Fear of public speaking otherwise known by the medical term glossophobia has ranked as one of the top fear for many years. The craziest thing about having a fear of public speaking is that none of us are born with this unnatural fear of communication.
The reason parents find toddlers so scary is because they will talk to anyone, they are fearless public speakers.
From the moment you started speaking, your ability to deliver your message has increased, but at some point your confidence has taken a hit and you have learned to create fear.
The end of fearless public speaking
There are only two things that we and the rest of the animal kingdom fear -loud noises and falling backwards. Everything after that is learned via experience, real or imagined. Our mind learns by association, if something is good we move towards it, if something is bad we avoid it.
At some point in your early childhood you have been in a group, more than likely a classroom, where someone has made you feel uncomfortable or afraid.
This doesn’t need to be the teacher it can be anyone in the group that makes you feel afraid or threatened. In some families it can be a sibling or even a narcissistic parent who ridicules you.
If the experience is powerful enough then your mind codes the event using mental imagery and a negative inner dialogue to compound the event.
The psychophysiological drivers of a Public speaker
During the negative public speaking experience your mind and body do several things all at once, this is to ensure you survive anything in the future that resembles this context. Emotional events are often remembered with greater accuracy and/or vividness due to interactions between the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
The mental imagery makes an emotional memory image (EMI), which stimulates the amygdala and hippocampus in the limbic system. This action creates a chemical cascade associated with the fight, flight, freeze response.
The original response chosen for your survival as a child was to freeze. It’s second nature for us to choose flight, running away from danger allows for us to survive. Fight wasn’t a viable option at that time, so freeze is the evolutionary choice. The split-second learning can last a lifetime.
Negative emotional memory images drive fear
Given that EMIs are mental visualisations of objects with strong emotional links (traumatic memories) that form unconsciously, it is important to understand where these images manifest. Bernheim noted an external focal point for the image; suggesting a component of the mind ‘exists’ outside of the body.
This would suggest that we download and upload information to the ‘mind cloud storage’, which isn’t difficult to imagine, given that our mobile phones do this all of the time.
The negative EMI triggers the original freeze response, which reduces your ability to overcome or indeed control the nervous energy that floods through your veins.
What is often called the inner demon or inner critic is focused on one thing, your survival. The primitive brain is not interested in public speaking success, giving a good speech or helping you to feel confident. No, the only thing that stage fright brings is the wrong message to the audience. The crowd seems to grow larger, which causes your confidence to diminish.
Attempting to begin speaking as you stare at the audience is very difficult because your smart brain is out to lunch, leaving you at the mercy of your amygdala.
That’s why most people who suffer with a fear of public speaking avoid presenting or giving speeches. They listen to their fear and all the reasons why they shouldn’t speak up, be confident or deliver a presentation.
Luckily, not everyone suffers with the fear of public speaking. An experienced speaker is able to exude confidence, own the stage and speak to the audience directly. Can this be done by visualizing public speaking success?
Do positive emotional memory images make a fearless public speaker?
Yes, to be confident public speaking you need to deliver the message/story/presentation or speech with confidence. This means that the audience holds no threat to your subconscious mind and that you are holding a positive emotional memory image of the room /context.
These positive images allow your body language to align with whatever you talking about. The audience become your friends as they listen intently on what you want them to hear.
Confident public speaking is about creating a positive affirmative space from where you can share your idea of communication scenarios, past successes and a piece of yourself, with others.
How to be confident public speaking
Most people, hope that by taking a public speaking class, watching Steve Jobs or some powerful peacemaker on Ted Talks, that they can become a great public speaker.
If it was that simple we would all be doing it. However, the fact of the matter is that we are all born with the ability to be confident public speaking, so why don’t we?
How to be fearless while talking
Removing the negative EMI and replacing it with a positive one removes the stress response attached to the presentation/speech or audience, but how can you do it?
A great example to use as you begin talking to the audience is to make them appear smaller to you. Imagine the audience all becoming little friends, create that connection inside your mind and practice, practice, practice this confident speaking state.
Fearless public speaking takes practice
Practice allows you to become confident public speaking . The public speaker you were born to be is just waiting for you to overcome your negative internal traits and show off your best qualities.
Opinions expressed by others can impact your confidence, so take it as constructive criticism and use it to grow.
Each time you practice your story focus on individual parts of the presentation/talk. Break it down into manageable chunks of information and practice each step, before moving on to the next one.
Small Steps Secure Confidence
Some specific steps to ensure you stay mentally and physically confident public speaking:
The room – how big is the room? If it’s a large room will you need a microphone? Does it have a stage? If it does have a stage will you have a static microphone, handheld, or head set? Is there IT/Tech support at the venue?
The audience – who is your audience ? A business audience may require a business focus . Are there any specific words or phrases that you need to use in your presentation? Do you know the audience? Has this audience heard you presenting before? Do they want the same presentation?
Presentation – what kind of presentation are you giving? A Business audience may require powerpoint or even a certain dress code. If you speaking from the stage then you will be separated from your audience, unable to listen or hear them speak.
If you are in any doubt about your audience dress to impress. As long as you feel confident in what you are wearing it will prevent you from feeling nervous and keep your focus on the business in hand.
Words can change minds
Before you begin speaking in front of an audience check and double check your subject matter, what are you going to speak about?
Marie Antoinette once gave a speech, as a queen she was confident and not nervous at all, yet the results of her four word speech would be remembered through history.
When told that her subjects were starving and had no bread, she said “Let them eat cake”. Her audience promptly executed her, so if you are planning on giving speeches, don’t loose your head.
Each word , each example that you use as a professional speaker, should set the stage for all that you wish to share. This is the business end of public speaking, a speaker needs to have confidence in their words, putting them all together to create an experience for all.
How to become a fearless speaker
Hopefully you have discovered by reading this post, that being able to be a fearless speaker revolves around how your mind perceives the world in front of you. If you have a negative EMI then your speech will crumble as you step up on stage. This doesn’t mean that you can’t become a fearless speaker it means that you have to clear the EMI from your mind.
A speaker who gives a speech on stage without fear is someone who is able to speak freely and with confidence. They are operating with a mental view that allows them to shine. As their speech unfolds they inform, inspire and educate the listeners.
This speaker has put in the time to fully understand their subject matter and they are comfortable with the fact that they are life long learners. Opening yourself up to the possibility that someone may ask a question that you do not know the answer to, allows you to accept that you are human. Having this humility adds greater depth to what you are saying, as you allow the world to witness your own vulnerability. Stepping out of the shadows of your own mind, allows others to be touched by your light.