How to Conquer America’s Greatest Fear: The Fear of Public Speaking

By Seymour Segnit, President of CTRN (Change That’s Right Now)

This article was written for The Toastmaster Magazine, the monthly publication of Toastmasters International

Same problem, known by many different names:
Fear of Speaking in Public
Stage Fright
Glossophobia
Performance Anxiety

Almost everyone experiences a few butterflies about speaking – but if the anxiety or nervousness is overwhelming you need more powerful techniques to deal with it.

When Jerry Seinfeld quipped that at a funeral the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy, the joke was dead on: According to national surveys, fear of public speaking is America’s greatest fear, surpassing fear of illness, fear of flying, fear of terrorism, and amazingly, the fear of death itself!

In this article, I’ll explain exactly how it is that we create fear – and every other emotion – and reveal one of the most powerful known methods to overcome it.

It’s called Anchoring and in our work helping clients with fears and phobias we find that this is one of the most effective techniques.

In fact, it eliminates Fear of Public Speaking completely for almost half our clients, and significantly helps everyone else.

And it’s very, very simple.

We’ve all read the regular advice – things like ‘be well prepared’, ‘see your audience naked’, ‘remember to breathe’ – and all this advice is great if just you have normal butterflies.

But if you are experiencing real FEAR – that overwhelming feeling of anxiety or nervousness that makes you sick to your stomach – you are experiencing an ‘unwarranted automated fear response’ which no amount of rehearsal or breathing will solve.

How you Create Fear – or any other Feeling

The first thing to understand is how you create Fear in the human nervous system. The way you feel at any moment in time is a direct result of two things: your Focus and your Physiology.

Focus is the way you are using your mind; your beliefs, what you are thinking about, and the language you use inside your head to describe things to yourself.

Physiology is the way you are using your body; your posture, your breathing, and even things like how tired you are and whether you have been drinking lots of coffee (very bad) or water (very good).

Every – yes EVERY – feeling you ever have is a result of the precise recipe or ‘strategy’ composed of the different elements of Focus & Physiology you are using at that moment. And the good news is that you can change the recipe almost instantaneously.

For example Depression – commonly considered a mystery in our society – can only be experienced by someone running their own, precise depression strategy.

Compared to their normal non-depressing self this typically means head down, shoulders forward, shallow breathing, and – most importantly – thinking about what’s wrong with life; focusing on all the evidence that life is bad, and asking themselves questions which produce answers that compound the problem.

(The questions we ask ourselves are key. Ask a question like “What will happen if I mess up this presentation” will immediately generate answers that feel terrible. Ask “How can I make this my best presentation yet?” or “How will my audience benefit from this” will change how you feel in a heartbeat.)

Change the Physiology and the Focus and immediately the feeling changes.

It is physiologically impossible to feel depressed whilst moving around with your head up, breathing full healthful breaths and thinking and talking about what you are pleased and excited about. (If you don’t believe this is true, do it now).

So the quickest way to stop fear in the short term is to quickly and radically change what you are doing. If you are sitting still thinking what will happen if it all goes wrong, then jump up, start moving or running, and remember a time when you felt incredibly powerful, centered and strong. Your feelings will change instantaneously.

The Simple Subtle Powerful Strategy for Mastering your State: Anchoring

Leaping around like an acrobat and singing your favorite song will invariably shift you into a much more positive state, but youll probably need a more discrete strategy for use before your next presentation!

The answer is Anchoring – a fast simple easy technique that rapidly taps into your neurology’s automatic system for linking feelings to experience.

You have already experienced anchoring thousands of times. It works like this: whenever something unique happens and you are in an intense emotional state (good or bad) your nervous system creates a link between the two.

For example, the first time you fell in love, there was probably a song that you heard on the radio – maybe even “our song.”

At the time that unique song played over and over again, you were in the intense emotional state of being in love, and now whenever you hear that song that feeling of falling in love comes back.

Or maybe you’ve had the experience of walking into a building and suddenly it feels like you are back at school again. It’s a strange feeling, and you may never even realize its because the building has the same floor polish as the caretaker used at your school! The unique stimulus of the smell of the floor polish fired off that feeling of being at school.

In both cases the same thing happened: your mind created a link – an “anchor” – between a powerful feeling (“love” or “at school”) and a unique stimulus (the song or the smell of the floor polish).

The way to use anchoring to transform how you feel when you appear in public is to deliberately create a link between some kind of unique stimulus – one you control and can initiate whenever you want – and a strong mixture of the kind of calm, confident emotions you want to experience in appearing in public.

