The fear of public speaking:
Many years ago I used to train and present for a financial institution that I worked for. I can’t say I enjoyed public speaking but I managed to deliver what I needed to get across and have it over with before I reached the temperature of combustion.
In another role, I remember standing in front of a crowd of around 200 women. I had organised an event aimed at inspiring women in business. Everything was going really well, I had organised a few major executives to speak, I had organised everything from the catering team to the cloakroom service and I had no intention of going on stage to speak to anyone. Don’t get me wrong I was O.K. at speaking in front of small groups of business clients or colleagues but anything more than that gave me stomach cramps, and an anxiety that felt like I was being strangled, suffocated, winded and burnt alive all at the same time. The company I had organised the event for had their own host/speaker so I didn’t have to worry about that it had been covered. Then they told me that the host was running late.
I had an immediate lump in my throat from this announcement and maybe even a tear as I realised that I would have no choice but to step in. Between a panic attack and trying to stay cool on the outside I could feel my cheeks heating up and my heart getting ready to pack up and leave my body. Thankfully, one of the speakers probably recognised my stone cold silence and took me aside to discuss my speech which I’d need to write in the next 5 minutes as we were due to start in 10.
Now, to cut a long story short, all went well, I only had to do the introductions, it was no big deal really but the amount of stress and pressure I put myself through between finding out I had to speak and the whole evening being over was absolutely ridiculous.
From my own experience in this area it was through studying core beliefs and being coached that helped me identify the limiting beliefs I held that were the root cause of my anxiety.
The reason why as humans we develop this aversion to public speaking is primarily a fear which is closely linked with shame. Fear of judgement, fear of messing up, fear of the opinions of others, fear of doing something stupid or forgetting what we are saying or I don’t know, our skirt gets tucked into our knickers by accident or our flies are open and everyone sees and laughter instead of applause is the response from the audience?
Let’s at least acknowledge that WE are our ever present and nastiest critic.
The reason I write about this now is because I witnessed this discomfort this morning in a meeting I attended. There were probably 20 of us in the room. An extremely knowledgeable, experienced Director of a company of Financial Advisors was giving a speech for 10 minutes about his products and services. I’d seen him earlier and he was an accomplished member of the group, however when it came to his talk he couldn’t stand still for more than 10 seconds. His voice was shallow, his breath was short, his face was red and I could sense how anxious he was about standing up there. Sadly I didn’t hear everything he had to say due to this. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his content, he had simply got up to speak and become extremely self-conscious.
To resolve this type of social anxiety, no matter where you go or what level you are playing at, certain issues must be resolved from within. This is not an external exercise. Ask yourself why you are afraid? Is this an attempt by your ego to shrink and not be seen? What is the worst that could happen? What do you really want people to know or understand?
After asking yourself these question please write down your answers so you can see exactly what you believe about yourself. Your answers may shock or upset you.
Confidence must be increased and your willingness to surrender to the idea of judgement must be developed. If you cannot open up to the amazingness that you are and acknowledge the irrelevance of what you think others are thinking, this discomfort and anxiety has no choice but to play out. It’s your emotional systems way of alerting you to your discomfort with yourself.
Now you may feel that you have no need to go on stage to do a talk in front of a group of strangers so you don’t have to concern yourself with this issue.
However the fact is whether you are talking to 1 person, 100 or 1000 people. If you don’t love and own who you are, you will be afraid to show up fully with and for others. You will hold parts of you back out of worry that parts of you aren’t good enough or acceptable or whatever judgements you have of yourself are. When you don’t show up fully for others you are denying them your story. You are denying them something that only you can give. Your message is a gift to the world and you are holding on to it out of fear of what other people will think? Now really, think about that!
Most jobs and all sales roles require that you ‘put yourself out there’ in order to create new business or retain existing clients or build relationships. In the majority of cases subconsciously it is you the customer is buying and not the product or service. This is why removing the anxiety around speaking socially is crucial.
You may feel that you don’t have anything worthwhile to share but I am 100% sure that this is not true. You see there is only one of you. There will never be any one else on this planet not now or ever that is exactly like you who sees things the way you do. There are people out there that need to hear YOU!
Yes. Let that sink in.
Now, knowing this to be the case, how is it possible that you don’t have one gift or one message or one solution or one service that others could benefit from? Even If it is just one person, you were meant to share it with that one person. If you don’t share it at all, you would be denying that 1 person from an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
This social anxiety can manifest itself in many forms. Maybe for you speaking to someone in authority may be off putting. Maybe you are uncomfortable asking for a promotion at work or setting boundaries with people close to you. This fear of sharing your message is not limited to standing on a stage in front of others. Many people live with fear and shame as a constant. So constant that it has become natural to them.
As natural as these emotions are, they are not meant to be a permanent fixture in your life. They are alarm bells ringing to let you know that something whether physically or mentally needs to change.
So how will you bring about this change? Have you any tips for other readers about how you overcame your social anxiety? Or have you just learned to live with it? Do you want to change it and become fearless? Do you want my help?
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