You can imagine it right now. There you are, notes in hand, in front of a group. You’re about to be introduced. Your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and your knees are shaking.
Those aren’t just butterflies in your stomach, they’re freaking aliens and at any moment they’re going to burst forth teeth gnashing. OK, fine, maybe not that kind of alien, but surely some kind of alien is in there. “Argh!” you’re thinking, “What is wrong with me?”
Hello, podium panic.
It may be that you feel comfortable in a small group, but not in front of a large group. It’s no problem speaking to people you know, but speaking to strangers is a whole different ball game. The fear of public speaking is absent when you are with your peers, but when it comes to higher-ups then “fuggedaboutit!”
Maybe you don’t call it fear. Another word might describe it better – anxiety, discomfort, worry, concern, nervousness, stage fright. Whatever you call it, it’s not fun and it is real.
Getting to know your brain
Humans experience fear out of a basic need to survive. It’s a physiological reaction triggered in the amygdala – the part of our brain that reacts to danger with a fight, flight or freeze response. We need that part of our brain to keep us safe, and, thankfully, it’s not the only thing up in that noggin.
We also have the pre-frontal cortex part of our brain that helps us with critical thinking, planning, impulse control, and self-awareness. It’s probably this part of your brain that got you into having to give a presentation in the first place. Stupid pre-frontal cortex! Jokes aside, it is helpful to remember that both parts of our brain come together to make us uniquely human and both have a role to play.
How do I deal with fear?
To address the fear of public speaking – or any other fear – the most important thing to do is to notice. What thoughts are running through your head? What expectations do you have about the situation? What is your self-talk? If that nervousness had words, what would it be saying?
Don’t just let your eyes scan over those questions. Take a moment to grab a piece of paper or your journal and capture those thoughts. Get those fears down in black and white. Can you drill down for more details? Let those worries flow out onto the paper without censoring them. Remember it’s just a part of what makes us human.
Once you have done that, then apply the other part of your brain. Look back over the fears you wrote down. This time, use your reasoning and higher-level thinking skills. What are your fears trying to tell you? Are there some valid concerns? Are there steps you can take to prepare for your presentation? Are there some fears you can laugh at because they are so silly? Really, the chances of aliens bursting from your belly are pretty low.
If you would like help taking a deeper look at fear, we’re here to help. Our coaches regularly work with clients on nervousness. Another opportunity is to attend our free workshop, “Eating Fear For Breakfast,” at the Fort Collins Startup Week on Thursday, February 27, at 9 AM. In either case, we hope to see you soon and we’ll leave you with the following thought.
Instead of letting the fear eat you up, confront it and you’ll be eating fear for breakfast.