When public speaking gets the better of you

imagesThe fear of public speaking still outranks any other fear – including death.

Generally, a sense of fear is absolutely normal and healthy because it activates our “fight or flight” reactions, which can often keep us from getting trapped in threatening situations.

Where communication comes into play, we need to be able to address the anxiety that may prevent us from being able to connect  effectively with others

FDR famously said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His wife, Eleanor, the practical lass, said “do one thing every day that scares you.” In her meaning, it’s about recognizing your fear and simply doing it anyway. Easier said than done for many of us.

I’ll let you in on my dirty little secret. I have an irrational fear of birds, also known as ornithophobia. To have such an illogical fear doesn’t bode well for me at all. I am a person who needs to have an answer for everything, doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, hates being made fun of, and generally, is pretty conscious of my actions and appearance. While I’m very outgoing, I’m very much an introvert (yes, it’s possible to be both). I also have an almost desperate need to be in control of myself and the situations that surround me at all times. Okay, I’ll move on before I start sounding nutty.

I decided to take good ol’ Eleanor’s advice last year during a trip to Italy with my husband. Sure enough, my fear was realized, as it had been several times before, when I found myself involuntarily and uncontrollably kicking, shrieking, and generally causing an embarrassing scene, at a quaint square-side café (causing myself physical injury, I might add).  Obviously, my crazy reaction caused a stir, striking up questions from the other patrons who genuinely wanted to know if I was ok; but were also curious to find out how I could possibly be afraid of birds?  On the flip side, I couldn’t believe that no one else was disturbed in the slightest by the massive flying rats (a.k.a. pigeons or seagulls – I can’t remember since I’ve completely blocked it out of my cognitive recollection), that were scurrying around their feet and randomly swooping in for a bite of whatever was within reach. The gentleman at the next table said, “If you admit that it’s irrational, you shouldn’t have a problem getting over it.” Yeah, ok. Now that’s crazy talk.

Regardless of your fear(s), you’re not alone. Here are some handy ways to conquer a variety of communication-related fears.

Practice your topic and material in advance, preferably in the same place that you’ll be conducting the presentation so that the space won’t be foreign to you when you’re up there for the real thing. If you can, practice with a few friends so that you can also get used to making eye contact and they can give you honest, constructive feedback. Most importantly, they’re there to help build up your confidence.

It’s important to think positively by envisioning success, rather than thinking about your failure. Stop thinking, “this is going to be a total bomb.”

One-on-One Conversations

Often our fear of confrontation or having a conversation with somebody about a sensitive subject can be worse than the dialogue itself. We delay addressing the subject because we are waiting for the “right time,” but usually, that rarely exists. It’s better to just let it happen. You can gently precede with a text message or possibly an email, stating that you need to schedule a time for the chat. This way, the other person is not blindsided and can manage their reaction a bit better because you’ve already put the talk in motion.

Email Communication
We may fear that we’re not going to express something clearly, powerfully, or effectively in email. This is particularly true when we need to reply to an email which demands some time, thought, and consideration. Sometimes, it’s better to reply, simply stating that you’ve “received the message and will get back to them with a proper response by {insert reasonable time frame} with your thoughts.”

This will afford you time to draft an appropriate reply, with time to review, before you send it off, rather than taking an emotionally charged approach. Now, how many people are guilty of that!?  It’s amazing how some cooling time can make a huge impact on how you react and ultimately respond. Now, aren’t you the mature one?

There’s also nothing wrong with responding to an email in person if you feel it would be more productive. You can bring your draft with you to the meeting, and then send a follow-up email which confirms what the two of you discussed. Just because the person expected an email reply, doesn’t mean that’s how you have to respond.

Written Documents 
When we freeze up before writing a proposal or document we often call this “writer’s block,” and when it hits it takes no prisoners, no matter the content or urgency. It can strike at any time!

To start, especially with business proposals or essays, I like to get all my research out of the way, so that I’m effectively left with a huge pile of information. I pick apart the points and create a “story board” of how I’m going to lay out my thoughts, fill in the blanks, and then I get the momentum going.  Surprisingly, I’m usually left with quite a comprehensive document.

Find your comfort zone. I often find myself more inspired when I’m by myself with a bit of easy listening music in the background to help get my creative juices flowing better. Eventually I have to let my fingers do the walking on the keyboard, but staring at a blank screen is daunting. Each of us has to find a strategy through writers’ block that works for us.

Pushing through our fears in communication (and life) with small and calculated risks, is what helps us to grow. Take a moment and do a quick self-analysis in the above four areas and consider where you may be harboring some fears of communicating. Then commit to taking one small action toward mitigating that fear.

Do you have any particular fear that you’re keen to conquer (like me with my ornithophobia); or perhaps you’ve already proven successful at nipping it in the bud? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below!

About Andrea Antal

Andrea Antal is a freelance copywriter in Dubai, UAE. She works with businesses to enhance their content marketing, including press releasesblog contentsocial media postswebsite copy and articles. She is also the founder of the Dubai Events Network, a web-based marketing company, serving the information needs of Dubai’s growing corporate and special event industry. Get in touch with Andrea to discuss your copywriting project today.

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