Fear of public speaking

Victoria Gimeno. Director. International Relations. IE University

3 April 2017

Fear is an emotion that produces physiological changes in our bodies (tachycardia, trembling, etc.) and fuels negative thoughts. But there are techniques to combat it.

In the course of coaching processes, time and time again I find myself with a brilliant person who looks set to take on the world, and then suddenly, almost as an aside, they show me their vulnerability when talking about a presentation that they have to do in a few days’ time. That’s when I start to examine how much they know about the subject in question and the curious thing is that their level of knowledge is not the problem. The problem is the fear, panic even, they have of speaking in public.

Fear is an emotion which causes, like any other emotion, physiological changes in our body – racing pulse, trembling, sweating, … and, among other things, it causes a surge of negative thoughts which, as we have seen, can cause still more negative realities. The root of a fear of speaking in public, might be caused by, among other things, a lack of the resources needed to do the presentation, past experiences that weren’t very successful, beliefs about ourselves and beliefs about how others might judge us.    

In these cases I always delve into my coachee’s memory to bring out the times when a presentation was followed by success, and surprisingly enough there are usually plenty of times when this was the case, most in fact, in spite of the fact that they was often more at stake than the upcoming presentation, or they were simply more difficult.

Think about the audience, because fear is often due to thinking that they know more than you or that they might catch you out with a question. This, even if true, could be counteracted with a show of humility and of your own weakness, which makes others take your side.

Furthermore, it is worth taking a very thorough look at all the resources needed to make any presentation a success. In addition to knowledge of the subject matter, it is essential to add planning and structure of the presentation, support in the form of slides and technology, and as many rehearsals as necessary, preferably in front of a mirror.

I also talk to the coachee about other tools that can help them feel good such as posture, adopting an “I’m the best” stance with their head held high and shoulders thrown back. Deep breathing is another tool, which is why a mindfulness course is highly recommendable.  

Finally, I ask them to visualize a successful outcome to make for positive thoughts to reduce feelings of anxiety.

There are, of course, many techniques, and an enormous number of books on the subject, and all of them can be of help, from looking at someone you really trust, to speaking slowly, holding a pen, wearing good clothes, etc, etc.



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