Working with people to overcome the fear of public speaking, I often come across an underlying fear … the FEAR OF BEING VISIBLE.
Learn to be visible to overcome your fear of public speaking.
In situations like: giving a keynote speech; offering an informal presentation; jumping into a round table discussion; undergoing an oral exam; attending an interview; defending work at an academic jury; approaching strangers at a networking or social event – then – being visible holds the possibility of being regarded as a ‘foole’ and then … being rejected.
As with all anxieties, fear of public speaking generates a very personal misery for those who feel it. However, a list of common body-based symptoms – which you can practice to replicate that discomfort – may provide an uncomfortable reminder [as if you forgot!].
Here are some telltale signs of public speaking fear:
- Your breathing is shallow and high in the chest. This lowers the amount of oxygen going to the brain cells which coordinate measured response.
- Occasionally, you take a big gulp of air, releasing it in gasps as you speak (or squeak).
- Speaking in a halting rhythm, you many trip on your words or forget them altogether as your mind goes blank.
- Blushing and other odd sensations are triggered by the flood of stress hormones which hijack your brain and trump rational thinking.
- Additional stress responses like perspiring and/or trembling compound the feeling of being in meltdown.
I recall times when I felt so self-conscious that brain and mouth to failed to engage. In an anxiety-riven posting in primary school, there was a time when I couldn’t put a mental finger on my own name when called to account by an imposing ‘posse’ from the Sisters of St Joseph.
Through awareness and practice, it is possible to reduce anxiety’s energetic overload on body and mind. By doing an audit of actual circumstances – a reality check – we can train ourselves to regard fear with increasing detachment. This enables us to be more proactive in preparing for any challenge.
Be willing to be visible
In order to grow in experience, capability, and the power to direct your life, it often helps to allow others to see you. One step towards becoming visible – and as a result, increasingly comfortable in interactions with others – is to ‘grow’ self acceptance. Developing trust and releasing judgement, you can choose the belief that you are amongst equals, and learn to stand comfortably with “all eyes on you”.
So, focus on the first step in overcoming feelings of fear at the thought of being exposed and vulnerable. Allow people to see you. Calm your breath as you allow others to engage with you. Have the thought in your mind “I am a unique, amazing and flawed human being, just like everyone else”. As fears begin to settle, the further skills of presenting and engaging with others can be learned. Then you become a master!
It may help to know that those who seem to move effortlessly through life have – often – done a great deal of work behind the scenes to give the impression of being a ‘natural’. They may even still be faking it! “Fake it until you make it“ can get you through the work of becoming ‘as you would like to be’.
Even for those who are at ease with presenting, delivery style can always be improved. Needs and interests for developing speaking expertise will differ, and you may benefit from training to develop specific skills.
Skill training for overcoming the fear of public speaking:
- Voice training
- Movement awareness and body language
- Debate and oratory training
- Sales and persuasion techniques
- Diplomacy and social skills, and even …
- Improvisation and stand up comedy.
As regards the dread of looking like a fool, why not let your inner ‘FOOLE‘ out from time to time. Doing so can create opportunities for unpredictable new experiences. The willingness to hold yourself lightly and let yourself ‘out’ can be freeing and FUN. Chicken, egg. Consider what different experiences you imagine might be fun and – using lightheartedness and good humour as your guide – go and have some!