fears.
Remind yourself that people will not remember what you say but rather the way you say it and the effect it has on them.
Check this out for yourself. Think about a recent presentation you attended that you thought was great. What do you remember most? The words or the manner in which the presenter said them? For the overwhelming majority of people, it's the way in which things were said, not the words, that people remember. So exude confidence even if you're shaking in your shoes!
And to overcome your fear of speaking in public
Join the National Speakers Association in your country e.g. in Australia log on to NSAA. In the USA, look up NSA. You can find links to other countries' Speakers Associations there. Or join Toastmasters or indeed any speaking organization where you can learn to overcome your fear of speaking and find your voice in a ‘safe' environment.
Join a committee or a board or project team and speak up. Be the spokesperson. If necessary, write a ‘script' and practice it. Again, ask yourself ‘what is the worst thing that can happen to me if I botch this up?'
Attend a presentation skills seminar or take a course in public speaking offered by your local community college or other continuing education provider
An essential work skill
Overcoming a fear of speaking in public is not only important for social occasions such as when you're called on to speak at a wedding or give a eulogy. It is also an essential skill for leaders at any level.
How many good ideas have fallen to the ground because of an inability to persuade others to take them on? How many organizational changes have floundered because management couldn't sell the changes to staff and get their buy-in? How many opportunities have you missed out on because you couldn't promote yourself well enough?