Fear and Anxiety of Public Speaking in front of Crowd
Whether you are about to present your new bride, new baby or new budget you might be feeling a little more than a few flutters in the stomach. You’re not alone. An estimated 75% of the population experience some degree of anxiety before and during any sort of presentation.
These symptoms vary from a few butterflies (albeit doing a good impression of circling vultures) to sleepless nights, panic attacks or complete avoidance. But what is it that makes a competent, confident individual dissolve into a sleep deprived rabbit in the headlights?
Fear of public speaking is not confined to business but with help every best man can learn to enjoy their moment in the spotlight We Need to Belong
We are social animals. It is vital to our existence that we belong to “the pack” in order to survive and thrive. This need to belong makes us work hard to be accepted by others and makes us highly aware of being judged by them. Perhaps you are already aware that you automatically put on some sort of “social mask” or persona as soon as you encounter people in the morning. You up your game a little, smile and are hopefully pleasant.
You present a better version of your real self to the world in order to get along with others. It is this very ancient and instinctive need to belong and be accepted that causes so many problems when it comes to speaking in public because we fear being judged negatively and excluded from the “herd”.
People often describe panic as an external force that “comes over” them. But if there is only one thing you will remember from reading this piece, remember this: anxiety starts in your head. It may feel like those horrible symptoms of insomnia, sweating, shaking voice, trembling hands and sick stomach come out of nowhere but they don’t. They start with your thoughts. These thoughts have often become so habitual that they are unconscious and instantaneous and all you are ever aware of is the unwelcome feelings which they cause.
But in order to overcome your fear of public speaking, and rid yourself of these unwelcome feelings, you need to begin by teasing apart the thoughts which you may be unaware of, from the feelings which you are probably all too aware of.
These thoughts tell your body that you are in danger and it responds by setting off the phenomenally clever and intricate Fight or Flight response (see box). Although the effects of this response may seem unwelcome it’s important to remember that the Fight or Flight response which causes the symptoms of anxiety is helping your body to work as efficiently as possible because your thoughts are telling it that you are in danger and you need to escape. To stop the symptoms of panic you need to take a look at your thoughts in order to prevent this stress response from “reving” up.
Negative self-talk is a major cause of public speaking phobia
So what do you say to yourself in the run up to a public speaking event? Some of the most common self-talk statements include;
“If people see that I am nervous they will think I am not good at my job”
“I bet I’ll go blank and lose my train of thought”?
“I should be a good speaker – I’m a grown man”
“The best man is supposed to be funny but what if I don’t get a laugh”?
“That guy over there is bored. He’s writing something instead of listening. I must be boring him”
All of these examples contain elements of extreme thinking that are known to cause anxiety. So try challenging them with more balanced but realistic alternatives.
Have you ever noticed someone who was nervous when presenting or making a speech? How did you feel towards them? Sympathy possibly, perhaps even empathy but did you think less of them? Do you believe (be honest here) that it is possible for someone to be good at their job and not like speaking in public? Of course it is.
And that guy who is writing – could he be taking notes – or has he just remembered he’s supposed to call someone before lunch and he needs to jot it down. Distracted perhaps but hardly unforgiveable – or your fault.
Managing anxiety is about managing your thoughts. If your thoughts are not working for you change them and the physical symptoms will follow suit. Whether it’s you or your stomach that’s tieing the knot, remember to be kind to yourself and stop thinking in extremes. Consider the possibility that at least some of your audience are rooting for you!
Note:The Fight or Flight Response
The Fight or Flight response is our body’s stress response. It makes the body work as efficiently as possible to fight or flee from danger. Either option requires a lot of energy very fast so the heart pumps faster, blood flow increases to the main muscles of the body, pupils dilate to see better and functions that are not immediately necessary shut down.
This was great to help primitive man escape a lion but the excess energy in the body is often inappropriate in the stressful situations of modern life and only increases the feelings of panic.