“There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1) the nervous, and 2) liars.” - Mark Twain
According to some experts, people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. It’s surprising that otherwise well-spoken people might secretly be terrified of standing in front of an audience. In fact, even some professional actors, such as television or movie actors who rarely perform in front of a live audience, harbor this fear.
What causes your fear of public speaking?
Unlike some phobias, fear of public speaking is easy to understand. Standing in front of others has the potential to make any speaker feel vulnerable. The speaker, after all, can often see the faces of the audience and knows almost immediately whether the speech is going well and if the audience is interested. Moreover, the speaker is obliged to continue speaking until the speech is done, giving the speaker a trapped feeling if the event isn't going well. Sometimes, audience reactions can be hard to predict. For example, if the audience had just come in from bad weather just before, or if a previous speaker negatively turned the mood of the crowd. That feeling of unpredictability makes it hard for some speakers to create rapport. And, because public speaking is live, there’s extra pressure. Unlike video, there are no second takes. The pressure is on to get the speech right and to get it right the first time.
What age do you develop a fear of public speaking?
Usually, clients discover this fear sometime in middle school or high school when they were first required to speak in front of their class. Students spend year after year staring at the teacher and the blackboard but rarely take a position looking back at the class. Suddenly, the novice speaker sees what teachers have seen for years – squirming bodies, kids making faces, others passing notes. Being given no preparation for what to expect, they take the reaction personally, especially if a teacher or peers are unkind. If this negative experience is repeated throughout school, the trauma might become permanent.
The fear gets buried in college or at work life – that is until the adult client suddenly is required to speak at a board meeting, at church or in front of the PTA. Then, it's almost as if the client never grew up. They feel like they are that same person back in middle school or high school, afraid of the same reactions and criticism. This is because the trauma of the earlier event resulted in a limited belief being planted in the subconscious. Highly emotional situations, authority figures, and peer pressure are three of the six ways that subconscious programming occurs - and all three happen during that first exposure to public speaking.
Sometimes, however, fear of public speaking can occur later in life, even after many years of success, because of work pressure, a strain in the client’s personal life, or the influence of some new authority figure like a boss.
How can hypnosis help my fear of public speaking?
In any case, hypnotherapy is a wonderful tool for conquering this fear and establishing grace and ease in front of a crowd. Depending on the cause of the fear, results may be fairly quick – 3 to 5 sessions. Of course, if the fear is related to a deep trauma or the client needs training in presentation, results may take longer to achieve.
In my early life, I worked as an actor. So, I myself evolved from being afraid of performing in front of crowds to truly loving it. In middle school, I was awkward, overly tall, and somewhat fat. I was often bullied due to my appearance. Standing in front of the classroom at all would make me break out in a sweat. But I found that if I prepared well and practiced, I could get through it. I also stumbled upon what I later learned were common public speaking tips – like focusing the speech over the heads of the audience to the back wall. In high school, I enrolled in an acting class, and there I discovered that being in front of an audience was the safest place in the world to express emotions. My home life at the time was chaotic. I was expected to behave well and take care of my sick mother. I really wasn't allowed to be myself. When I realized that audiences come specifically to see a show or listen to a speech, I knew that all I had to do was give them what they came for and I would succeed. As I grew as a performer, I relaxed enough to feel rapport with the audience. I could be spontaneous because I sensed a bond with them.
So, in reversing this fear for a client, I would first discover the root of the fear and create neutral or positive emotions around that memory or perception. Then, I would work with the client to create good habits – to be prepared, to practice, to dress well – whatever is required in the context of the speech. Lastly, I would work to change the client’s perception of the audience. If audience faces can be seen, it's important that the speaker have empathy and rapport with the audience. If the audience can't be seen, as is so often the case in large theaters where the speaker is blinded by bright lights, it's important feel comfortable with that experience. The speaker need to stay present and project positive feelings onto the unknown listeners.
While I may offer some clients, advice about vocal development, tone, and stage presence, I know, after years of experience, that the most important quality for any speaker is to simply feel relaxed and happy to be there. Audiences sense tension. They would rather watch a confident performer give a poor speech than an uncomfortable performer deliver a masterpiece. One famous example in history includes the Kennedy Nixon debate in which confident, cool, John Kennedy outperformed sweaty, nervous Richard Nixon. Apparently, radio audiences thought Nixon won the debate. But anyone who saw it on television gave the win to Kennedy. His confidence won the day.
Depending on the situation, I may give more homework than simply listening to hypnosis recordings. I may give breathing exercises or even have the client practice in front of me. The core of the work, however, would be hypnosis in order to create that confident, focused, positive stage presence that creates instant rapport with an audience.