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The Fear of Public Speaking- Dissected.. and Squashed!

07/10/2014 13:09 | Updated 07 December 2014

Fear of Public speaking is the scourge of the boardroom and wedding party alike. The dread and anxiety that comes with thinking about a forthcoming presentation can force many to find ingenious ways to escape, or stock up on Xanax medication. It's called Glossophobia, who knew?

Whether it is the Best Man Speech slated for 6 months in advance or the office presentation, public speaking anxiety can blight an otherwise confident and secure person from London to Lala Land.

As with most fears and phobias the symptoms of a public speaking phobia are a thumping heartbeat, dry mouth, wobbly stomach and an intense worry that the mind will go blank, that even remembering your own name will require a superhuman effort. The desire to run and avoid the spotlight can bring on sweating and shaking, nausea and that dreaded panic attack feeling. The sufferer also has to deal with the embarrassment of speaking with little confidence producing shame and a serious dent in an otherwise healthy level of self-esteem.

Treating the fear of public speaking by thorough preparation of the material and lots of practice is a good start. However some seek help and advice after years of secret torture and learn how to overcome the fear with some simple tips.

A public speaking therapy session or workshop would seek to separate the problems into manageable chunks. Use these tips to clarify what is happening and why and what it all means.

Here are the main clarifications.

1. A fear of public speaking is a very understandable reaction to being in the spotlight. It does not mean you are lacking in confidence or have some flaw in your character, you are simply not trained on how and where to focus your attention when the 'eyes are on you'. It is a skill you can learn with simple training.

2 The days or months of worry that lead up to the public speaking event do not mean that the real thing will go badly. Your dread and nerves are not a reliable vision of the future. It is true that being relaxed before the event is going to help but your 'nightmare vision' is only in your imagination. Most of our fears in life are not realised.

3 Showing nervousness or unsureness in public is not something we are used to, it is a taboo area. Accepting the natural display of agitation at being the centre of attention will go a long way to calming your fears. Acceptance of how you feel is often the quickest way of beating a problem.

The next task in a public speaking therapy session is to give the speaker some tools to use while in the middle of public speaking and to explain how the simplest informal chat among friends and colleagues can strike fear into the most robust of characters.

The differences between normal public speaking and speaking to a group.

1. In 'normal' public speaking ie. buying a newspaper in a shop, the speaker has some form of connection with the listener. There will be a nod of the head or a grunt or eye contact, something that gives feedback. This feedback is not present when talking to a group, there are too many people to 'connect' to. This disconnection brings on panic and nerves, we feel we are out of our comfort zone, but only because the situation lacks the normal feedback nods and winks. Learning a new comfort zone without the need for feedback is what is needed and is not that difficult.

2. The tendency to self-judge is far greater in the group environment. The ability to catastrophize the level of judgement and criticism from others is a common human habit. It is best to suspend our judgement on how well or badly we are being judged, leave that to later, get on with the speech in the meantime.

3 Speaking to the group appears to be more important than talking one to one. However this is often not the case. It is true that you are in the spotlight but is it a public speaking contest or simply an opportunity to share information? In many cases you do not have to be an expert speaker or confident or calm or engaging, just a person sharing some thoughts and ideas.

4 Pausing and thinking in-between sentences is something we do in 'normal' public speaking and is also perfectly valid when speaking to more than one person at a time. There is really very little value in talking without gaps or reflection, in fact it could easily alienate more than impress. There is a tendency to try to fill every moment, learning to take your time is a useful skill.

It is likely that a CBT practitioner will outline many of the aspects above and workshop the ideas with the client a more rational basis for approaching public speaking. A hypnotherapist may add other strands utilising aspects of hypnotherapy by teaching relaxation techniques and methods to 'get in the zone' .

A hypnotherapist may add the following to treat a phobia of public speaking.

1. Teach general relaxation and self-hypnosis to build confidence in the client that their bodies and minds are more controllable than previously thought.

2 Use visualisations to support the idea of success. Spending too long visualising your 'worst nightmare' is not doing your nerves much good, looking at it another way could help.

3 Learn how to develop a calm or resourceful state of mind and how to access the state while public speaking. This utilises the concept of being able to 'trigger' an idea or feeling that has been practised within a session. This is also known as anchoring, in the field of NLP.

Try this Youtube video on the subject.