The fear of public speaking is often quoted as the number one phobia ahead of the fear of dying. The question is “Why do people dread public speaking so much and what can they do to overcome it?
A phobia is a well-practiced state of fear. Like all skills, a phobia is a skill, albeit a very useless skill. It’s particularly useless when you have to stand in front of a room and give a presentation and look into a hundred pair of eyes and your body starts to go into an unwanted state of fear. This is the perfect occasion to use that phrase “It’s all in your head.” Speaking from my own past experience I remember going through this on numerous occasions before I stopped one day and wondered whether public speaking skills were skills I had not yet learned.
So if you are one of those with public speaking phobia, perhaps you have reached a point where you are asking yourself “How can I stop doing this and what causes me to do this?” A phobia is very simple and complex at the same time. Very simply, you are running a movie your run in your head that has layers of scripts and meanings about standing at the top of a room, while others watch and listen. The movie has sound, pictures and feelings built into those meanings. It’s the Neurosemantics of speaking and how you carry the meaning in your body. We all carry either healthy, empowering meanings or crazy, disempowering meanings in all situations in life. The key to unlocking them is to become aware of how you talk to yourself.
Every meaning you have about anything puts you in a state, where you have thoughts and feelings about something. In this incidence, you are thinking and feeling fearful thoughts about public speaking. The problem is how you are thinking and feeling and the meanings you are giving to i.t Like any habit, if you do it often enough, as you think of giving a PowerPoint presentation in public, you will trigger your brain into the public speaking phobia STATE or the fun STATE of sharing knowledge with others. Notice the two different meanings in each of these states? One empowers and one disables.
Anytime I work with people in helping them overcome their fear of public speaking, I hear the same story and script about how they “dread public speaking”. It is always pre-empted by “I know it’s stupid, but” followed by “it takes me back to that time when I was in school and my name was called out….” Perhaps this resonates with you.
Our mind-body system is great at storing all the experiences we have had, both good and not so pleasant. Then it keeps reminding us, in this instance, to “steer clear of that experience, because it’s dangerous.” This is never going to help you improve your public speaking skills. So stop right now and let’s see how are skilfully building your fear of public speaking. Then I am going to give you some tips on how to overcome it.
To get into your phobic state you have to think about what you fear
These are the typical fearful meanings I come across from clients: Fear of humiliation. Not knowing something. Losing face. Being looked at. All eyes on you. People judging you. Reliving a past unpleasant moment where you didn’t know something when you had to speak in public. Sounding stupid. Disliking silence or disliking the sound of your own voice. The list goes on. Your mind runs that movie and before you know it, you don’t want to go there and run through that awful experience in your mind. Of course, you don’t just do this awfulzing once. You do it over and over as you think about that important Powerpoint presentation that you have to give at your sales meeting or to your customers. I am not saying this isn’t real, because phobias are real to people.
Meanwhile the presentation you could be giving is lost to these irrational thoughts, based on your own internal judgements about other people’s judgements of you that you are making up anyway.
To create and build the phobic state you have to give yourself a phobic script
“What if I don’t know something? What if I sound stupid? What if I forget something? What if they think I am stupid? I am going to panic.“ To really take it up a notch, you have to use an internal tone that is pretty harsh ad critical or fearful. Most of these scripts are hypothetical meanings about an event that hasn’t happened. All this is doing is pulling you away from doing the right kind of preparation for your presentation. What you tell your brain is going to determine how successfully your present to your audience. So a healthy script is vital to your success.
To continue that phobic state you have to carry a posture of fear
So while you awfulize and run the horror movie of your presentation going badly wrong, your body takes on a posture of fear ready for the fight-or-flight scenario. You notice your voice and breathing change. Your body temperate may go up and you may notice a tremble.
It’s time to stop this and find more pleasant movies to run in your head. Ask yourself “Can I physically speak? Yes? Can I communicate? Yes? Can I put ideas into a logical sequence so others can understand it? Yes?” Then all you need is a better sequence in your mind to run a quality presentation when you are at the top of the room.
So are there any cures for the fear of public speaking?
The first cure is to understand what you are doing and recongize the symptoms as a call to stop and notice what you are doing, when you run the fear of public speaking. You are skilfully building a state of mind that wants to protect you from a perceived threat; possibly generated by memories of a one-time event where you felt fearful in front of an audience.
There are three steps to overcoming your phobia:
1. Manage your State
Manage your state of mind by doing 3 things after you have done your preparation and arranged your ideas. Visualize a positive result, where you see yourself, speaking calmly, sharing information, allowing the audience to make up their own minds about the information you are sharing. Tell yourself that this will go fine. Let go of the need to impress anybody and let them decide what the presentation is about for them.
2. Manage Your Meanings
The meaning of public speaking is the most important piece to practice. Give yourself some new meanings in your script, for example, “It’s just a conversation, where I am standing up and sharing information. People want to learn. They are only interested in the message. I allow myself to be seen and heard in public, knowing that everybody supports me. I know my subject. I’ve practiced it. I can relax. People will think what they think.” Coach yourself on your meanings and write down at least 5-10 healthy meanings you could give to public speaking. You will transform your presentation by that alone, if you do it on a consistent basis.
3. Take Command of your Presentations
The most important thing is to take command of your presentations. Here are 5 Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills. Remember, you are in charge of the information, what you are going to say and how you are going to say, the speed at which you are going to say it. If you prepare well, then decide that you are only going to say 3 things. Imagine you are sharing those three pieces of information with the most supportive people you know. Set some frames around the presentation, why you are giving it and what you are going to talk about. To really get comfortable in the room, start with some story, question or some casual conversation with your audience, so it’s not the first time you are speaking. Most important of all, be present to yourself and your audience and enjoy the conversation that you are having while standing up. How’s that for a healthy meaning? Henry Ford often used to say “if you think you can or your think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
If you want to work on your Presentation skills and eliminate your public speaking phobia