Your boss asks you to give an oral report in a meeting. You have been asked to speak at your church. How does that feel to you? Are you excited about sharing what you know or are you petrified at the very idea?
It is said that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. In fact, public speaking or glossophobia is the number one fear. It affects 75% of the population.
People with fear of public speaking may experience a wide variety of symptoms while giving a speech or even thinking about it. They may sweat. They may experience muscle tension, particularly in the neck and shoulders. They may also find that they are breathing with the upper chest rather than using the whole of their lungs. They may feel butterflies in their stomach. Nervousness may cause them to use a lot of ahs and ums while speaking.
So what causes fear of public speaking? There may be a number of factors involved.
Unfamiliarity of situation. For many people, public speaking is simply not something they do. The mind likes familiarity. Familiarity is pleasure to the brain. When a situation is unfamiliar, the fight/flight mechanism can become engaged. The extra adrenaline in the body then creates the physical symptoms often experienced when speaking.
Early experiences. Perhaps you had a bad experience as a child when asked to speak in front of the class. Maybe you witnessed someone else have problems while speaking. Messages you received as a child can also influence public speaking. Maybe you were told as a child not to talk. Maybe you were told that your ideas were stupid.
Lack of confidence. The speaker may feel that he is not good enough, or that other speakers are better than he is. Maybe the speaker does not feel that he knows his material well.
Hypoglycemic incidents. Symptoms of low blood sugar can mimic fear, causing palpitations and sweating. If someone experiences low blood sugar while speaking, he may conclude that that it is because he is afraid of public speaking. He associates the physical symptoms with the situation. He could then be fearful in similar situations from that point on due to this experience.
Sense of isolation. The speaker is in front of the group and the focal point of the group. The speaker is doing most if not all of the talking. This is what makes public speaking different from other forms of conversation.
So what can you do to feel better?
Think of the audience as your friends. The feeling some speakers have when approaching a speaking situation is almost adversarial. They think of the audience as critical and judgmental. But what if you turned that situation around and thought of the audience as your friends? How easily do you engage in conversations with your friends? They are familiar to you, and you are comfortable around them. If you think of the audience as your friends, you will feel more comfortable speaking to them.
Imagine being your role model. Who do you know who gives great speeches? Imagine that you are that person and that you have their confidence. Imagine how they would approach the assignment. Get into the feeling of the emotions they might experience. When you are in that feeling of confidence, what you can do is …
Anchor in those good feelings. While feeling those good feelings, press your thumb and middle finger together to anchor in those feelings. You can also anchor in the feeling of being in a relaxing place or a time when you yourself felt confident. Use a finger touch to anchor those in. Then when you want to recall that feeling of confidence, press your thumb and middle finger together again.
Use visuals. One way to get the focus off you is to give your audience something else to look at. Just be sure to practice with your visuals so you are comfortable with them and know how to manipulate them.
Practice in your mind – feelings as well as content. Now practice in your mind all the various steps of giving a speech from finding out that you will speak to writing the speech and practicing and giving the speech in front of your audience. Rehearse the feelings you want to have at each step. Use the anchor where needed to bring in that good feeling by pressing your thumb and middle finger together.
Practice physically. Now that you’ve gone through your mental rehearsals, it’s time to practice your speech physically. Stand up and give your speech using any visuals you have prepared. Become familiar with any equipment you will use. Practice reduces the feeling of unfamiliarity, thus disengaging the fight/flight mechanism. Participating in Toastmasters is a great way to get practice opportunities in front of an audience.
Eat something. Before giving a speech, be sure to eat something, preferably with some protein in it. This will help prevent a low blood sugar incident.
Take deep breaths before speaking. Before speaking, take a few deep breaths. This will help bring you into a state of greater relaxation.
You don’t have to go it alone! Ask family members to sit in as an audience for you. Toastmasters is a great program that will give you opportunities to speak in front of an audience. You may also want to consider hypnotherapy. The use of hypnosis can speed progress in calming nerves and feeling confident. Your hypnotherapist can help you with practicing the feelings of confidence and relaxation. Individual sessions are best because they can be tailored to your own specific needs. You may also want to consider self-hypnosis recordings. Roxann Higuera has prepared an MP3 recording that you can use in your own home. You can download it at Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking.