Lots of new clients are showing up lately with fear of public speaking as their presenting complaint. That fear can range from mild to maddening to career-killing. But whatever its level, fear of public speaking sucks—and there are two things you should know about it:
#1: Fear of Public Speaking? It Makes Perfect Sense
When most people get up to speak in public, they don’t have a clue about what they’re doing. They don’t know how to prepare, how to practice, or how to engage an audience.
Giving a speech without knowing how is the equivalent of going off Niagara Falls in a barrel. Sure, you might come out of it unscathed, but obviously, the odds aren’t in your favor.
In this situation, being afraid makes perfect sense. In fact, the fear is your brain’s way of telling you to get help so that you don’t crash and burn. The good news is, you can learn how to speak in public; and once you’ve learned, your chances of succeeding increase astronomically.
On the other hand…
#2: Your Fear of Public Speaking is Totally Irrational
Some of the fear that you experience has nothing to do with your level of skill. (I’m scared to death before I speak in public, and believe me, that makes zero sense.)
The irrational portion of our fear comes from an ancient, pre-verbal, fight-flight-or-freeze center in our brains called the amygdala. The amygdala’s job is to take over under dangerous conditions, and do its best to keep us alive.
It’s not the amygdala’s fault that ancient dangers like rabid wolf packs have been replaced by modern “dangers” like presenting an important report with no notice. When danger—real or imagined—strikes, the amygdala gears up, and gets your attention by triggering fear.
Skills Can Overcome Fear for Public Speakers
It’s one thing to get up and speak in front of people when you know the outcome will be hit or miss.
It’s another experience, entirely, when you know that you’re skilled and well-prepared. In that case, you can laugh at fear, because you know you’re about to succeed.
Public speaking skills are the source of this confidence. They can’t shut down your amygdala, but they can help you ignore or marginalize the fear it creates. Skills allows you to tell yourself, “Hey, this fear is bullshit! I know what I’m doing.”
So yes, fear of public speaking sucks. But once you have skills, it doesn’t matter.