“Whether it’s at work, at a wedding or at a school event, we all need to speak in front of an audience at some point in our lives. No matter how much we may enjoy the fear induced by rollercoasters or Stephen King novels, the particular anxiety of looking out into a sea of faces waiting expectantly for you to speak is one that few of us enjoy. ” – Anwesha Banerjee
Have you been asked to speak and either said no or accepted with fear and trembling? You are not alone. Studies have indicated that fear of public speaking is akin to the fear of dying. However, “we humans routinely and willingly engage in activities that could lead to death — most notably, driving — without thinking twice. Meanwhile, there’s very little chance that public speaking could kill us, or even significantly harm us, …but every time we have to get on stage in front of people, we can almost feel death.”
What steps can you take to help you deal with this fear? One way is through joining Toastmasters. Toastmasters is an organization that helps people begin to deal with these fears by gently moving step by step through the process of speaking beginning with taking on basic roles at a meeting such as Quizmaster, Word of the Week, Joke or Story, or Timer before moving on to the larger roles of Table Topics Master, Toastmaster and General Evaluator. Each of these roles gives an opportunity to speak for a short period of time which allows the butterflies to be coaxed into settling down.
I recently read an article from ideas.ted.com which talked about this very thing – Stage Fright. Neuroscientist Anwesha Banerjee has this suggestion: Why not get used to it?
” our difficulty with speaking in front of a group, she says, has less to do with the fear of speaking itself and more with how we constantly reinforce that fear. We tell ourselves again and again — and tell other people too — that speaking in public is frightening, and that being frightened is to be avoided at all costs. “When we say that to ourselves repeatedly, we engage our brain in a process called negative reinforcement,” says Banerjee. “Negative reinforcement is defined as strengthening of a behavior response by avoiding a negative stimulus. Of course, in this case, the behavior response that we are strengthening is our fear response, and the negative stimulus is getting up on the stage.”
As Banerjee says in this article, the secret to becoming a good or great speaker is to just do it. Show up at a Toastmasters meeting prepared to take on a role. Say yes to speaking opportunities at work or at volunteer organizations. Put your fear behind you and reach out to a Toastmasters group in your area. You can find out more about what is available by going to Toastmasters.org to find a club.
Banerjee has made presenting in public a habit by joining Toastmasters, an international nonprofit that teaches communication and leadership skills, and she has now spoken in front of audiences over 200 times. Their secret to developing great speakers and leaders is to encourage their members to “learn by doing.” This means getting up to talk, even though a voice in their head is telling them to flee. While she still has stage fright — and she admits to feeling it even during her TEDx talk — her brain pays a lot less attention to it and is able to pay more attention to the audience and other aspects of her speech. “The risk is always there; it’s just that our brain gets used to the risk.”
You can read more and watch her Ted talk by going to this page.
To your success in public speaking