Fear is one of life’s biggest roadblocks and fear of speaking in public is considered to be the number one phobia. Incredible isn’t it, especially when communication forms such an important part of our lives? We are constantly communicating something to somebody and if fear of expressing our thoughts or ideas in words becomes paralyzing for us, we find ourselves at a great disadvantage.

Stage fright has long been considered a curious phenomenon which plagues actors, musicians, dancers and performing artists in general, causing them varying degrees of panic before a performance. But how many of us have felt anxious to the point of panic when we have had to speak in front of others? Speaking in public can take many forms. These might include:
• going for an interview
• giving a presentation of your products or services
• speaking at your child’s school meeting
• making a speech at a wedding
• inviting someone on a date
• asking a favour
• asking for a price reduction
• making a complaint
• teaching a class
• asking for a raise
• meeting new people
• making phone calls

Given this ever-growing list, I think we can redefine stage fright as an unwanted response to ANY situation where we are obliged to speak outside our familiar environment. The consequences of giving in to stage fright can be devastating. You may not get the job you need to enable you and your family to move forward, the contract to sell your product or service goes to your competitor, you don’t speak up on behalf of yourself or your child and do your best for him, you lose the love of your life.

• Do you avoid the public speaking situations that provoke unpleasant emotions and physical symptoms? YES/NO
• Do you avoid the situation? ALWAYS/FREQUENTLY/SOMETIMES

Fear is merely an emotion, a very strong one for sure, but simply an emotion just like sadness or happiness. Whilst it is important to be aware of potential or real threats, we must respond to them appropriately. Fear is a normal response - but how does this affect us in our everyday lives?

To characterise everyday stage fright we might say that it is a feeling of being profoundly scrutinized and our great fear is to be found wanting. You don’t want to feel you have let down yourself or others. In the early days of planet earth this intense scrutiny might have been the prelude to being hunted down and eaten. The group protected the individual and it was essential not to lose this protection. Social isolation might have meant being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger. In the 21st century we must look more closely at the emotional response to fear. It is highly personalized. Some people actually enjoy it, participating in high-thrill sports and activities; others have a negative reaction and will avoid the frightening situation at all costs.

In this modern age public humiliation is the prospect that fills us with dread. Today, our audience is hopefully not going to eat us so it is important that we maintain a sense of reality. A victim of fear perceives a threat to his identity and a loss of control. If not dominated, a snowball effect occurs and the individual finds himself in a horror story of his own making. To start controlling things, it is necessary to accept that you suffer from stage fright, to understand it better and to find ways and means of changing your thoughts and behaviour.

Physical reactions to the fear may be:

• A racing heart
• Sweating palms
• Trembling
• Butterflies in the stomach
• Feeling shivery
• Numbness or tingling in the hands
• Feeling of the world being unreal
• Feeling of being outside one’s body
• Fear of going mad
• Fear of dying
• Dizziness
• Stuttering
• A blank mind

Think now about why you must make some changes in your life. It’s also a good idea to look at what will happen to you if you decide to stay as you are.
“Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get more of what you’ve always got”.

List 6 (more if you like) reasons why you MUST make changes in this area of your life Examples: I will feel 20 times more confident. I will be able to contribute more to my family, friends and environment.
1.________________________________________________________
2.________________________________________________________
3.________________________________________________________
4.________________________________________________________
5.________________________________________________________
6.________________________________________________________

List 6 (more if you like) consequences of NOT making changes in this area of your life Examples: I will never live the life of my dreams if I don’t! I will never do the best for my family.
1.__________________________________________________________
2._________________________________________________________
3._________________________________________________________
4._________________________________________________________
5._________________________________________________________
6._________________________________________________________

TOOLBOX

Start to stock you armoury. There is no one-size-fits-all. It’s a question of trial and error, of finding out what works for you. Visualising is a very good place to start.

GUIDED VISUALISATION

Relax and start to play with ideas about how speaking SUCCESSFULLY in public might look and feel. Use positive language, no negatives. Use present tenses.

Where are you?
How are you feeling?
What is happening around you?
If you had no fear, what would you ideally be doing in this situation?
How proud are you feeling?
How does it feel to speak up without fear?

ACTION STEPS

Without action, change does not happen. What small steps could you take in the next week? Aim for at least three. Example: Write out a paragraph (based on the above) about how I see myself speaking in a public situation. Look for situations to experiment. Buy a small notebook to record my successes.

REWARDS
If you have carried out some small action steps, you deserve a reward. Think of some way that you can reward yourself for a job well done. it may be a bath with oceans of bubbles and some candles ; it may be a big bar of chocolate but please, treat yourself – you deserve it.

Congratulations. It takes courage to face up to things that you feel are not right and admit this, even if only to yourself. It takes even greater courage to act on this knowledge and commit yourself to improving the situation, knowing that along the way you might be faced with challenging moments. Communication is essential for our well-being and survival as a species and we must all make sure that we are able to participate in this communication process effectively. Really, all this needs is a willingness on your part to change your thinking and behaviour. By doing this, you are giving yourself a wonderful gift, a gift that will make you free. www.vivienmcknight.com

Author's Bio: 

Vivien McKnight is founder of Vivien McKnight Creativity Coaching through which she inspires people to get creative with their every day living.She has a long history in business training, during which time she has inspired and motivated many people. She is a firm believer that without the acquisition of new knowledge we cannot grow and develop. Her coaching style is holistic and her philosophy based on the premise that transforming your life means discovering your beliefs, values, passions and purpose and bringing these into line with your goals and dreams. www.vivienmcknight.com