In a recent Gallup poll asking 7,000 people what they feared most the results were as follows:
1. Public speaking (41%)
2. Your own/loved ones death (32%)
3. Insects and bugs (22%)
4. Financial problems (22%)
5. Relationship breakdowns (22%)
6. Fear of long nasal hair (20%) – (I made that one up)
Why is the fear of public speaking so high on the list? The fear of public speaking even has it’s own word glossophobia (from the Greek meaning ‘tongue’ and ‘fear or dread’) I have seen people literally be sick with nerves before they were about to speak, to shake uncontrollably or even walk off the stage mid way through their speech saying ‘I can’t do this’, but why?
I mean, we can all talk and we do so all day every day with little thought or planning so why does it alter when you merely have to stand up and talk in front of your peers? What is it about the seemingly innocuous task of talking to others while standing up that turns so many people to mush?
The answer to this lays in our brain and in the concept of fear its self. Most of our fears are hardwired in our brain in our amygdala or primitive brain, the same area of our brain that triggers our ‘fight or flight’ response to danger. Many of the fears we have are rightly there to protect us and our lives like the fear of ‘walking across a tight rope stretched from the BT Tower, with our trousers round our ankles carrying a bag of ferrets and no safety net’ for example which is clearly a prudent fear to have.
Some of our other fears are subtler and certainly more limiting in our lives and tend to be based around our place in society. We are talking especially about the fear of failure and the fear of rejection. These two fears do more to hold us back in our lives than most of the other fears put together, they prevent us from starting our own business, committing to learning something new, moving to a different place or meeting new people.
When these two fears come together at the same time, they become even more powerful and that is exactly what happens with public speaking. When we think about ourselves making a public speech we may visualize ourselves making a mess of our talk (failure) and imagine the poor opinion our audience will have of us (rejection) afterwards and bingo, we turn to jelly!
It doesn’t have to be this way though; public speaking is a skill that can be learnt. It will take some effort on your part, some planning and some commitment to learning new skills but you too could be a skilled public speaker and dare I say one day you may even enjoy it. You don’t believe me? Watch out for part 2 of my blog to find out how.