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Public speaking and giving presentations.... I’D RATHER DIE!

The No1 fear for almost all of us.

Article Topic: Anxiety

Written by: Kirstie Salter

At some point in your life you’ll probably be called upon to make a speech or presentation – to clients, work colleagues, fellow professionals or just to family and friends at a social gathering. Very few people approach the prospect without a degree of fear – even the most successful individuals and those who regularly stand up in front of audiences experience this most powerful of emotions.

What is it that we fear - the embarrassment of messing up? Yes, but this is illogical. If we’re well-prepared then this is unlikely to happen. The real fear is the fear we experience when people stare at us. One pair of eyes trained on us is unsettling. Ten, twenty or even hundreds is terrifying. Humans evolved at a time when staying alive meant eating others before they ate you. To help us survive our brains developed an area that we now call the amygdala. When we sensed someone, or something, watching us, this triggered a fight or flight response – it released adrenalin into our system to make us able to defend ourselves better or to run away faster. Watch the video here:

Nowadays the idea that the conference audience or assembled wedding guests are getting ready to eat us alive is absurd. But that’s how our amygdala still responds! That’s why public speaking fills us with such dread – it’s a hangover from our distant past, it entirely illogical, but the reaction is very intense and real.

How not to handle it

A tiny part of our primitive brain is telling us that we’re about to be attacked. We could fight back, but there are more of them than us, so that won’t work. We could run, but that would be super-embarrassing – social pressure roots us to the spot. So the next best thing we can do is try and shut the eyes out and build a mental barrier around ourselves to limit the potential harm. We avoid all eye contact with the audience, focusing on our notes or our slides and mentally distancing ourselves from the situation.

This reaction is instinctive but not helpful. The fear does not go away and, by preventing us from engaging with the audience, it causes us to give a flat and dull presentation (the other thing that we were super worried about!).

How to make them love you

The fear is not being caused by any real threat – it’s all in our mind. So the way to calm your twitchy amygdala and disarm our instinctive panic button is to change the way we think about the situation. Instead of focusing on ourselves, on whether we’ll mess up or whether people will become hostile, the trick is to focus on the audience and to think about how you can help them. If you generously share your knowledge they’ll love you, right?

Studies have proven that when we give to others this decreases our amygdala activity. Showing kindness and generosity to others activates the vagus nerve, which has the power to calm the fight-or-flight response. This means that when we approach public speaking in a spirit of generosity we feel less stressed and more relaxed.

Three practical ways to make this work

1. When you’re preparing your talk or presentation don’t start by thinking about your topic – this will get you bogged down in the detail and focusing on yourself. Start by asking yourself “Who will be in the room? Why are they there? What do they need?” Craft your message with these questions at the forefront of your mind.

2. Refocus your thoughts just before you start. This is the moment when your brain is telling you, “They’re judging me. What if I blow it?”. Counter this by reminding yourself that you are here to help them. Boss your brain by telling it “This is not about me. It is about helping all these people”. Initially you’ll find this a struggle but after half a dozen presentations your brain will get the message.

3. Make eye contact. Don’t scan the room – if you cast your eyes over everyone you’ll connect with nobody. Fix your eyes on one person as you make a particular point. Then do the same with a different person when you move onto your next point. By focusing on one person at a time you make each person in the room feel like you are talking just to them.

How I can help you reduce your fear

The technique I’ve just shared with you will reduce your fear of public speaking. But there’s an additional way I can help you approach the situation in a better frame of mind. In a face-to-face session I’ll help you visualise the presentation going well. To reinforce this I’ll use hypnosis to embed this imagined successful presentation into your subconscious. Your primitive brain instinctively gets you to think negatively but I’ll help you use your imagination to override this – by mentally rehearsing success we’ll build your confidence and quell your doubts.

Got a presentation or speech coming up that’s making you anxious? Let me help you with that. Call +44 (0) 7966 517708.



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