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Public Speaking is the Monster Under Your Bed

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When I was 9 years old, I distinctly remember seeing a scary creature sneak through my closet door. I felt my body curl up to push back as from the edge of the bed as possible. The sheets pulled over my entire face up to my eyes. I felt the monster hover over my bed, with its large stature and purple spikes creating a shadow over me. As we locked eyes, I screamed and the creature screamed and fell back.

How many of us have had a similar experience? The fear of monsters under the bed is called Teraphobia… more like tera-fied! Whether it’s the monster in the closet, under the bed, or lurking elsewhere in the dark, that fear kept us awake, sped our heart rate, and put us into fetal position to defend from threat.

In our adult lives, these seemingly universal fears remain – the most prevalent one? The fear of public speaking (glossophobia). Whether it’s a difficult conversation with your boss, a presentation to a live audience, or announcing a new launch, our fear of speaking can trigger our bodies into protection mode. That protection mode means stress hormones being released to inform the body of the threat.

Research shows some degree of adrenaline is absolutely normal and does not inhibit performance but rather, puts you in the zone, on your A game and actually enhances performance. That is why having some nerves is actually ideal. Having some shakes in your hand or your heart racing is a normal, manageable part of performance. You can learn to channel that fear into excitement.

Nonetheless, if you haven’t had the proper public speaking training and support, your anxiety may be a bit more palpable. A crippling level of anxiety can inhibit performance, and in extreme cases, even prompt the brain to freeze or  exhibit irrational thinking. The way we respond to stress is both nature and nurture. Good news! There are ways to fight the anxiety and nurture a productive response.

The first step to addressing any degree of anxiety is addressing its loudest source. Where is the monster creeping out of? What is triggering the fear? Typically, it is rooted in expectations on our performance and how it will be perceived. We’ve broken it down into the 3 Ps:

Peer(s)/A Person – If you’ve seen the 2001 cartoon classic, you may have recognized that the experience I described at the top of this article was the opening scene of Monster’s Inc., a film that was designed to humanize the big, scary monsters that put us into panic mode. Who are the “monsters” that make you nervous to speak? Is there someone in particular you are hoping to really impress? While they aren’t actual monsters, does their impact scare you? Why?

The best way to fight this? Humanization. Who are they? How can you get to know them? How can you speak to them in advance to connect and clarify what they hope to see in your performance? Can you survey your audience? Create an informational interview?

The goal here is to realize our peers, our boss, our clients, our audience is made up of humans – not monsters! The more knowledge and information we can get about them, the more we’re able to speak to their needs while reminding ourselves they’re just people – many of whom have glossophobia themselves. As you continue watching the opening Monster’s Inc scene, it becomes clear the monster, named Phlegm, is actually scared of the child. They both fear one another when in reality, they have nothing to fear.

Preparation – Another source of speaking anxiety is a lack of preparation. With all of our other priorities, we often scramble to put together a presentation. Less preparation also means less research, less rehearsal, and more anxiety. If you haven’t completed sufficient audience research, presentation flow, deep data integration, and properly placed storytelling, you may miss an opportunity to shine brighter, connect with your audience, and motivate them toward the action you want them to take.

The best way to fight this? At the end of the opening scene, it becomes clear the monster Phlegm is in a simulation, practicing scaring the child while Ms. Flint, the scare coach, guides him toward improvement. They are literally studying the craft in order to set themselves up for success and prepare for all the variables that can come your way in the moment. They are thoroughly preparing.

You will feel your nervous system calm the deeper your preparation gets. This is where proper guidance is necessary in building a successful pitch, presentation, or conversation. We love teaching our clients the tools they can repeatedly use to prepare for any speaking engagement and set themselves up for success. Once you understand this process, it will also become much faster and more efficient for you as well.

Pressure – Often the monster may not be anyone else at all – but our own fear taking charge. Psychology tells us when we’re anxious, we assume we performed worse than others. Feeling this pressure to do well is an inherent part of performing. But why are we putting intense pressure on ourselves? What happens if we do just ok? If we don’t do our best? The goal here is to start removing the pressure and the stakes of the speaking engagement in our brains.

The best way to fight this? Once you’ve taken steps toward the first 2 Ps, this becomes exponentially easier. Humanizing your audience and doing the proper preparation will allow you to have put in the work to feel confident and remove a bit of the pressure off your shoulders. Instead, you can lean into the moment, trust your muscle memory, and relax.

Minimize any stressors on the day of a presentation. Whether that means getting a workout in to get your nervous energy out, cutting down a bit on the caffeine, or listening to a meditative or motivational piece, it is necessary to have a ritual before you present that comforts your nervous system and prepares your headspace.

Because public speaking is so tied to our sense of self and because there are proven strategies to overcome the fears around it, conquering your speaking anxiety has a way of making you feel invincible – like you can conquer anything. We see this all the time in our clients. Just last week, a client sent us a photo of their stress monitor on the Apple watch while presenting. After working with us, those stress levels were little to none.

As the plot in Monster’s Inc. progresses, the lead monster, James, and the child he intends to scare, named Boo, grow into close friends. They realize there is nothing to fear, and instead, team up on their adventures.

Eventually, we grow out of our fears around the monsters under the bed; however, it takes effort to grow out of our fear of public speaking. To get there, you need to first befriend the anxiety, like in Monster’s Inc. Humanize the monster, find your Ms. Flint, and watch your dreams take off.

 

Much Love,

Misty Megia
Hi, I'm Misty Megia!

I’m a Creative Director for high-achieving leaders who want to unmute themselves to give presentations that move people profoundly through my Corporate Speaking Program and my Theatre of Public Speaking Program.

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