Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

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Introduction

An opportunity to speak in front of an audience, whether it is three or three hundred people, is the chance to sell your business or service to potential customers or clients. However, one of the biggest obstacles that many business men and women face is the fear of public speaking.

According to national surveys and research results, fear of public speaking (or ‘glossophobia’) ranks among the top dreads, surpassing the fear of heights, fear of spiders and even fear of death itself. As Jerry Seinfeld put it – “at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

So what is it that makes the fear of public speaking so strong and so debilitating?

Why does 75% of population suffer from speech anxiety every time they are asked to talk in front of other people?

How can we overcome the fear of speaking in public and polish our communication skills?

What can we do to transform the fear of public speaking into enthusiasm and positive energy?

The Hidden Psychology behind the Fear of Public Speaking

Psychologists know that the very fact of being in the spotlight often triggers the whole range of physical reactions that we would experience in the face of real life-threatening danger as:

• Pounding heart

• Dry mouth

• Shaky hands

• Quivering voice

• Cold sweaty palms

• Stomach cramps

Recent research conducted at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) might finally shed some light on this issue. MRI scans of the brain showed that the shock and distress of rejection activate the same part of the brain, called the anterior cingulate cortex, that also responds to physical pain.

Another study conducted by Edward E. Smith, director of cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University demonstrated that the feeling of rejection is one of the most painful emotions that can be sustained even longer than fear.

How can these findings explain the fear of public speaking?

Two Biggest Myths about the Fear of Public Speaking

When it comes to public speaking there are two common misconceptions that many business owners and leaders fall prey to:

Great public speaking skills are an inborn talent. Of course, some people find it easier to speak in public than the other, but the majority of successful speakers have trained themselves to perform through persistence, preparation and practice. The bottom line is that if you can speak in front of two friends, you can deliver a presentation before an audience

If it is painful enough to be rejected by just one person, imagine the pain we could experience when being rejected by a large group of people. Of course, our emotions range from being absolutely terrified to feeling very uncomfortable! Our anxiety and fright before the speech, however, may be caused not by fear of public speaking per se’ but by the audience’s reaction to our performance. Or put simply, we are afraid that our nervousness will interfere with our ability to perform and we will end up embarrassing ourselves.

Accepting our fear helps us to take proactive steps in addressing stage fright and letting the adrenaline rush work for you, not against you.

Two Biggest Myths about the Fear of Public Speaking

When it comes to public speaking there are two common misconceptions that many business owners and leaders fall prey to:

Myth #1:

Great public speaking skills are an inborn talent. Of course, some people find it easier to speak in public than the other, but the majority of successful speakers have trained themselves to perform through persistence, preparation and practice. The bottom line is that if you can speak in front of two friends, you can deliver a presentation before an audience.

Myth #2:

Fear of public speaking is negative and undesirable. This is another common misconception that holds many new speakers back. They believe that stage fright is a sign of their inadequacy and lack of public speaking skills. This could not be further away from truth.

No one escapes the rush of adrenaline that accompanies a presentation in front of an audience. The difference between successful speakers and ‘rookies’, is that they have learned to transform and use fear to their advantage.

Fear is not only a normal reaction to a public speaking event, but actually boosts our performance. Psychologists agree that some amount of fear heightens your awareness, improves your concentration, sharpens your thinking and gives you an energy boost. It is fear that allows most speakers to perform better during the actual presentation than during practice. 3.4. 5 Ways to Transform the Public Speaking Fear into Excitement

The fear of public speaking should not turn into an obstacle to your professional and personal growth. It is much easier to build a business or to advance in your career when you are able to speak with confidence and authenticity to any size group. If you are worried that fear may worsen instead of improve your presentation, here are 5 Practical Ways to transform it into unshakable confidence and excitement:

Deep breathing

Such strong emotions as anxiety and fear trigger in your body very specific “fight or flight” response: your muscles tighten, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up and your breathing becomes shallow. While this physical reaction may be helpful in escaping danger it is hardly helpful during the presentation (as you can neither run away from your audience, nor fight with it). However, since your breathing rate is directly connected to your emotional reaction, the fastest and easiest way to take your emotions under control and regain confidence is through deep breathing. Whether you are to talk to potential clients or make a presentation to your team, make sure that you remember to breathe deeply and evenly before and during your speech.

Shifting focus outwards

Paul L. Witt, PhD, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, believes that many people perform worse than they could because they focus too much on their physical symptoms (i.e. butterflies, shaky hands, sweaty palms) and on their embarrassment instead of concentrating on their breathing and their speech. This problem could be easily avoided by shifting focus from how we feel or look to the message we want to share with our audience.

Visualizing
Visualization or mental rehearsal has been routinely used by many top athletes as a part of the training for a competition. In addition to athletics, research has shown that visualization helps to improve performance in such areas as communication, public speaking and education.

To ensure that your presentation goes smoothly, aside from actual preparation and the rehearsal of your speech, take 10-15 minutes a day to relax, close your eyes and visualize the room you are speaking in, the people in the auditorium and yourself confidently delivering your speech, smiling, and moving across the stage.

Focusing on facts, not fears

Instead of focusing on irrational fears (e.g. mind going blank, audience getting bored) concentrate your thoughts on positive facts such as: “I have practiced my speech many times”, “I am an expert on this topic”, “I have notes with major bullet points to keep the structure of my talk”. Focusing on positive facts and on what you can offer takes your thoughts away from irrational scenarios about what can go wrong.

Building your speech on clarity, not complexity

While it is often tempting to include as much useful information in your speech as possible, practice shows that this might not be a good idea. Organizing the speech or presentation around two three main points, allows you to relax and not worry so much about running out of time or forgetting to mention something important to the listeners.

Chi Tran

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