I do understand terror of public speaking. I know what it’s like to stand up in front of a blood thirsty audience vying for you to fail so they can shake their heads full of contempt and mockingly laugh you off. Actually, the only place that this happens is in our minds. The reality is most people don’t actually care whether or not you present well most of the time. In our culture, we care so much about what other people think.
The reality is besides the gossips and social commentators, our perception of other peoples interest in us is completely wrong. While we think others are analyzing our every move, they are far more likely thinking about themselves and their own lives. People are far more self absorbed than we give them credit for.
If you are an attractive looking female, you can rest assure that most of the men will be enjoying the view and may/may not be listening to a word you are saying. Many of the women will be analyzing your clothes and fashion sense and considering whether or not you have a good taste in shoes but will also probably be paying attention to what you are saying because they can multitask so well. If you are an older gentleman, people will be filtering you through their expectations that you are supposed to be wise. If you are a young whipper snapper then people will expect to be entertained. If you wear a suit they will expect powerpoint. If you are dressed quirky, they will consider you entertaining before you open your mouth.
Most people will actually make up their mind about you before you open your mouth. Then they will spend your talk trying to fit you into their boxes or categories. This knowledge should take the pressure off. You aren’t really making an impression. You are just trying to get them to fit you into a decent category. The expression to ‘die on stage’ is an interesting one. Similarly too, the survey a few years ago that showed public speaking achieved a higher fear rating than fear of death is fascinating. The idea that says we’d rather die than speak in front of an audience is surely a huge over exaggeration but it does highlight public speaking as a big challenge.
Why is this? Well, the main thing is that our fear is based in looking bad or embarrassing ourselves. I have had the great fortune to humiliate myself on stage and look like an idiot a number of times. It’s not a nice feeling. The idiom ‘ground open up and swallow’ comes to mind. So, it’s understandable that we have such a fear. But the interesting thing is that we create this feeling of being embarrassed in our mind. You aren’t just embarrassed by a situation. You learn to feel embarrassed through the way you think. You become obsessed with how the audience is analyzing you and thinking about you that you start to feel really stupid.
So, I hear you silently ask, how do I stop being embarrassed Owen? Well, there are lots of strategies you can use. Let me give you two. One trick I like to use when I am presenting to a group is I start asking them questions. This immediately gets their focus away from me and onto themselves. They start worrying themselves whether I will pick on them and what the smartest thing they can say is. When this happens, I am no longer in danger of being analyzed to death. Another thing you can do is to start getting the audience to do things. When you are getting them to do quick exercises or demonstrations, they are focused on what they are doing and how they look doing it. If you keep in mind that everyone see’s you only if they have time looking at themselves then it will be much easier.