Archive for the ‘Mental Strategies’ Category

The Fear of Speaking – How You Got it and How to Toss it!

14039343_sYou don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know if you have it, the feeling that comes with the anticipation of your upcoming speech. Even as you go about your normal day, you can’t stop thinking about your speech. Thoughts of the size of your audience and “all eyes on you,” are enough to set you off! And as the day of reckoning  approaches, all kinds of negative thoughts start going through your head, “what will happen if  forget or slur my words? what will happen If I panic? What will happen when I get that frog in my throat and can’t speak!”  As the day of your speech comes closer, your thoughts grow stronger. You can’t stop thinking about it.  All day and  night, a minute doesn’t go by without the dreadful thoughts surrounding your speech. Now sleeping even becomes difficult. Your dreams are now dominated by nightmarish scenarios of embarrassing yourself on stage.

You now think about ways you can back out of your speech. But then you realize, “I need this speech,  If I succeed, it  will mean everything to my career.”  And then you get a phone call,  you find out that twice as many people as you originally had thought are going to be at your speech. Your anxiety just doubled. It’s off the charts. It’s redlining. And  now there is no backing out. If you’ve ever experienced this, then you know what  it means to have “Glaussophobia,” which is the Greek word for the “Fear of Public Speaking.”  In broader terms, it’s also called Stage Fright.

So Where Does This Fear Come From?

The fear of public speaking and stage fright both point to the same subconscious process that causes a small almond sized shape set of neurons  set deep inside the median temporal lobe of the brain called the Amygdala which triggers the “fight or flight” response  to sudden stimuli  (real  danger), or “memory triggered”  perceived danger which ultimately leads to the feelings of panic, anxiety, sweaty palms and wanting to run for the hills!

I know too well these feelings of panic and fear of public speaking, because for so many years, it was the 6 inch invisible clear glass wall that stood between me and my desire to speak and engage an audience. I would see others masterfully take the stage, and I would sit there just yearning to do it.  The few times that I did manage to speak (by the prodding of others) were accompanied by  fear and panic and without having the proper coaching or guidance, I just gave up and couldn’t make it to the other side of that invisible wall of fear.

Fast forward many years later, coaching and speaking has now become my career.  What was once my biggest fear, has now become one of my biggest passions. As most people, I struggled for many years to find the path to  getting past my fear of speaking,  but it didn’t have to be that way.  I struggled because no one ever gave me the road-map   For many years, no one directed me on the path to speaking success.

For example, no one told me that most people’s fear of speaking could stem from just one 30 second bad experience in first or second grade. The teacher pushed and prodded  to get you up in front of the class and do a loud reading and snickered, yelled or balked at you when you didn’t pronounce a word right. The yelling or  snickering of the teacher and the class making weird faces was all that would be needed for your amygdala to record the emotional event and store it forever. The amygdala remembers all emotions and responses and then stores it in the long term memory bank.  The amygdala is that part of the brain that also signals the “flight or fight” response. And the amygdala is quite immature, it can’t tell the difference between a real event such as running from a fire (flight) or the “false sense” of fear and panic of speaking to an audience (flight). It only knows a recorded emotion and treats the  panic of a perceived fear (an audience) the same as it would a fire – both causing the “flight response” to be activated in the same way.

So years later, that 30 second event in grade school now gets transformed into what most people feel as the fear of public speaking.  And who hasn’t had that bad experience of standing in front of class in first, second or third grade, and getting snickered, yelled or balked at by their teacher in front of the whole class. Now wonder why most of the world suffers from this fear!

Why Some People Never Developed the Fear

Have you ever wondered why some people just never developed a fear of public speaking? It all could point back to that scene in second grade. For example, John, Cindy, and Sam all had the same experience with their teacher snickering and  yelling at them in  front of the class. But John was a bit different. He didn’t have a highly sensitive amygdala and never processed the experience the same way Cindy and Sam did, so John never developed the fear, whereas Cindy and Sam did end up developing the fear of public speaking because of their more sensitive amygdala. Studies have shown that people with a highly sensitive amygdala were more prone to developing the fear of public speaking.

Conquering the Fear Doesn’t Have to Take Time

Many people think that phobias take time to overcome. This is  simply not true. Most people say, “I have had this fear for so long, I don’t think I will ever get over it.” If you think back to the event in grade school, it only took 30 seconds to record a perceived emotional experience and tell the subconscious mind to run from anything related to getting up in front of an audience ever again.

