A Fear of Public Speaking? 

Is it really a ‘Fear’?

A lot of people can relate, over 50% of the UK and US to be more precise. Speaking in front of people can be a daunting and uneasy affair.

Now you know that you are not alone. Even I still get cagey leading up to a talk. So it is easy to see why people sometimes lose control of their natural aversion. A natural aversion can become a fear without warning. That’s all that it is, an aversion. We just take it to an unhealthy level. So how do we grasp, identify, break and then reprogramme our minds?
Here is what we will cover in this post.

  • Understanding Fear

  • Framing Our Aversion

  • Breaking Down Our Aversion

  • Building A New System

Understanding Fear

A lot of people ‘fear public speaking’ apparently. A lot of mentors and coaches have products and systems that sell you the ‘silver bullet’ with offers like -“Overcome your fear of public speaking with our one week course”. Overcoming a fear is not a simple fix that takes a week or can be solved by a one day workshop. Genuine fears are things that are deep rooted and often stem from traumatic events in the past.

These boulders in a persons mind can’t be ‘blasted out’. They need to be chipped away with a pick-axe, with consistency and patience over time. We don’t sell silver bullets or quick fixes here. If you want to up your game, you have to work at it.

While 1% of us may have a genuine old fashioned Phobia of public speaking. 99% of us just have a plain and simple healthy aversion to it. As the Oxford Dictionary states, FEAR is –  An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm.

Fear is a response, and automatic sensor suite if you will. A suite designed to protect you from the aforementioned threats stated above. Ironically, as good as our evolved brains and bodies are at getting us out of the path of danger and jeopardy. They also get us off the path of success and recognition.

How many times have you kicked yourself for not answering a question? Held yourself back from saying what everyone was thinking only to see someone else get the praise? In trying to keep us safe and secure in our safe zone, our nervous system actually holds us back from the success and credit we deserve.

We internalise emotions. Our stress levels and heart-rate increase. Whether in a conference room, under pressure to deliver. Or on a backstreet being held at knife point for your personal possessions. To your brain, you have found yourself in a situation you do not want to be in and so a “fight or flight” instinct triggers. It begins to take control of your body, kind of like a master override switch. Once switched, the system then has one purpose. SURVIVE.

In a conference room, you are not at knife point and no one is threatening you. But your brain does not distinguish between scenarios. It has emotions to feed it’s sensors. Your brain has it’s wires crossed and needs to be reigned in!

We have to turn the SURVIVE switch off. Then in it’s place, we build a new switch. One that YOU control and turn on when YOU need it. One that makes you THRIVE.

Framing Our Aversion

Now we know what fear actually is, we can go about framing our own aversion of public speaking. Fear is not a factor. Aversions are what keep you out of discomforts. An aversion is a dislike or a disinclination to do something. For example, a lot of people don’t like Sushi. I.e. They have an aversion to it.

Public speaking is the same, we are averse to it. But if we try both, continue to sample and test small bits. We learn to appreciate and understand the thing in question. For example, I like Sushi and hate wasabi. I like to speak on scientific topics and I am terrible at Improv/Comedy. We learn about each new thing and its nuances, at the same time learning about ourselves.

Once you can identify ‘aversions’ in your life. You will quickly be able to identify between a simple dislike and avoidance. Maybe you don’t like pork but still eat beef. Cats but not dogs. You get my drift…

Logically you can now frame public speaking and your aversion to it. Go deeper still and get into the weeds of it. I wasn’t averse to standing in front of people but I was painfully worried about getting facts wrong, or stammering/stuttering (I had a stutter as a kid). Understand what it is about being in the spotlight that makes your heart skip a beat.

Breaking Down Our Aversion

Breaking down the aversion is simple in essence. we get exposure to it. We take small steps in confidence building. Play to your strengths, use them to accelerate progress. If you are a good listener or love to read. Use those skills to research and absorb new information and techniques, (like you are doing now…).

A Break-through occurs when you consistently make small progress towards goal(s). Turn up and be consistent. This is how empires were built, how rail-roads conquered mountains and why professional success in any field occurs. Progress is progress, no matter how slow or small.

Aim to simply be slightly better than you were yesterday and ensure that you monitor your progress. People generally give up doing or trying something because they fail to notice small progress and see their goal as one huge target in the distance.

Building A New System

Stumbling into greatness does not work. ‘Greatness’ is also a relative term. I.e. what level I consider to be great might be different to what you see. If you are a terrified public speaking, don’t see Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King as the benchmark. It is about building a system in which YOU are the best speaker that you can be. Its not about imitation or replication, anyone can do an unconvincing portrayal of someone else and their style.

Instead, we want to build our own individual and unique style. A system whereby your personality, style and individuality are on show. Be great in your own way. Not by someone else’s barometer of greatness.

A new system does not happen overnight. After all, it takes times and commitment to break down an aversion and change your behaviour to something you are not comfortable doing. So make it about smaller more manageable goals and then work on them. Tiny and consistent progress on the micro level makes huge break-throughs on the macro level.

Focus on grasping and perfecting the fundamentals. Do exercises that build up confidence and muscle memory. The same principles generally apply in breaking down an aversion and then building in its place. You want to make slow and steady progress towards an end state. In this style, you can monitor the smaller details, the nuts and bolts of your grand vision. The Eiffel Tower is amazing. But if someone didn’t work on the nuts and bolts, it would have never of been built.

 

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. – Frederick Douglass – social-reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman

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Author: Will

Hi, I'm Will. Founder and Lead Coach at Lib-Orator, a public speaking and sales training specialist.

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