“I’d Rather Die”
It’s been said that most people fear public speaking more than dying. While I personally don’t share this sentiment, I can definitely remember the anxiety I felt when giving my first speeches in high school.
Why do we fear public speaking? Sweaty palms, a constricted throat, a wavering voice. All common symptoms to something that has a next to zero chance of hurting you physically.
A better question is, why do we fear anything? In my opinion, all irrational fears stem from a lack of reference experience. Imagine you are absolutely terrified of jumping out of planes – a somewhat healthy fear for the most part. However, you want to skydive, but you can’t get over the fact that you will literally jump out of a plane, potentially to your death.
Imagine you were forced to repeatedly skydive at gunpoint. Jump or die. Those are your options. Clearly you’d jump. With each jump your fear would degrade as you gained the reference experience needed to truly evaluate the situation. This is known as progressive desensitization. If you click through to that Wikipedia link it seems awfully complex, but trust me – it’s not.
Introducing Progressive Desensitization
You don’t need to be a behavioral psychologist or therapist to overcome your personal fears. There’s a very simple method you can use to slowly but surely hack away at your irrational fear of public speaking. I’ve used it many times for many fears of my own. It uses progressive desensitization to chip away at your fear bit by bit. I like to call it the Fyramid:
Write your fear down on paper. Then, create a list of 10 situations where your fear of public speaking could manifest. The first situation should be the mildest level of anxiety you could possibly feel, and the tenth situation would be the most terrifying public speaking scenario you can imagine.
After you’ve done this short exercise, the next step is to expose yourself to the lowest level situation until you internalize the fact that it causes you no physical, mental, or emotional harm. Once you’ve achieved this state, move on to the next situation. It’s the incremental increase that’s the key here. Oftentimes when we’re looking at a fear of ours, imagining the complete resolution is too hard for our mind to grasp.
Back to public speaking though. How can you expose yourself to some of these situations repeatedly? It seems tough to put yourself in situations where you’re asked to give a short, off-the-cuff speech or give a presentation to a group of your peers. It’s not. Join Toastmasters. It’s an organization designed to help you destroy your fear. Not only that, you can begin to work on the actual skillset of public speaking while conquering your fear. The environment is extremely supportive and a typical club is filled with plenty of novices as well as experienced speakers.
Give it a shot. Conquer.