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Why We Get Nervous about Public Speaking

Nervous about Public Speaking?
Public Speaking

Why do we get nervous about public speaking?


Clammy hands? Heart beating through your chest? Shaking like a leaf and running for the toilet? Yes, the effects of GLOSSOPHOBIA, the fear of Public Speaking are real and career-damaging.

But why do we get nervous? What is the cause of the world's No.1 fear? And what can we do about it?

What am I Feeling?

Nerves are just the name we give to nervous energy that does not have a release. When we get scared, we become adrenalised, and without a proper output for that adrenalin, we experience a fight, flight or freeze response. It's difficult to do something as sophisticated a speaking eloquently to a group of people when you want to fight, flight or freeze. A little bit of nerves is helpful, providing the extra energy for the presentation.

But why do get scared by Public Speaking?

We find public speaking inherently threatening. Why? Because it threatens us deeply. We are a social animal. We need the cooperation of others. This is severely threatened when we stand up in front of them and risk public failure in a public speaking or presentation situation.

Deep Intrinsic Threat

There is no area of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that isn't threatened by speaking poorly in public.

  • Basic Needs: In our history, our basic needs are met by cooperation with a group of others. If we speak poorly within the public group, we risk alienation from this group and our basic and most essential needs will not be met.

  • Security and Safety Needs: Once again, our safety is dependent on cooperation with a group. If we fail in front of that group, they may no longer cooperate to protect us.

  • Belongingness Needs: Do you see a pattern forming? We have a strong need to belong. Making a fool of ourselves in front of the group risks our exclusion and forfeiting our sense of belonging.

  • Esteem and Worth Needs: We need to be worthy. We need to experience accomplishment. This worthiness of our accomplishments needs to be validated by others. Do poorly in presenting your ideas to others and you will lose the esteem of others.

  • Self-Actualisation Needs: The top of the tree, when all other needs are met, we need to succeed and fulfil our potential. Presentations such as TED Talks have become powerful ways to express your esteem and show your potential. Screw up your TED Talk and the Triangle may all fall down.

How Do We Overcome This Nervousness?

Actually, the solutions are simple and highly effective. When we get scared, we become adrenalised, and that adrenalin needs a release.

Manage the Symptoms

  • Stamping your feet, or beating something with your hands will release the adrenalin, while retaining a little extra energy to put into your presentation. You can easily do this for a few minutes before you begin.

  • Breathing exercises will help you take the edge off the nerves. Breathe in for 6 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Breathe out for 7 seconds. Repeat three times. This will slow the heartbeat, focus the mind and reduce the physical symptoms of stress that you are experiencing.

But you would be fear better off by confronting the real cause, the Fear of Failure. Fear of Failure is shuttling forwards into the future to imagine it all going wrong. Then imagining that somehow you can prevent things going wrong. We are not Swiss Clocks, we are going to skip a beat from time to time, mistakes are common and necessary.

Attack the Cause

Confront the Fear of Failure by properly preparing your presentation. Memorise the structure and the main points inside each of the chunks of that structure. Never memorise the full script, memory is well-known for malfunctioning under pressure. Practise your speech/presentation frequently before delivering it. Record yourself, watch it back and look at parts you want to polish. Polish them until it flows effortlessly.

  • PLAN, PRACTISE, POLISH - this is how you avoid nerves from ruining your presentation.

Best Wishes



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