Public speaking is often said to be one of the top fears common to everyone – with good reason. Why are we so scared to stand in front of an audience and speak to them? Is it because we fear being ridiculed? Is it because we are apprehensive about being judged by others? Well, yes but the real answer may stem from our evolutionary heritage.
For thousands of years humans roamed the savannah in pursuit of something to eat, somewhere to sleep, and in so doing avoiding danger. Humans were, same as our more primitive forebears and ancestors seeking to stay alive and propagate their genes. To do so, those best attuned to danger were likeliest to survive. Certain dangers were recurring over many years – and we are genetically hardwired to avoid such dangers. Fear of snakes, fear of spiders, fear of darkness and fear of predators … these fears kept us alive. A healthy and apt fight or flight response within us – the descendants of the savannah survivors … is still with us today.
Public speaking plays on a deep seated fear in all humans – that of being surrounded by predators. Think of it: you stand in front of an audience and:
- You are outnumbered by plenty. No chance of winning this contest!
- No one in the audience is familiar to you – they are strangers! Strangers mean danger.
- They are staring at you and focussing their attention on you – you are in their sights!
- Action needs to be taken very soon to avert the danger …..but what?!
This situation was faced by our earlier cave-dwellers every day – the chance of a meeting group of predators or a competing clan around the next corner, and when faced alone you are so much more vulnerable than if you were amongst your tribe. This fear response is deeply encoded into our genes. It was (and often still is) a good response to danger – but in a situation where we stand in front of an audience about to convey a presentation – it is not suitable.
So why can’t we simply turn off this fear response? Because we are fighting our own subconscious – our very own being – and rationally telling ourselves that all will be OK does not fully do the trick. In fact, this basic response can seldom be turned off at will – even seasoned speakers and performers still experience anxiousness prior and during their performance.
Perhaps the secret is not to fear the fear. Know that it will be there every time – but also know that it is based on a genetic pre-disposition that is antiquated. How do we really come to “know” this? Through experience and repetition. Experiencing the situation, audience, setting and your own reaction every time and over time – is the only true remedy to learn not to fear the fear. Experience it, observe it – but in time learn that the fear and anxiousness is simply there – and do not take it seriously.
Gert Scholtz, Author of “The Keys to Persuasion”
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