Then: and this is the magical part, you simply apply the stimulus while speaking (in fact even while imagining you are speaking) and your mind will build a new “map” of the emotions that belong with the experience of speaking.

Literally, your mind will attach the new postive emotions in place of the old.

The job here is to bundle together a collection of overwhelmingly positive powerful emotions you can call up whenever you want. Now when you are in a situation in which you would previously have experienced negative feelings, just ‘fire’ the anchor and your mind will ‘re-code’ the situation with the new feelings, so it first becomes neutral, and then a positive experience.

Below I’ve spelled out the steps to do this in detail.

You’ll find that in practice this is very simple and can be boiled down to:

A: Squeeze your fist for 10 seconds often when you are feeling really good

B: Squeeze your fist for as long as necessary to overwhelm a not-so-good situation with those good feelings. Do this often and your brain will learn to feel different about those kinds of situations.

So, in detail:

1: Decide the state or emotion you want to anchor

You can anchor any positive states you like. You need to be sure you are anchoring “pure” positive states – ones that are only positive for you.

Here are some suggestions that are very powerful for many people. Pick ones that work for you, and add your own:

Powerful, Centered and Strong. The feeling of “I RULE!” you get when you have just triumphed at something… Totally Calm. Totally Relaxed. That feeling you know of lying somewhere, perhaps with the sounds of nature surrounding you… Excited Anticipation. The feeling of excitement just before opening a large Christmas gift!

Perfect Love. The feeling you have when, forgetting all else, you think of how much you love and are loved… Falling about with Laughter. The feeling of unstoppable hysterical laughter!

2: Choose a unique part of the body to which you will attach the anchor

Anchoring works by linking strong emotions to a unique stimulus. This means a stimulus you can create easily whenever you want – and one that doesn’t happen normally in day-to-day life. Squeezing the fist of your non-writing hand tight is a good one. It’s unique, because you don’t normally do it in day to day life, and you can do it discreetly if there are other people around.

As long as it is unique you can anchor anywhere, as long as you can repeat it again accurately. An individual knuckle, your earlobe, a freckle on an arm, etc.

3: a: Remember a time when you felt that state or emotion

Float back into your body at the time. See the things you saw through your own eyes, hear the things you heard, smell any smells, taste any tastes, and really allow the feelings of that time to flow throughout your body.

Breathe the feelings into every cell from head to toe. Repeat this process over and over and you may increase the intensity as you relive the experience.

Or b: Just create the state in your body

Perhaps imagining a situation – and really allow the positive feelings to flow throughout your body. Breathe the feelings into every cell from head to toe.

Or c: Anchor when in a Naturally Great State in Day-to-Day life

This is the most positive of all – and is of course the way your nervous system is creating anchors all the time. It’s when you are naturally feeling great in day-to-day life – when you are running, loving, laughing, whatever…

4: As the feelings reach their PEAK, press on the anchor for 5-10 seconds

Make sure that the stimulus you create is UNIQUE and can be replicated easily. Then, as the feelings reach their strongest, apply the anchor for 5-10 seconds. This is the part where you are creating the link in your nervous system between the stimulus and the feeling.

5: Let the feelings return to normal

6: REPEAT a number of times

Repeat a number of times to make the anchor more and more powerful. It works like a savings account. The more you put in, the more useful it becomes. Use other examples of the same state/emotion to build a ‘pure’ anchor (eg Pure Love, or Pure Motivation) AND stack a collection of different positive states in the same place to make a powerful ‘Resource Anchor’.

The more you do this, the more powerful the anchor will become.

To use your Anchor

To use your anchor, ‘fire’ it (ie squeeze your fist or pump your fist if that feels better to you) for an extended period, if required all the way through the challenging situation. Even though we only build the anchor for 5-10 seconds when creating it, you may need to use it for longer than that.

The rule is: Build a strong anchor, then use it for as long as required.

Build your anchor often (remember, its like a bank account, you need to make deposits, not just withdrawals!), and always use it move yourself to a positive state when you catch yourself less than resourceful, or you just need some extra resources in a situation.

To summarize the key to managing your emotions is to understand that you and you alone are responsible for them ¨ you are creating them every minute of the day with your Focus & Physiology.

To feel different all you need to consciously change what you are thinking about and how you are using your body.

To make fast changes at your unconscious level, use Anchoring diligently and you will amaze yourself with how easily you can become the master of your emotions.

~~~

Seymour Segnit is the President of CTRN, a New York based team serving clients with Public Speaking, Flying and many other fears & phobias worldwide.

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