Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fear of Public Speaking


I've heard it said more than a few times that Americans fear public speaking more than death. Given a choice between offering a speech at the luncheon or having a root canal, most folks will opt for the dentist ...

Not me. I got over that in college at Free Speech Alley. Not to say I don't get butterflies before a big speech, I do, but that edge of fear adds to the experience, kind of like riding the Matterhorn Ride in Disneyland. Not much real danger, but it trips the circuits ...

There are all kinds of ways to deal with this fear, but I came up with a new one after reading a piece in Quiet, a book about introverts in our society. Which, largely, I am, even though I can put on the lampshade and entertain, that's not where I gather my power.

Introverts like to be alone, and I'm a writer, go figure. 

In the piece, the writer mentions that this fear is possibly hardwired back to the veldt. 

When you were out foraging and you noticed something watching you, it was, likely as not, considering eating you. Whereby, when you noticed, your survival mechanism told you to haul ass and up the nearest tree, monkey-boy, hubba-hubba! 

Them's that were slow maybe didn't get to pass on any more genes, having become the saber-tooth's lunch.

Fight-or-flight, and standing at the rostrum, she says, might trigger it.

So it occurred to me to turn that situation around: Consider yourself the top predator in the room, and when you look at the crowd, think about which of these tasty critters you'd snack upon first ...

I'm gonna use that next time I get up in front of an audience and see whether or not they laugh when I offer it. And how nervously they laugh, if they do ...

7 comments:

James Marshall said...

I like that. I'm pursuing a degree to teach adults, though, and I think setting the tone with me as predator and them as prey might make things more difficult in the long run. Kinda hard to learn a complex skill when your body is screaming "RUN!".

If I end up teaching college students, on the other hand ....

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I was first given that advice by a standup comic, 20+ years ago. You're either the top predator in the room, or you're prey, and the audience can tell the difference.

Steve Perry said...

Well, I'm a slow learner ...

Mike Byers said...

Just be careful: if you see a real tasty-looking "snack" you might start to drool, and this probably isn't the effect you want.

Anonymous said...

I would say this probably works better if you aren't *actually* going to enter a predatory state... I knew a former officer from a fairly high end, kick @$$ , take names type unit who was critiqued in law school, " that was pretty good, EXCEPT that you looked like you we're going to come around the table and beat the crap out of us"

Steve Perry said...

It's all mind-set stuff. If you have a reason to not be afraid, it helps. The wetware's wiring hasn't changed much since the savannah and the cave, and if you can get your forebrain running fast enough, it can trick the hindbrain into thinking you aren't worried.

I mean, when is the last time the Rotary Club stormed the podium and strung up a lunch speaker? Even ran him out of town tar and feathered on a rail?

There are some beta-blockers that work for musicians with serious stage fright. Placebo seems to work just about as well in this case -- if you think the pill makes you fearless, it does.

The other advice is to picture them naked when you step up to speak, but that way lies madness ...

Travis said...

I was part of a trial for a drug for use in an operational context, fun stuff. Boy let me tell you , that placebo is some awesome stuff!