Everyone on earth, except perhaps those who have completely taken leave of their senses, have fears of one kind or another. Fear is as much a part of the human emotional system as joy, anger and love. Many times, our fears add value to our lives because they prevent us from doing dangerous things but on other occasions our fears detract from our lives because they prevent us from doing the things we truly want to do.

Everyone has different fears.

Various studies tell us that one of the greatest fears known to mankind is the fear of public speaking. In my case, that is not true at all. I do a lot of public speaking and not only am I not frightened by the prospect of it, but I enjoy it to the point that I look forward to it. I did however, have a profound fear of public speaking in my youth. Until now, I had not considered how I overcame my greatest fear because it happened over a period of years and after a number of fumbles and bad starts. It was an evolutionary change brought on by the necessities of my career. The more I did, the more my confidence rose and the less fearful I became.

Usually, the fear itself is not as great a challenge as the ability to overcome it. Facing the idea of battling a fear head-on is much more daunting than actually living quietly with it.

In order to reduce or eliminate a fear, we must understand what is causing it. Fears are warnings of things that have not happened yet. When you are fearful, your mind is setting up a series of mental alarms and emotional defence mechanisms designed to prevent you from doing something. The emotion of fear and the accompanying emotions of anxiety, trepidation, depression or anger are all put into play when the assemblage of your experience, knowledge, memories, nightmares and advice of others come together to focus on the event, thing, person or situation before you. Even though nothing bad has happened yet, the combined body of intelligence that is your psyche’ begins to tell you to avoid a situation that could, conceivably put you in harm’s way. If you allow fear to control you, it will never cease to torment you.

When fear takes hold, it causes us to become weak and helpless.

If the fear is imminent and potentially harmful enough, it might cause us to react with a physical action of some sort. This is commonly known as the fight or flight response. When our brain tells us that fight or flight is necessary, our reactions can vary from a full-on attack on the person or thing that we fear, or a simple turn-and-run-away response. In both cases, our intention is to save ourselves from potential harm. If we attack, we might destroy the object of our fears or drive it off...thereby neutralizing it. If we run away we will leave it behind...at least temporarily.

Living with fear or living a life of fight or flight is not an acceptable way to get through our short time on earth and accordingly, it is best to move beyond our fears. However, we cannot push past a fear until we understand what causes it.

In the case of the fear of public speaking, I learned over time, that the basis for my early fear was that I had a desperate need to avoid failure. I had an unspoken belief that if what I had to say was inadequate for the audience, or if I stammered, stuttered or forgot my lines, I would be made to look foolish in front of my peers and superiors. In the worst case scenario I might be jeered, insulted and chased off the stage. I was afraid not only of the actual speaking, but of the ridicule, embarrassment, dishonour and distress it might cause me.

The next time you are faced with a fear, ask yourself these questions:

• What am I afraid of?
• Why are other people I know not afraid of this?
• What is the worst thing that could happen?
• Will challenging this fear end my life?
• Will this situation cause me any physical harm?
• What precautions can I take to avoid failure?
• Will the embarrassment, dishonour or distress of failing damage my career or my relationships with those most important to me?
• Will others forgive me if I fail?
• Can I forgive myself if I fail?
• Is it worth the effort to overcome this fear?

Most fears cannot be overcome immediately.

Because real fears are lodged firmly in the instinctive part of your brain, the Amygdala, your fight or flight response will continue until the cognitive part of your brain, the Neo-cortex rationalizes the fact that there is no imminent harm presented by the object of your fears. With strong desire and real effort, you can convince your brain, in time to accept the negative potential events you fear and eliminate its effects on you.

If you never give up trying to overcome your fear and face it often you will eventually succeed. Practice speaking in front of a mirror, in front of friends, and in front of small groups. When you see the smiles on the faces of your friendly audience your confidence will soar. When your listeners nod knowingly and applaud when you are done, you will be a public speaker and you will no longer have to live with fear.

Five steps to public speaking success:

• The only way to overcome fear is to put your toe in the water and test the temperature often. Speak every chance you get.
• Have friends or loved ones come with you for emotional support while you try it out.
• While you are trying it out, convince yourself that failure is an option and that once you have gotten all of the missteps and fumbles out of the way, you will improve.
• Always maintain a belief that you can succeed.
• Practice, practice, practice!

Most people can be much better speakers than they actually think they can. Push your fear out the door and give yourself a chance to be great!

All the Best
Wayne Kehl

Author's Bio: 

Wayne Kehl is a lecturer, author and behavioural analyst in British Columbia, Canada