The fear of public speaking has been nominated countless of times as the most popular fear—more than the fear of death, heights, and snakes. This fear strikes many people when they need to talk to a group, introduce themselves at networking events, pitch their product to investors, instruct new material, and generally in different social situations when one needs to engage with a group of people.
Knowing how this fear stops people from presenting themselves authentically, creating and cultivating good relationships, and ultimately driving situations toward meeting their goals, I approached Christopher Paul Jones. Chris is a London-based Harley Street therapist, he is also known as “The Breakthrough Expert”, and he is going to share his practices with you. Chris specializes in helping people eliminate their fears and phobias. Recently, the BBC featured Chris's talents.
Chris’s ground rule is that any phobia was triggered by a certain incident when the mind made a decision to avoid something at all costs—in our case, it’s public speaking.
Chris experienced this life-altering event when he was nine years old and had to stand in front of his class and read a phrase from a book. As a shy and dyslexic boy, he stood up and tried to read, but he stumbled through the words and all the kids laughed at him… a harsh experience for any child. Later on, he realized that at that very moment his brain told him: “Avoid public speaking and never do it again.”
How to Overcome Phobias - The Practical Guide
1) Find the cause of your fear
We all know that most phobias are just in our minds. While this may sound obvious, it’s not enough in most cases to help someone with a full-blown phobia, since it doesn’t address the root cause of the fear or how the phobia got created in the first place. Most phobias have a trigger point when the mind first linked danger to speaking with others, whether it was an incident at work or something that happened in early childhood or high school. Very often people are not aware of the triggers that are still affecting their beliefs and choices in life. They act as the 'stimulus response' as established by researcher Ivan Pavlov. The best place to start, therefore, is to explore its origins: Think to yourself: what are some of the events from your past that made your mind link fear to public speaking?
2) Challenge your beliefs through questions
People tend to try to justify so many illogical things so often that they don't challenge their own illogical beliefs. Our mind is weird, in a certain way, to believe certain things like “speaking to strangers is scary”, or “they might not like me”. Deal with that fear by investigating your beliefs. Ask yourself questions like: - What do I need to believe in order to feel afraid of public speaking? - How true is that belief? - What do I choose to focus on when I have the fear? - What do I focus on when I don’t have fear?
When you answer these questions, look at the belief and THINK about the worst thing that could happen based on your answers. FEEL what emotions come up and think about what you’re going to say to yourself during this process. By acknowledging what comes up when you answer those questions, you can unlock that fear. It’s also great to share that fear with a friend or colleague who has a different belief about speaking in public and asking them what they believe and focus on.
3) Creating a new stimulus response (anchoring)
When it comes to our feelings, we can’t feel fear and be calm at the same time—that’s just how we’re wired. This principle teaches us that if we create a new trigger linked to positive feelings and emotions, and use this trigger whenever a phobia appears, we can dramatically reduce the impact our fear of speaking is having on us. The key is to think of or imagine a time when you felt completely calm and relaxed, such as sitting on a beach during your last vacation or being around people you love.
Now imagine going back to that time and really focus on all the details: images, feelings, and sounds that go with this event. When you have fully connected to this positive event, squeeze your fist to create a link between the emotion and the gesture, and as the emotion fades release your fist. Keep repeating this as many times as you like, and then test it by squeezing your fist. Notice what you feel. If it’s strong enough, just the act of squeezing your fist will bring back that calm feeling any time you are starting to get stressed. This is a simple and powerful technique to use when you are in a socially stressful situation!
4) You can’t feel bad while thinking about others
When fear of speaking to others comes up, it usually happens when we think about ourselves: “What do they think about me? Maybe they won’t believe/respect/like me,” and so on. Think about it — if you are worried about speaking to others, focusing on your fear and the uncomfortable situation you are in only causes the fear to grow! But what if you nourish your mind with a different type of thoughts, such as: “What can I give and how can I contribute to this person? How can I serve my audience?” When we think about others, we shift our state of mind into “serving mode”, and we calm down and feel more connected to this engagement mission rather than our own fears.
5) Change the perspective of speaking
Another great tip is to use your imagination to break through your fear: Imagine watching yourself speaking to others as you are floating above the event. As you look down at yourself, notice how you are acting. How are you breathing and moving? How do you feel in that moment? From your perch high above, you are free from the emotions. What could you learn that would help change the situation for the better? What could you teach yourself that would help you relax and make any social engagement more enjoyable and confident? This tip is highly useful to allow you to disconnect from your fear and learn to cope with it the next time it comes up.
Human beings are wired to be social creatures, but we also fear judgment from others. If we could listen to people’s inner chatter when they speak to others, we would discover that most people share similar fearful thoughts at different levels of intensity. Once people overcome intense phobias that hold them back, they get the gift of opening up to a whole new world of opportunities, relationships, and resources. For those who share this fear, I wish you a brand-new, fear-free public speaking experience!