Conquering Fear

According to the Book of Lists , the number one fear is the fear of public speaking. This eclipses even the fear of death! Wait a minute ”if the number one fear is public speaking and not death, it means you'd rather be in the coffin than give the eulogy!

Call it nervousness , call it stage fright, call it whatever you want. If you can't speak in front of a group , you won't get very far in the business world. I'm probably not the first to tell you that. Now, if you have no problem speaking in front of people, then skip this section. But, if you have some anxiety when it comes to presenting to groups, pay close attention. Some powerful techniques can help you deal with being scared speechless.

So what gives? Does your fear increase as the next person enters the room? Why does the anxiety level rise in proportion to the number of people in the audience? What really causes this fear? You might think it's a simple lack of confidence. That, however, is just a symptom of a disease for which we need a cure! The fear is actually rooted in your physical presence in the situation. Think about it! If you didn't have to be there, you wouldn't have any fear!

Suppose you split communication into three types : written, spoken, and face-to-face. Match those with the way you work. You create documents such as letters , faxes, and emails for the written word. You use telephones and voice mail for conversational correspondence. You have meetings and presentations for the face-to-face method of communicating. Only one of these (face-to-face) requires your complete presence. The other two physically hide you from the receiver of the information.

When you write, you have time to edit and restate your words until you are ready to send them out for response. When you speak on the phone, you have less time to edit, but you are free to sit comfortably, and it doesn't matter how you may be dressed or how you appear. In fact, the telephone demands very little effort, especially now that you can screen calls, invent interruptions and use the ever-handy hold button. Even voice mail gives you a chance to plan your response in advance. So these two methods of communicating are less stressful simply because we can't be seen for who we really are at the moment and we get more time to collect our thoughts. When we are less visible, we have less fear. It's that simple. This protection from people helps you get through the communication effort with ease.

So let's take a look at the major problems associated with your physical presence in a situation. You can conquer the fear of presenting in two ways:

  • Attacking the causes

  • Learning to relax

Attacking the Causes

Over the years I have found four main reasons why people fear public speaking. Looking foolish, being judged, appearing boring, and wasting the listener's time. Possibly hundreds of other reasons exist, but these four usually cover most people's fears.

When you examine these reasons, do you see what they have in common? Each is a result of being self-conscious. It becomes a question of "What will they think of me?" The focus of the problem is internal. It is self-directed.

So here is a good rule to remember : When the problem is internal, the solution is external. You need to concentrate on things outside of yourself in order to remove the doubt. This concentration always involves some type of action. Let's examine the four problems I mentioned earlier and see what solutions ”or actions ”can be used to combat the dreaded fear of presenting in public.

Fools Rush In

"I'm afraid that people will think I'm stupid!" I hear this one a lot when people discuss their anxiety concerning public speaking. Well, first I ask, "Are you stupid?" And only the really stupid people take a moment to think about that one. Hey, everyone is stupid, at times. Look at me. I'm one of the stupidest people I know. There are hundreds of people who will testify to that. But, then again, I hang around with a lot of stupid people who can't tell the difference. Then, when I'm with the really smart people, all ten of them, I use the skills in this section of the book to mask my ignorance!

Forrest Gump said that "Stupid is as stupid does" ”whatever that means. Actually, it's a brilliant statement about actions speaking louder than words. If you do something crazy, others might think you really are crazy!

For many people, the typical uneasiness of speaking in public comes from this fear of looking foolish. What would cause that? Are you poorly dressed? Have you prepared your information? Are you speaking from a script you honestly believe has merit? Looking foolish is a feeling you get when you don't have control of the content as well as you hoped.

It's no different from the feeling you had in school when the teacher called on you and you didn't give the correct response. You were embarrassed. You didn't have the answer and you looked stupid! But if you knew the content ”and, hence, the answer ”you felt exactly the opposite . So, your first action is to get control of content. If you do this, your fear will begin to disappear.

Although you might think that content is controlled though memorization, that is not the case at all. The best way to get control of content is to first conceptualize your information, then visualize the manner in which that information will be delivered.

To learn about conceptualizing and visualizing information, see "Providing Do and Say Scripts" in Chapter 24, "The Message ”Scripting the Concept," p. 527 .

You need to script your message using concepts which link together to form the discussion or the argument. Normally, written scripts, or Say scripts, force you to simply read back the content without really knowing it. Conceptual scripts, or Do scripts, are those that segment the topic into main ideas, each of which has some associated action. The action helps you remember the concepts and allows you to present without any notes.

How Actors Learn Lines

I know you've heard the phrase "Places everyone!" Ever wonder how the actors know exactly where to be on any given line? In the theatre it's called blocking. It's the director's job to make sure everyone who paid for a seat can see all the action. Line of sight is very important, especially to folks who shelled out 80 bucks to watch the show! Blocking also helps the actors learn lines.

