The only thing you have to FEAR IS...

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Everyone has heard the claim that individuals fear public speaking more than death, and while this declaration seems a bit far-fetched, surveys support the idea.[1]  
 
Scientifically, fear of public speaking is called glossophobia (glōssa meaning tongue) and it affects upward of 74% of Americans.[2]
 
So whether public speaking is truly on par with death or not, the reality is that anxiety prevents millions of people from capitalizing on the power of public speaking--the power to advance their ideas, spread their message, and boost their personal and professional brand through impassioned and authentic public speaking.  
 
Public speaking anxiety is an especially nefarious problem because it prevents individuals from taking the stage in the first place.  And similar to any skill, without practice, it’s hard to get better.  When anxious individuals are finally confronted by an unavoidable public speaking obligation, they become especially nervous, it goes poorly, and the phobia is reinforced.  It’s a vicious cycle.
 
Fortunately, there are three tangible things you can do right now to overcome glossophobia and embark on the profitable development of your public speaking presence.
 
First, reclassify your physical reaction to public speaking as excitement, not anxiety. 
 
It may seem rather academic to simply adopt a different mindset, but that’s more than half the battle.  There are always going to be pre-performance jitters, so learn to embrace the rapid heart rate, muscle tension, and dry mouth as part of the thrill of public speaking and not a demon you’re trying to banish.
 
Second, limit the release of adrenaline by activating your parasympathetic nervous system.
 
Our nervous system has two opposing sides.  On the one hand, there is the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the anxiety-riddled ‘fight and flight’ response.  On the other hand is the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs feelings of “rest and relaxation.”  Operationally, these two systems work in opposition to one another to regulate our response to various situations--as one is switched on, the other is switched off.
 
Therefore, if you activate your parasympathetic nervous system before you take the stage you can limit your adrenaline-fueled fear of public speaking.  And activating your parasympathetic nervous system is relatively easy.  This Harvard Business Review article [3] outlines helpful micro-meditation tools, whereas the Harvard Medical School recommends some mini-relaxation techniques [4].  Whether its a few slow, measured breaths, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation, adopting a routine that physically awakens your parasympathetic nervous system is an excellent way to boost positive emotions around public speaking.
 
Third, practice.
 
I’m sure Phil Mickelson wasn’t always comfortable standing over a 12 foot putt on the 18th green surrounded by a gallery of fans stacked a dozen deep on all sides with his opponent looking on, but it helps that he’s done this before.  
 
Practice builds skills, confidence, and composure.  When conducted under varying circumstances, practice helps us be more resilient and capable of handling the unexpected.  So practice your public speaking: practice in the shower, during your commute, walking to lunch, and before bed.  You’ll learn to adjust to the unexpected (someone cutting into your lane as you present your roadmap, the telephone ringing in the middle of your opening story, or dropping the shampoo bottle right before you deliver your take-away).  Practice so that when you’re on-stage, you will have been there, done that.
 
Public speaking is an exceptional tool to share your vision, illustrate your ideas, rally individuals around a common goal, and ultimately advance your career.  Public speaking is empowering.  Don't let fear silence you.  Use these three techniques to take control over glossophobia and start capitalizing on the thrill and effectiveness of impassioned and authentic public speaking.

[1] Croston, Glenn; Psychology TodayThe Real Story of Risk, Nov. 29, 2012; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-real-story-risk/201211/the-thing-we-fear-more-death
 

[2] Statistic Brain; Fear of Public Speaking Statistics; September 3, 2016; https://www.statisticbrain.com/fear-of-public-speaking-statistics/
 

[3] Gonzalez, Maria; Harvard Business Review, “Mindfulness for people who are too busy to meditate,” March 31, 2014; https://hbr.org/2014/03/mindfulness-for-people-who-are-too-busy-to-meditate
 

[4] Harvard Medical School, “Mini-relaxation exercises: A quick fix in stressful moments,” accessed April 2, 2018;  https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/mini-relaxation-exercises-a-quick-fix-in-stressful-moments

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