People who have had a bad landing and develop a fear of flying, or people who have gotten into an accident and developed a fear of driving or someone who was pushed into a swimming pool at a young age and developed a fear of swimming, all had one thing in common; the onset of the fear took just seconds. If you think about it, with all  these events taking just seconds to develop into a lifelong fear, shouldn’t logic dictate that a fear that took seconds to develop, be reversed in just the same time?

The good news is that it can. In fact, It has been scientifically proven that the field of energy psychology (Emotional Freedom Technique) can have a  tremendous effect on the amygdale in that it can fairly quickly neutralize and desensitize the negative emotions attached to it for all phobias. And this includes the phobia of public speaking.  The field of NLP (Neuro Linguist Programming) also can have a huge impact in desensitizing the amygdale to the fear of public speaking and other phobias.

I have seen these techniques work with my own eyes. Not only has it helped me years ago when I finally got on the road to conquering my fear of public speaking, but In my professional coaching practice, I now successfully use these techniques of both EFT and NLP to help my clients desensitize the fear they associate with  public speaking.

Conquering The Fear Leads to Mastering The Art

Once you “conquer” the fear of public speaking, your true journey now begins. Being able to engage an audience and take them on a roller coaster ride of  highs, lows, twists and turns of emotional experiences  and leave them off at the gate saying, “wow, what a powerful message, what  a speech, what an experience,” is truly an art form. However, you cannot embark on that road, until you have gotten off the road of fear. When you are thinking about sweaty palms, panic and sheer terror when you picture an image of yourself on stage in front of an audience, you cannot be thinking about how you can deliver a moving message or even make them laugh.

Only when you are able to laugh at yourself, will your audience laugh with you. But the good news is, that when you conquer you fear of speaking, (which can happen very quickly) you have allowed yourself to cross over and pass to other side of that invisible glass wall where  you now  find yourself standing on the foot of the mountain.  And while you’re packing up you gear and readying yourself for the climb you look up and say, “I am now ready to journey up to the top  and master the “Art of Public Speaking.”

How to get a “Grip” on Your Public speaking Anxiety Before it Gets a Grip on You!

On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your “fear” level when it comes to public speaking? If it is anything above a 3 (as it was for me) then read on. If it is 3 or less and you are wondering why you are still nervous – You should know that it is actually a good thing to be a bit nervous – Being somewhat nervous, actually makes you perform better and keeps you more focused and alert while you are speaking.

So why is it that we are panic stricken when we are called up to give a public talk? Whether you are asked for your opinion at you company’s board meeting, being asked to give a toast at your best friends wedding or even asked to give a eulogy at a relative’s funeral, just the “idea” of public speaking, drives us to run miles away from the speaking platform.

In fact, it was Jerry Seinfeld who once said that, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”  Believe me, I know that what Jerry Seinfeld had said rings to be very true; because up until about 10 years ago, it was I who would have rather been in the casket than have to give the eulogy. So why is it that many people rank the fear of public speaking greater than the fear of death?

The relationship between embarrassment and death

One evening a few years ago, I was browsing through the Judaic section in Barnes & Noble and I came across a chapter from “The Ethics of our Fathers.” And I was reading through chapter three and what was written in verse 11 just jumped out at me. It stated that “When one humiliates their friend in public, they will have no share in the next world.” So I wondered -why does the Judaic scripture go so far as to talk about punishment for a person who embarrasses and humiliates another in public? Because it also stated that when someone humiliates another in public, it is as if he had spilled their blood!

So In other words, when you are humiliated in public, you “feel” as if you are “dying.” We all can remember those moments when we related an embarrassing moment to a friend and we said “I was so embarrassed, the blood rushed to my face and I felt like I was dying.”  So after Leaving Barns & Noble later that evening, I came to the realization as to why people put fear of public speaking and death in the same category. My realization was this; we are panic stricken when we think of giving a talk in public because we “FEAR” that we will become embarrassed or humiliated.

Is fear of humiliation holding you back from public speaking?

