I work a lot with people who are anxious around public speaking. One thing is very clear that we think far too much about it. Especially if we are scared and anxious when we are the centre of attention.
We think about; where to put our hands, what people are thinking about us, we remember the times we got it wrong, we worry who is in the audience, we catastrophise what might go wrong. To adapt Mark Twain “My speeches have been filled with terrible misfortunes – most of which never happened!”
To cap it all, we often have an internal observer giving a commentary about how badly we are doing in the moment. Let’s listen in;
“You’ve just pronounced that word wrongly, why are you speaking about this right now, omg they can see that I’m nervous, my feet are too big…”
The more we act as our own highly critical commentator, the more we sabotage ourselves.
That is a lot of “stuff” to take up with us. No wonder its hard to be there.
For me, it is obvious that the fear of public speaking is layered – its not just one thing. It’s not just a matter of changing feeling nervous to feeling excitement – although later on that can be a useful.
I think we have to calm ourselves down, to learn how to be in front of people and get used to the fact that our brain that has an evolutionary biased for spotting threat. Over-seeing threat is something our brain excels in. Our brain is evolutionary designed over millions of years to over-think, to spot patterns of danger, to react quickly to them.
Often we blame ourselves for our weaknesses around public speaking. I think we should be kinder to ourselves – we are still using a brain that’s defending us from potential threats from million years ago. When did you last get attacked by a lion during a presentation? But we behave as if the lion is almost there in the audience. This is our evolutionary legacy rather than something broken with us as individuals. So it’s not our fault that we are they way we are, but it’s definitely our issue to sort out. So if you are anxious around public speaking, you are very, very normal. We need to appreciate our wonky brain and learn some new ways of handling our thoughts when we approach public speaking.
Part of the answer to the fear of public speaking is to learn how to be ok with lots of people looking at us and how to calm our inner storm so we think a lot less.
What I’m aiming for is people realising that public speaking can be simpler if we put far less pressure on ourselves, if we realise that our thoughts are driven towards threat too much and we can’t work out what people are thinking about us at all