“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.”
“Self-consciousness kills communication.”
On a long enough timeline, your odds of having to speak in front of a crowd are 100%.
I raced into the seminar room and started setting up my computer. I was scheduled to give a 2 hour presentation to over a hundred people, and I was scheduled to start in exactly 42 seconds. I didn’t wake up in time to eat breakfast that morning so I slammed down a large cup of coffee, called a taxi, and headed to the lecture theater. There was an accident on the freeway so my cab was stuck in a near standstill for over 30 minutes. By the time I arrived on site, I only had 5 minutes to find the lecture theater. Most of these theaters are located in an obscure building lost deep in the heart of some gigantic hospital, university campus, or corporate research center. As I hurried through a labyrinth of hallways, I pictured the audience filing into their seats and waiting impatiently for someone to entertain them.
The first slide went as planned. Once I found the right building and room, I was able to set up quickly enough to start on time. The MC introduced me and I began giving an overview of my presentation. Then, things went south. All of the sudden, my entire body felt uncomfortable. I started feeling shaky and lightheaded. My heart pounded and my lungs tightened. I felt like I couldn’t breath. I looked out at the audience and was absolutely sure they knew I was freaking out. My brain started asking irrational questions like, “Why is everyone staring at me?” and “Why is no one saying anything?” Because you’re giving a presentation and they’re the audience, idiot! I started looking around at the exits and rationalize how I could take a quick break and escape. The harder I tried to fight these internal influences, the more they took over.
From Nerd To Keynote
If you look high enough up in any organization, the people at the top speak publicly on a regular basis. This is because once you achieve a certain level of success in business and entrepreneurship, the next step is learning how to communicate your ideas and influence motivation. Whether you’re a software engineer or an athlete, the most effective way to do this is by speaking in front of an audience. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were considered geeks with limited social skills. Then, they changed the world. Then, they learned how to improve self-confidence and speak publically. Jobs became an incredible presenter and Zuckerberg has drastically improved his communication skills since launching Facebook.
Learning to speak confidently is the first step to developing as a leader. It is also a great way to establish leadership influence. People who successfully make the leap to public speaking go on to higher levels of achievement, influence, and fulfillment, while those that don’t get stuck in mid-level positions. The good news is that everyone can generate confidence in their speaking ability simply by making a series of small adjustments. It’s better to start making these adjustments now instead of waiting until your boss points to you at a large meeting and tells you to stand up and present.
Speaking In The Serengeti
Public speaking would be a lot easier if someone punched you in the face 5 minutes before you took the podium. Most people fear talking in front of an audience more than they fear death. Numerous polls have proven this fact but it’s still hard to swallow. Why is public speaking so terrifying? The reason people would rather die than look dumb is because our bodies are wired to initiate a very strong flight or fight response in front of a captive audience. Your brain does not like being the lone mammal, completely exposed, surrounded by several other mammals. You have been conditioned to intensely fear being vulnerable in front of other people’s eyeballs staring quietly at you. These conditions are reminiscent of a young zebra, separated from the herd, slowly realizing he is being circled by a pride of lions.
Still and silent faces activate the primal part of your brain that is responsible for initiating your fear response. This response, often referred to as hyperarousal, or fight or flight, is characterized by a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system. This includes acceleration of heart and lung activity, paling or flushing, inhibition of digestion, dilation of blood vessels in your muscles and constriction of vessels everywhere else, dilation of pupils, loss of hearing, tunnel vision, sweating and shaking. Your subconscious brain turns against you and starts attacking you with large doses of adrenaline.
It’s all in your head. The key to controlling this response is to activate it on your own terms. By entering a state of hyperarousal prior to speaking, you will deplete your sympathetic nervous system, improve self-confidence, and center your mind and body. The best way to do this is to exercise the morning of your presentation. Wake up early and go for a run, or do a short weight circuit at the gym. Other options include yoga, pilates, or just basic stretching. Any type of physical activity will boost vitality while calming your overactive nervous system. If you don’t have time for a full workout, do 20-30 body squats or wall pushups in the restroom 10 minutes before taking the stage. Finally, avoid overloading your body with caffeine and sugar, especially on an empty stomach. Things like coffee and soda put your sympathetic nervous system in an overactive state and lower your threshold for freaking out.
In my next post, I will finish the story at the beginning of this article and provide 10 professional tips for talking confidently. Whether you’re speaking in front of a large crowd, your coworkers, or just a few friends, these tips will help you communicate your ideas clearly while inspiring your audience to take action.