Are you staying away from the speaking platform because you fear being humiliated or embarrassed in front of your peers, friends or family. You see, as I said earlier, I would have rather jumped off a bridge than have to give a talk in front of an audience. It sounds crazy, but that is where I was up until about 10 years ago. Whenever people asked me to say something at a family or social event, I would often run the other way. But sometimes I had been put on the spot, and with nowhere to run, I had no choice. You name it, I had it – no matter what the size of the audience was, I had trembling hands, sweaty palms, a palpitating heart rate and yes, I also had the frog in my throat! So how did I conquer my fear? And better yet, how can you conquer yours? Read on.

There are three kinds of confidence:

1.       Performance confidence

2.       Rehearsal confidence

3.       Acceptance confidence


Performance confidence

Performance confidence is just that. You have done something so many times that you have absolutely no problem doing it again and again because you have the “belief” in yourself that you can do it. Take driving a car for example. Did you get into your car this morning and wonder whether you can drive or not. I would guess that you didn’t even think twice about it! Because you have done it so many times, that driving actually became second nature to you. This is performance confidence. Performance confidence is great, however, it is not what you want to aim for when you are new to public speaking and your nervousness and anxiety is off the charts, as it was for me.

Rehearsal confidence

Rehearsal confidence is the increase in your confidence as you practice something and in our case it would be a speech or presentation. So the more your practice, the greater the confidence you will have in yourself. Rehearsal confidence is very good to have, but when you are just starting out and working to decrease your anxiety with public speaking, you need to be very aware of your rehearsal/action ratio.  This is the ratio of your practice time versus how long you wait until you will actually do your presentation.

When I first started out in public speaking, my rehearsal/action ratio was out of whack. I suffered from something called “pre-mature performance confidence syndrome”, which basically trapped me in a cycle of never ending practice. Since I had so much fear of public speaking, I always wanted to make sure that I was “prefect” and wanting to be perfect led me to always practice, practice and still practice some more.

My practicing put me in a never ending cycle, which ultimately kept me trapped in “practice mode” with very little “stage time” in front of live audiences. So remember, that when you first start out in public speaking, you want to initially stay away from the desire for performance and rehearsal confidence and you want to totally embrace “acceptance confidence.”

Acceptance Confidence

By embracing the third kind of confidence called “acceptance confidence”  You will start on the road to bringing whatever your fear level is, down to a 3, 2 or even a 1. Acceptance comes with the understanding that you will get more comfortable with public speaking as you do it more. In fact, in an amazing little documentary called Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld had this to say about getting more comfortable on stage: “You’re never really comfortable. Even though you may think you are… you really aren’t.” But in time, Seinfeld says, “you learn how to open, how to sustain, how to pace…” and you will get more comfortable.

Remember, as I mentioned earlier, you never want to totally get rid of your nervousness and this is what I think Jerry Seinfeld was really saying when he said “You’re never really comfortable”, because being a bit nervous will actually make you more focused and alert.

So what is acceptance confidence? Acceptance confidence is having the courage to do something without any reservations about what the outcome might be. It is the confidence in knowing that everything in life is a learning experience. It is in the knowing that we humans are “fallible beings” and do often make mistakes.

When we were born we accepted the fact that we didn’t know how to walk (well I guess we didn’t have a choice anyway!) But if we never took any risks by wobbling and falling on our face, and then brushing and dusting ourselves off and then trying to walk yet again – we would not be walking today! So being courageous is part of being human. Being Courageous is part of our DNA, but somewhere along the way, “fear” started to creep in somehow and started wearing away on our courageousness.

Always keep “Acceptance Confidence” near to your heart

I recently competed in a humorous speech contest in front of a very large audience and even though at my level of skill, where I can “tap” into my performance and rehearsal confidence, I still often choose to tap into “acceptance confidence.” Why? Because every so often “fear” has a tendency to want to pay me a visit when I least expect it to.  So for me, after I have done all of my rehearsing, I still choose to embrace “acceptance confidence” and accept whatever comes my way.

When you embrace “acceptance confidence” you eradicate the anxiety associated with wanting to be perfect and wanting to “win.”  You turn your energy into wanting to share your important message with the audience and enjoying the energy exchange with your audience. Embracing “acceptance confidence” also allows you to be in the moment. Dan Millman couldn’t have said it any better in his famous and profound book – “Way of the Peaceful warrior” and in it he said, “The journey is what brings us happiness – not the destination.” So enjoy the Journey my friend!

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