Cold and sweaty palms. A dry mouth. Fast breathing. Sudden sickness. And then the self-talk. ‘What if I forget?‘ ‘What if I make a fool out of myself?‘
Unfortunately, if—like so many people—you suffer from the fear speaking in front of others, these common signs of performance anxiety or stage fright may sound all too familiar to you.
You may have been trying to find a way to overcome it, but there has been little or no improvement.
What’s even worse, you might even take it upon yourself thinking something like, ‘If only I tried harder.’ Or, ‘If I weren’t so… (insert any negative adjective or noun you usually use to describe yourself), I would’ve definitely got over it a long time ago.’
Something you may not be aware of, however, is that you’ve been looking for a solution in all the wrong places.
Why it is so hard to get rid of this problem
The answer is very simple: because people usually turn to the wrong source to solve it. They learn strategies to deal with the symptoms instead of what lies beneath.
The fear of speaking in front of others, in any of its forms—having a presentation, asking for a raise, giving a talk in public, doing a (live) video, and so on—is an emotional issue. It therefore needs to be dealt with from an emotional, not rational standpoint.
What do I mean?
Let’s have a quick look at some common suggestions to deal with this fear. They often include things such as being well prepared, practising a lot, (maybe in front of a mirror), doing affirmations, breathing and speaking slowly, (not) looking the audience in the eye, and so on.
Doing anything of the above is definitely helpful. It can help a person loosen up, and leads to some positive results. But it isn’t enough. It doesn’t necessarily deal with the fear itself. Nor does it serve those who dread speaking in front of others so much that they draw back from even thinking of doing it.
Why is it so?
Because all those tips include strategies that address the rational, the conscious mind. But as soon as your mind is not actively focused on them—which happens easily when you’re in a state of panic of an upcoming speaking event—you’re thrown back into the same old emotional turmoil. Into the emotions which generate your fear and where everything begins.
What causes the fear of public speaking
In most cases, it’s one or a series of traumatic past events, which can either
- be directly related to speaking or performing in front of others (e. g. A child, a confident or shy one, is telling a story in front of the classmates. They start laughing for whatever reason. The child feels embarrassed and begins to fear any similar event from then on.), or
- don’t seem to have any connection to speaking or performing in front of others, but for some reason, the subconscious memory of the episode manifests itself in the fear of speaking.
And if you add—not always, though—someone’s natural shyness and introversion into the equation, you get a perfect formula for a life-long performance anxiety if it remains untreated.
The solution to the problem
In order to successfully cope with this issue, you therefore need to go to its root cause, to the event that caused it, and to the emotions experienced at the time.
To illustrate this, let’s take a house which has a problem with dampness because its roof has been leaking. It’s damp, mouldy, and altogether very unpleasant or even unhealthy to be lived in.
How could you solve the problem? Installing a dehumidifier or painting the walls would definitely be of benefit. In the short term that is. But unless you start properly dealing with the leaky roof and repair it, you can be absolutely sure the dampness and all the related problems are there to stay.
Likewise, when it comes to the fear of speaking, the fear is the dampness. And the events with the accompanying emotions that triggered the fear are the leaky roof.
In order to successfully deal with the issue, you can of course ‘install a humidifier’ and learn the strategies which help you have the fear slightly under control.
Or, if you really want to get to the bottom of the problem, you can get straight to the roof and deal with the fear of public speaking where it began, at its root cause.
I’d love to show you how to do it. If you’re interested, please connect with me on LinkedIn and send me a message to schedule a free call.