Look at any list of fears and phobias. You’ll find public speaking listed at or near the top.
This makes sense, right? Everybody knows public speaking is a terrifying experience.
Why is this activity considered our #1 fear?
There are various opinions. For years, I believed that there are two reasons:
1. A bad experience
2. Society has convinced us to be afraid
This combination has conditioned us. We believe standing in front of a group of people and talking is the worst possible experience.
Yet, some professionals believe public speaking is not the fear we make it out to be. Instead, the fears we are feeling:
1. Fear of public humiliation
2. Fear of walking into a room full of strangers.
What is public speaking?
It’s the fear of being humiliated in front of a room full of strangers.
Doesn’t this make more sense?
On the surface, being afraid of speaking in front of other people is illogical. Every day, we engage in one-on-one conversations, or in small groups – at work, in social gatherings, or over a meal. Those situations don’t scare us.
But, our perspectives change when we stand in front of a group. Even one as small as two or three people. The stomach tightens, sweat begins to flow, and fear grips us.
We’re afraid of making mistakes, looking foolish, and feeling embarrassed.
While We’re At It, Blame Your Ancestors
There is another reason we’re afraid. We’ve inherited it from our ancestors. Author Scott Berkun writes about it in, Confessions of a Public Speaker.
Mr. Berkun discusses this point about our ancestors:
To survive they lived together in packs. Usually they stayed in camouflaged areas, caves, or in a forest. Being ostracized from the group meant death. Also, when individuals strayed from the group, they were AWOL:
A – Alone
W – Without a weapon
O – Out in the open
L – Looked at by large groups of potential predators.
What is public speaking?
You’re alone in front of an audience.
You’re without a weapon (no, a microphone doesn’t count).
You’re in an open area.
A group of people is looking at you.
At a subconscious level, your brain is sending this message:
Danger! Predators are stalking you! They’ll eat you! Run away!
This doesn’t make logical sense. But, we’re dealing with primal emotions, which don’t come with an On/Off switch.
Keep in mind, this is a hypothesis, but it’s well-thought out and makes sense.
How Do you Overcome This Challenge?
We can’t flip a switch to turn off these emotions.
Instead, keep these ideas in mind when you prepare to give a presentation:
- The people in your audience aren’t starving for food. They’ve eaten in the past few hours.
- People today are busy. They’re not taking their precious time to see you fail. They want you to succeed.
- They are also stressed out, anxious, and have problems they can’t solve on their own. They want your help, they may even be desperate for it.
- They empathize with you and admire that you have the guts to stand up and speak. Most people wish they could do this but never will.
- Stop worrying about being perfect, how your clothes look, and whether your hair is perfect. It ain’t about you, it’s about them. They’re too busy focusing on their lives and problems. If you provide valuable insights, they’re not thinking about the minor mistakes you make.
These aren’t all the ideas, but they’ll help you keep perspective.
Public speaking isn’t your number one fear. It’s a combination of other fears that you can manage.
The next time you have to stand up and give a presentation, keep it in perspective.
You’re not speaking to the United Nations about a security-threatening issue.
You have insights and solutions people need help to overcome.
Prepare. Give your best effort. Focus your attention and energy on the benefit you bring the audience.
Do this, and your nervousness about speaking won’t control you. Instead you’ll leave a positive and lasting impression on your next audience.
Improve Your Speaking Skills WITHOUT Feeling Intimidated In Front Of An Audience
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