Fear of Public Speaking. What to do when you are afraid to speak in front of a group? Or, when your boss is sitting front row?
By Speakers & Artists International, Inc. coach Eric Stone
Premise. We’ve all been in, or heard of situations, when someone in the audience is either a critical parent or a demanding boss. Here we are all ready to go, and for some reason we either panic or start trembling at the notion that we will undoubtedly fail. Most people are terrified to speak in public, regardless of who is in the audience. Jerry Seinfeld made the memorable joke that at funerals most people would rather be in the coffin than giving a speech in front of the gathered crowd.
What do you do when you have to present? Or, give a speech? Do you run to the bathroom? Find the nearest exit? Call your mom? Have yourself arrested? Take a shot of Whiskey? See the audience naked? (That might scare you even more in some cases, depending on who is in the audience at that time.) No, none of the above is recommended to actually attempt resolving the issue.
- The very first thing to do is to recognize where you are in your mind, and take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Ownership and accountability go a very long way in cases like these. Owning that you are indeed having those thoughts and feelings. The most powerful relationship you can have, with feelings and thoughts, is to see them for what they are. Emotion is energy in motion. Do not deny it, or it will intensify. Sigmund Freud pointed out something fascinating as his insights into human psychology developed: he said that it is anxiety that produces repression, not the other way around. Anxiety is, therefore, a repressive mechanism initiated by the projection of a “past” trauma onto a current situation. When we are scared, and there is no “actual” physical danger, we are in a state of projection. It means we are “checked out” and reliving some past event.
- So, when we are afraid to speak publicly, we subconsciously project onto the audience what we believe is “off” about ourselves. It is called objectification. We objectify the audience or the situation. We are projecting into the future what we believe is the worst thing that could ever happen, or has happened to us earlier in life. Our mind is having a field day with it; hallucination is the correct psychological term here. Mind is always fear based on some level as it keeps scanning for danger, and analyzes all situations and content of situations from that perspective. It’s very useful to know.
- The second thing to do is to check back in. You took a trip in the past or the future, and now it’s time to come back and touch ground again. Come to realize that your mind will keep “projecting” and that there’s nothing you can do about it, except “own it” or “contain it.”
- Shake hands with someone before you go on stage, or before you begin your speech. Touch objects such as furniture, the podium, anything that belongs to the physical world. The physical world is NOW, for it brings us back and anchors our performances. Gravity and breathing are your two best friends when things go wrong. Feel the weight of your body, breathe deeply several times consciously…etc.
- If there is a person sitting in the audience that scares you, you could acknowledge that person in front of the group to demystify him or her for the time being. You can go as far as sharing your truth about them. If you do it openly and from the heart, you’ll be fine. Begin with introducing them if at all possible and appropriate. It will allow you to take the control back! We give it away so easily in these situations.
- The last recommended item is to be clear about your intention for the speech. Intention acts as the powerful backbone of your presentations and speeches. It gives it its sense of purpose and direction. An intention is the wish that you mean to carry out. It expresses itself as a verb followed by an adverb. To introduce myself clearly. To acknowledge the audience authentically. To present the agenda slowly. To share my knowledge humbly. To connect with the audience warmly…etc.
By confronting what confronts us, we make it disappear. We break the dynamics that do not empower us. The public arena is a space or spaciousness, which needs to be filled with life, intention, and self-expression. If it is repressed or thwarted it will be felt by your audience. This is again where the courage to speak gives us wings.
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