Here's the way it works. At the first rehearsal, the actors sit around a big table and read the script ”once. At the second rehearsal, the actors are up on the stage with scripts in hand learning the blocking. The director might say to an actor, "Okay, now cross to the middle of the stage and pick up the letter from the second drawer in the desk." The actor moves to center stage, with script in hand, and stops at the yet-to-be-built set piece (the desk) and says the line, "I have the proof right here!"(or whatever). The point is that the actor remembers the line because it is linked to an action, the act of finding the letter in the desk drawer .

Obviously not every line has physical movement attached to it. But the lines become associated very quickly with the surrounding action, making it easier to memorize the words. You can learn a lot from this theatrical process.

When you link action to your words, you visualize the concept for the audience. The typical responses are, "It looks like she really knows her stuff," or "He appears to have a handle on that." Once you have obvious control of content, you won't be singing the "I'm feeling foolish" theme anymore.

Judgment Day

Another reason you might dread public speaking is the belief that the audience is judging you in some horrible, vindictive way. Let's look at that. What could possibly motivate a group of people to dislike you the moment you step in front of them? Why would such a group suddenly unite in the hopes of squashing you like a bug? What would they gain? Always remember that the audience is made up of people, people like you. The key to that statement can be found by changing the emphasis. People like you. They do. Ask Sally Field.

When you meet someone for the first time, don't you hope the meeting is positive? You're basically the same as everyone else in the world, and everyone wants to make a positive impression with each new person he or she meets. Before you open your mouth, the audience starts off by liking you.

Of course, some preexisting situations can cause the audience to not like you. If the circumstances are hostile , negative, or life threatening , then the audience is preconditioned to feel a certain way before seeing you. But barring any preexisting negative conditions, the audience is on your side. They want you to be effective.


Here's a test you can use to see if the way you judge others has merit: Every time you make a subjective statement using the word "they" or "people," simply substitute the word "I" and see if the statement is still true. Try it.

Say the phrase, "People just don't understand this business." Now substitute "I" for "People" and say it again. Notice a difference? Try the phrase, "They don't care about anything," then change "They" to "I." Using "I" changes your perception and, hence, the acceptance of the statement as being true. You can't separate yourself from the world. You are an integral part of it, just as I am.

Think of yourself as a mirror and you will get back what you project to others. In theatre, acting is reacting . The same is true in life. If you offer a positive, nonjudgmental attitude, it truly does come back to you.

So, to reduce the fear that people are judging you, just believe in people as you do yourself. Approach an audience with the belief that they are just like you and that they just like you. This will begin to reduce the anxiety of feeling that you are being judged in a bad way.

Okay, time for a reality check. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to completely remove the fear of being judged by simply believing the audience likes you. This may work during the 15 minutes prior to your stepping onto the platform, but what happens when you look out into the room and see all of those expectant faces?

To overcome the inner feeling of being judged, you'll have to concentrate on something outside of yourself, some action or activity, to get your mind off the anxiety. To avoid being judged you need to become a judge. You can do this by focusing on the anchors in the audience.

Simply select a few people in the room to focus your attention on while speaking. These friendly faces, or anchors, are points of concentration that you must continually seek. This removes the feeling of being judged and puts the judgmental responsibility on you as you present. You are forced to judge whether those anchors are staying attentive, still interested, and still maintaining eye contact with you. In other words, your action is to judge others as to their attentiveness to the message. This will push you to make the effort to keep them awake! If you're doing the judging, then the fear of being judged is transferred to the audience.

The Bored-Room

"The stuff I have to talk about is so boring." I get this a lot, especially from accountants . Well, I used be a public accountant . I found it to be the best training for a life of crime. That's a lie. Political science is the best training for a life of crime. Accounting is the best training for a life of full employment! But that's another story.

The fear is that the talk will be boring, because the topic is boring. Stop for a moment. That might be true depending on your topic. After all, not every topic needs to be delivered. However, the topic is usually not the problem when it comes to lulling the audience into a false sense of excitement. When you finish the talk, if the audience responds with a nice round of indifference, chances are you were the problem, not the content.

To combat a boring topic, you need to find significance. The action, for you, is to convey the importance of the topic. Look for the sense of urgency. The more you identify the critical components of your script, the more determined you get to discuss those components and get reactions from your audience. Reactions reduce boredom. Reactions give the audience something to do.

I'll use the accounting example. A budget report given monthly may seem a bit mundane. Yeah, it probably is. But let's say you linked some budget information to ways that money will be allocated to make some specific task easier for everyone. Maybe the budget for computer networking has been increased. No big deal, unless you make it a big deal. What if you pointed out that faster file transfers will reduce lag time and waiting time and give everyone more free time. In one sentence , you went from lowly accountant to giver of free time! You can't do this all the time, but if you can connect parts of your message to the needs or desires of the audience, boredom will not be your problem.

