I know that I have spoken on this topic a number of times, but I was called up by a friend of mine who has been asked to give a presentation in October, and is absolutely terrified even now.
He rang me to ask how he could possibly survive – what could he do to prevent sheer terror from destroying his chance to impress some important members of his organisation.
So Barry … just for you, let’s have a look at the creation of terror.
Perhaps it might help if you realise that you are not the only one to suffer this dread disease; there are many famous people who have similar tales of anguish and fear, In fact it goes right back to Roman days (And probably earlier if truth be told). Even the great Roman statesman Cato, famous for his oratory, especially his impassioned pleas to the Senate wrote “I turn pale at the outset of a speech and quake in every limb and in all my soul”
Sir Laurence Olivier suffered dreadful nerves before each performance, and an anonymous philosopher once told us that “The human brain is a marvellous thing, it starts working for us on the day we are born and never stops until we stand up to speak in public!”– which is probably the closest description of what really happens.
The cause for all this fear and trembling? Well it’s the body’s natural reaction to a stressful situation – the fight or flight syndrome. It is the physical reaction which prepares the body to fight for its life or to take to their heels and flee. While public speaking cannot be said to be a real “fight for life” I am sure the urge to “take to your heels” can be almost overwhelming. So what’s going on?
The body releases two extremely powerful hormones cortisol and adrenaline which trigger some unusual responses in the body. Now, remembering that this is to help you fight your way out of a sticky situation or at best to start fleeing the scene, it is important to understand what is actually happening to the body.
The pupils of the eyes dilate so that you can see better – yes it brings all those faces into clear view; and they are all looking at you. Your heart starts pounding because your blood pressures soars, and the capillaries close to the surface close down – this is to ensure that you can suffer a surface wound without excessive bleeding. Which, as we all know is essential in public speaking!!
The blood is channelled towards those muscles that are needed to fight or flee, the thighs, the arms and the shoulders etc, while taking it from those areas most needed for speaking such as the face, the neck and the stomach. All this in simple terms means that you get those all pervading symptoms of fear, which is only an overdose of adrenaline.
If you don’t take steps to use the adrenaline you will continue to get sweaty palms, have a pale and sweaty face (Blood draining from the extremities). You will continue to feel that your heart is going to leap out of your chest (Blood pressure rising), there will be more of … but why dwell on it, it’s a depressingly familiar state of affairs.
Strangely adrenaline courses through the body when we are excitedly anticipating any pleasurable event. We get a faster heart beat when we think about our next date with that special person. When we were children we sometimes got sick with excitement the day before our birthday or Christmas. Excitement is caused by adrenaline too you know; so why can’t we tap into that fact and realise that the only difference between the terror of public speaking and the excitement of being able to showcase our experience and knowledge is in the attitude.
So the first step in reducing fear and terror to manageable proportions is in our attitude to the symptoms. From now on Barry every time you think about the presentation and you feel that first frisson of alarm begin start to re-programme your mental response. Concentrate on the exciting opportunity and dwell upon the magnificent presentation you will be delivering.
You are an expert on your subject, which is why you have been asked to deliver this presentation. So have confidence that you understand the situation and that you can describe it in terms understandable to all. Get your mental picture right and the rest is just practical.
And to assist you in the delivery of that fantastic and memorable presentation I have enrolled you in the One Day Public Speaking Course in September– so you can’t lose Barry. You’ve got it made!!