Speech anxiety is collectively our number one fear - even above death.
But why should one person feel anxiety before another human being? Or even many? Yet it’s undeniable that speaking in front of others produces anxiety symptoms.
I was once asked to be best man at a wedding. Now given preparation time, I can write a pretty damn good speech and on this occasion I had about six months
During that time, I wrote, rehearsed, and memorised that speech using specialist memory techniques. It could not fail and I could not fail. I felt mildly confident…
On the day, the anxiety sensations were bubbling up inside like a volcano getting ready to erupt...
I told myself these are just human being like me, no better no worse. Why should I have one ounce of fear for them?
Yet the moment I stood up and delivered my first joke - the rapturous laughter was STILL not enough to relax me and prevent the same old Shyness and social anxiety responses from hijacking my mind and body.
My hands shook like an advanced Parkinson’s sufferer
There was no threat here yet my mind was responding as though there was, images of me standing before the audience, frozen - assailed my mind.
The problem with this picture is that the mind can’t express two emotions simultaneously so the dominant one drowns out the other.
And all those months of carefully cultivating a high confidence for that speech ended up being swept away like a house of cards in a tornado.
The fear came from a part of the unconscious brain that has the survival instinct encoded into its DNA.
How can you possibly put up a defense against that with a flimsy house of cards confidence construct created by your conscious brain?
Its like pitting a child against the Terminator.
So what are your options?
1. You cannot defeat the Terminator so you could learn to run for shelter every time it appears.
2. You cannot extract it from your head meaning you cannot leave it, so you could again learn to live with it and run for shelter every time it appears.
3. That leaves the option of changing it. Like a crocodile, the ancient reptilian part of the brain from which this freeze, flight, fight response resides, does not think for itself, it is purely reactive, and therein lies the best way to manage fear and anxiety.
The conscious thinking part of the brain may be weak and vulnerable like a child, but it can do one amazing thing – THINK.
Who has the most potential to win:
a. A Terminator with no capacity to think, or
b. The smart child who DOES have the power to think, plan, strategise, influence?
The child wins because it has so many options to explore - and of course, the child did come to dominate the Terminator and manage it properly.
We all have the ability to dominate our own fear and anxiety responses and reprogram them to view potential threats differently.
One surprisingly effective way to neutralise our speech anxiety prior to a speech (and program our Terminator to ignore the perceived threat) is to tell ourselves the anxiety sensations we are experiencing are not for the speech we are about to give, but for something else that is taking place AFTER the speech.