Who actually doesn’t exhibit the flight or fight response while giving a public speech? Virtually no one is immune from these responses which are hard-wired into our limbic system. Author and speaker Scott Berkun attributes the fact that humans are naturally afraid when standing alone in front of a crowd because of our prehistoric heritage. So let’s go back 10,000 years. Would you feel safe standing alone on a plain, where you would be vulnerable to predators or rival tribes? That’s what puts your autonomic nervous system into overdrive!
Now let’s return to the present day. How ironic that we feel less safe delivering a speech while we think nothing of barreling down the freeway in a two-ton hulk of metal at 65 miles per hour– mere inches away from other cars and trucks.
So that leaves us with the question. Can we unlearn our fears? The answer is a qualified yes. We have all survived driver’s training to become confident drivers, without the nervous feelings we usually felt when first driving. Any difficult task certainly takes practice and time. We can tackle anything if we have an environment of safety and with helpful supporters who accentuate our positive attributes.
Does this sound familiar? Good. Well you’ve already taken the first step – attendance at your friendly neighborhood Parker Toastmasters club.
Since the fight or flight response is physical, let’s look at what you can do to ameliorate your nervousness.
- Exercise – light to mild exercise reduces your blood pressure and produces calming endorphins
- Water – hydration combats the dry mouth that is often felt by newcomers
- Practice – for any prepared speech repeated practice allows you to be more confident about what you are going to say, and frees up your energy to control the non-verbal parts of your speech
- Positive visualization – imagine receiving applause and accolades while delivering a speech. Imagining something can evoke the same physical responses as if you have actually lived it. This retrains you to know the positive feelings of elation, satisfaction and happiness.
- Breathe – remember that you can control your breathing with larger and slower breaths. This can calm you as you face your audience – and your fears!