It’s been well chronicled over the years that the fear of public speaking often sits at (or near) the top of the list when it comes to people’s biggest fears; even higher than death in most cases. That’s right – we seem more afraid of speaking to an audience of people than we are of our own physical demise. How can this be the case and more importantly, what can we do about it?
Some would say the best way to eradicate this fear is to simply force yourself to speak in front of groups. This is the “throw them to the wolves” approach and can often produce very mixed results. My approach would be much different and would focus primarily on creating a necessary mental toughness that would allow you to flourish in any speaking situation. You see, it’s not the act of speaking or the audience that generates the fear; it’s your thoughts about your speaking or the audience. Therefore, the quality of your thoughts would be a great place to start.
This mental toughness process begins by identifying the multiple powerless thoughts that serve as fuel for fear and replacing them with empowering ones. Below are a few examples.
Powerless lens: The audience is going to judge everything I say.
Curious/Creative lens: The audience is going to process everything I say.
Think about the last time you were in the audience, listening to an individual speaker. Chances are you won’t remember any of the judgments you may have had about the person speaking. While judgments are natural, they usually occur early on and are quickly replaced by the primary function of our brain, which is to process information. In other words, it’s helpful to recognize that your audience is doing more “processing” than “judging”.
Powerless lens: Nobody cares about what I’m sharing. I’m just wasting their time.
Gratitude lens: I’m so grateful for the chance to offer this gift of words to those who are willing to listen.
Anytime you are sharing something with an audience, it’s either information they have never heard before, or it’s your personal twist of information they may have already heard. Either way, it’s a gift. Sure there may be the occasional grouch-puss in the audience who wouldn’t be interested in anything, but there are also a large number of folks who are there to receive your gift. Who knows, your gift of words may just be exactly what they needed to hear.
Powerless lens: I just get so nervous, which ultimately leads to anxiety and I freeze.
Curious/Creative lens: Any emotion I feel is just energy in motion. Therefore, I can use the energy that is present when I’m nervous.
I have an opportunity to speak in front of a variety of audiences, both kids and adults. Whether it’s a gymnasium full of energetic 1st graders or a wall to wall audience of adults, I can tell you that I get nervous before each and every one of my presentations. Furthermore, I’m grateful for the nervousness as it serves as a sign that my energy is at a place where it needs to be. There have been occasions when I’ve noticed the nervous feelings morph into anxiety, which is an indicator that I need to change the quality of my thoughts. By learning to manage our emotions, we can temper feelings like anxiety so they can’t hijack our thinking.
If you change the way you think about public speaking, your experience of public speaking will change.