If you’re someone who fears speaking in public, you are not alone. In fact, you’re in the same boat as 74% of the world’s population who also suffer from glossophobia; the fancy name for this fear. There’s a biological imperative for having this fear. It goes back millennia and is embedded in our DNA and neurological pathways.
Think about it: once upon a time, in days of yore, waaaay back when (“in days of yore” is my personal favourite), if you happened to be the only person standing up, facing a large group of people (you know, like when you make a speech), it wasn’t generally a happy moment for you. Finding yourself in this position generally meant one of the following:
- You were about to be captured … and then killed
- You were about to be attacked … and killed
- You had been captured and were on trial, awaiting your sentencing … and thus probably about to be killed …
… you get the picture?
Fight or flight
It’s no surprise, then, that the moment we stand up in front of an audience, our biological imperative kicks in and our sympathetic nervous system activates our “fight or flight” response. Our heart rate and breathing quickens, our muscles tighten, our mouths dry up and our thoughts race as we disconnect from our bodies and enter into a highly charged stress state that is great for intuitive behaviours related to combat and escape, but not so great for addressing an audience calmly, logically and effectively.
The good news
There’s good news for all you glossophobics and it’s all linked to awareness and changing one’s perspective. The cognitive science of metacognition explores and explains exactly how this works. For the purposes of this article, though, let’s just accept that metacognition means “thinking about thinking”. More simply put, it’s the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. If we’re aware of our thought processes we are then able to start changing the way we think. Let’s change the way we think about public speaking …
Leader, Teacher, Preacher
Going back to days of yore (oh I do love using “yore”!), let’s think of other occasions that might have resulted in you standing up, facing a crowd. What if you were a leader? You’d certainly stand and address your followers. You’d help them, guide them, protect and lead them. You’d have power and you’d be in control. You’d be calling the shots, right? Already that feels better, doesn’t it? You might also be a teacher. Your students would watch and listen as you instructed them and led them to gaining new knowledge and understanding. Your focus would be on their learning; your job being to ensure that they did indeed learn.You would be knowledgeable and prepared … and in control. How about being a preacher? You would have a passionate devotion to your subject and a calling to inspire your flock to feel similarly. You’d be a living example of the doctrine you were sharing. You’d be inspired, inspiring … and in control.
Rest and digest
When you’re in control, you feel calm. Your parasympathetic nervous system switches into “rest and digest” mode. You heart rate slows. Your breathing becomes more regular. You can think clearly and you remain fully aware of every part of your body. You are relaxed and composed. You feel good.
Ok … I’ll concede that it might be a stretch for most people to feel completely relaxed when they’re up on a podium. And, heck, I’m not sure I want to be actively digesting my lunch at the same time as giving a speech. However, it is possible to be calm, composed and comfortable when speaking in public. It all begins with a change of mindset.
What are you waiting for?
So what are you waiting for? Start thinking like a Leader, a Teacher, a Preacher – and go out there and OWN that podium!
Coaching and courses
Through my one on one coaching and my TLC Training Public Speaking Courses, I help people discover the confidence they need to communicate their message publicly; in their own personal style. My training and experience as an actor, speaker, director, teacher and trainer have given me the tools and insights I need to help each individual reach their potential as a confident speaker and presenter.
I will be writing a series of articles and recording some video blogs describing some of the processes and exercises involved in conquering fears and “finding your voice”, as a supplement for those who attend my courses and a resource for those who are unable to. If you would like to subscribe to my mailing list to receive these articles and vlogs, please go to my Contact page and fill in the form.