Time Flies

"I think I'm just wasting everyone's time when I'm up there!" This is another anxiety producer.

The feeling of wasting time may come over you more often during the presentation rather than before it. Suddenly, you have this instant loss of confidence and you can't find a compelling enough reason to ask a group of people to continue taking the time to watch you present.

Do you see the problem here? Wasting time can only happen if there is time to waste. Get it? It's the opposite problem of being boring. People get bored by monotony and hearing too much of the same thing. Wasting time is when you don't have enough relevant stuff to say!

Believe it or not, the structure of your script might cause you to try to fill up the time. Just because you have an extra 15 minutes doesn't mean you must fill it with poor content. You have to make the best use of time in order to reduce the fear of having wasted it. In some cases, that may even mean letting people leave early. Perish the thought!

The easiest way to make the best use of time is to use a form of action known as interaction . You can manage your time better by involving the audience throughout the presentation. This requires you to plan ahead, think quickly on your feet, ask questions, stir discussion, and even create controversy. Naturally, this shifts the concentration from yourself to your audience because you have to monitor their involvement. Activities that help audiences experience new things are seen as positive and not perceived as wasted time.

Now, instead of just planning time for the audience to ask questions, plan the time for you to ask your audience questions. Be proactive. Come up with thought-provoking ideas to stimulate discussion. Not only do you involve people in the topic, you learn from the experience, too. This type of involvement helps reduce the fear that you are wasting the listener's time.

If you can't fill the time with enough information of your own, then maybe the audience can help you. Again, you need to redirect the fear inside of you by placing the problem outside of yourself. Hand the task of not wasting time over to the audience. Believe me, they'll perk up.

Learning to Relax

Some say the nervousness before a performance is both natural and necessary. I say it might be natural, but it is certainly not necessary. If you can reduce a case of the jitters before a presentation, you will be able to deliver your message more effectively. One way to do this is to learn to relax physically. Of course, a limber body is always more relaxed under any pressure. Stretching exercises and other aerobic activities will, among many other benefits, definitely help you relax when giving a presentation.

How It All Falls Apart

Fear affects you physically. Your body "talks" to you right before the big moment. It works something like this:

Your heart starts pounding, pumping precious blood from your belly to your brain. Your stomach gets queasy as the knot tightens and the butterflies begin to bounce. Your nervous system sounds the alarm and chemistry gets the call.

Helloooo, Adrenaline ! On the street they call it speed.

The slick little stimulant marinates your muscles , weakens your knees, and races to your extremities. The friction of its fury lights a fire under your flesh.

You call it nervous energy. On the street they call it sweat.

Your heart beats faster and you take deeper breaths to assault the adrenaline rush. Oh no! Too much oxygen ! You picked the wrong time to fill those lungs, pal!

Wham! The aerated blood in your brain begins to pulse as the rich, red river rolls through your head, suddenly giving you the power to think quickly. Your thoughts are progressing faster than your mind can contain them. What's coming out of your mouth is making no sense at all as you stand there slobbering in your shallow shell.

You've been reduced to a hyperventilating, babbling blob of Jell-O, shivering in your own skin, as you pathetically preach to the people who pay you!

You call it presenting. On the street they call it shame!

Kinda makes the point, doesn't it?

As I mentioned, one way you can help yourself prepare for those opening moments is with some kind of physical exercise such as stretching or even something more strenuous beforehand. Another way to reduce the adrenaline rush and rapid heartbeat is create other activity (action) for yourself. For example, you can slowly take a few deep breaths before you begin. Yes, this increases the amount of oxygen in the system, but it reduces the heart rate before the adrenaline kicks in. More important, the taking of a few deep breaths gives you something to do (action), which takes the focus away from thinking about your presentation.

Once you start speaking, you may still experience some jitters. You can still create an external action ”something to do to reduce the nerves ”without the audience being aware of it. You might try wiggling your toes in your shoes. No one sees this and your concentration again becomes focused on some physical action. Maybe your mouth becomes dry. No you can't take a drink of water, but you can slightly bite down on the outer edges of your tongue or on the insides of your cheeks to create saliva and keep your mouth moist.

Again, you simply need to do something physical to reduce the internal nervousness, anxiety, and fear by using external means. When the problem is inside, the solution is outside. The goal is to redirect your attention away from the internal workings of the mind onto things that are external to you.

The more you concentrate on actions, the less chance you have of being self-conscious, which ultimately creates nervousness. So take a few deep breaths, wiggle your toes, and start talking!

Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003
Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003
ISBN: 0789729571
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 261 © 2008-2017.
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