How To Overcome Fear of Speaking – A Guide For Success
“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” – George Jessel
Statistically speaking, over 80% of those reading this book has, to some extent, a fear of speaking. For some, it is just a few butterflies in the belly, while others experience a deep sense of dread or even trauma.
In this article, we explore what causes your fear of speaking so you can overcome them and be at peace in front of a group of people. You will lean a lot about your mind by:
- Understanding the fear response mechanisms that come into play.
- Exploring, through an exercise, your fear triggers.
- Discovering ways to avoid panic attacks.
The Fear of Public Speaking:
There are stacks of articles about the phenomena termed, fear of speaking. Psychologists have even labeled it, glossophobia. Many say it is the greatest fear people possess.
I suggest it is not a fear of speaking, rather a fear of the consequence of speaking. Think about some other things that cause people to feel terror.
- Mysophobia is the fear of germs. Are people afraid of the tiny things they cannot see or the disease they might cause?
- Cynophobia is a fear of dogs. Do you think it is the dog that distresses them or the thought of being bitten?
Fight or Flight, Your Body’s Reaction to Fear.
Your brain has a powerful mechanism designed to protect you when facing danger. For many, speaking = peril and your mind and body react just like it does to any perceived threat. The mechanism is known as fight or flight.
When fight or flight engages, your body dumps a potent drug cocktail into your system. Adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, to name a few, go to work to prepare your body to defend itself. The result, to some extent, is increased anxiety, loss of mental functions, increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and even shaking.
Once fight or flight has engaged, you are pretty much toast until you get it under control.
My friend Paul is terrified of snakes. One day, while getting a fan out of his garage he saw a snake. He grabbed the fan and ran. The snake followed him. He started screaming, running faster and the stupid snake followed. He was in shock as he ran into the house, only to realize it was the fan’s cord, not a snake. Flight or flight can make you crazy.
If you experience panic when asked to speak, you are not alone. Warren Buffet, according to an article in Forbes, was terrified to talk in public. He is said to have chosen classes where he would not have to speak. At one point he realized he needed to get over this and signed up for the Dale Carnegie speaking course.
What is the Basis of Your Fear?
It is helpful to uncover your anxiety about speaking in public.
- One of my clients felt he had nothing important or exciting people would want to hear.
- In sales, some are nervous prospects will say no to their pitch.
- For many, speaking brings back memories of being laughed at when called on to answer a question in class.
What lurks in the back of your brain when contemplating giving a speech or presentation?
Exercise: If you have anxiety when speaking in front of others, picture yourself being asked to speak before a group and write down what you think might happen during or after you talk. Walk away from this exercise and revisit it in a few hours or days to see what else comes up. When you finish, make a list based on your findings.
Explore the list to see if the items that came up are valid today. Now you have some concrete things to explore and work on.
Overcoming the Fear of Speaking
Overcoming the dread associated with public speaking is doable. Basically, you need to convince your brain that public speaking won’t kill you or cause harm. So, how do you do that? In a word, Toastmasters.
Toastmasters is an organization founded nearly a century ago that helps people become skilled and confident public speakers. It is a club environment where people, just like you, are given easy to follow and proven methods. Besides working, it is very affordable.
By joining a Toastmasters Club in your area (they are everywhere), you will get the opportunity to watch others, and gradually participate when you feel comfortable.
Other Ways To Beat the Fear of Public Speaking
The key to success lies in simple actions. The bottom line is to do the things that give you confidence in the areas that trigger stress. Look at what you uncovered in the previous exercise. Next, take concrete action to quell those fears. Below are a few ideas that have proven to help.
Affirmations are a fantastic tool. Add them to your bag of tricks. Affirmations are positive statements designed to reinforce a feeling. When writing them, make the statement in a positive, present-tense form. Plus, use words that mean something to you. Here are a few examples:
- My personality exudes confidence.
- I am a fantastic speaker.
- People love hearing what I have to say.
- I remember what I have to say with ease and deliver the message with passion and confidence.
Take a breath. Breathing is one of the simplest ways to calm anxiety. Mark Turrell at UncommonHelp.me has a three-step process that helps ease the jitters.
- Focus on your breath
- Take a breath in (to the quick count of 7 in your mind)
- Then slowly breathe out (to the quick count of 11 in your mind)
If you do this for a minute or so, you will be amazed at how quickly you will calm down.
The fear of speaking is not uncommon and can be overcome. You simply need to take actions that convince your mind that public speaking is safe. When your brain starts to believe you, it will not trigger a fight or flight response.
Do not let fear keep you from unleashing the great speaker that lives within you. Use the tools we’ve discussed to take control and make fear a thing of the past.