Speaking in front of a group of people is truly scary. We’ve all experienced it at some time – sweaty palms, knocking knees, dry mouth, butterflies in the stomach. This is your body’s reaction to a perceived threat. The threat of being judged and potentially rejected by others.
You see, the fear is actually primal. When our ancestors lived in the jungle social inclusion was intrinsically linked to survival. We were stronger in numbers – we survived by working together against the animals and other dangers around us. If the group didn’t like you or see value in your contribution, you risked being outcast. Back then if the tribe shunned you, you were left to your own devices and the chances of dying at the paws of a savage beast were real. You risked being left to fend for yourself in the scary, violent world.
Unfortunately, these primal fears are still with us today. They raise their ugly head at the most inopportune times – when we need to be at our most competent and confident self. Standing in front of a room of people to present yourself or your project is an opportunity to be judged by the tribe. You are on show, as much as your ideas and content are. People are listening to you for the information you are presenting or in search of inspiration. If you meet their expectations you could land a new project, job or client. If you fail to meet their expectations, they may be less likely to include you in a project or engage with you further. However, the consequences of being outcast in the modern world are a lot less dramatic than in the past. Sure, if you stumble over your words, your jokes fall flat, or your call to action doesn’t hit home, you will feel disappointed and may not have the follow up that you had hoped for. However, you’re (very!) unlikely to be outcast. And even if you are, the consequences of being on your own are much less significant than being left, alone and naked, in a wild jungle.
The fear of being laughed at makes cowards of us all.
Mignon McLaughlin, American journalist and author.
It’s important to understand that this fear is natural and has a genuine root in our history. As children we were scared when we were separated from our parents. First dates, first exams, are other scary situations. These are all examples of when our primal fear kicks in. In these situations we were able to control the fear and grow through the experience. Each time we face something new or scary it gets easier.
In fact it’s not necessary or possible to stop the fear itself. What you can do is accept it. Instead of worrying about how nervous you will be when you stand up behind that podium or in front of that room, learn how to manage and control that fear. Turn it around and use that adrenalin as positive energy which brings passion and dynamism into your presentation.
Accepting and controlling the fear takes practice. For tips on how to turn your fear into positive energy and make those butterflies fly in formation, check back here for the next blogpost.
There is nothing to fear but fear itself
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt