Glossophobia – The fear of public speaking.
It is estimated that three of every four people have a fear of public speaking. And that last person is probably lying. Of all the phobia’s this one takes top prize, with people being more afraid of being the focus of attention than dying.
When the spotlight comes on it triggers the Autonomic Nervous System; the system responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze instinct. If you’ve ever see somebody forget their lines then this is exactly the reason. They stand there sweating, heart pounding, staring round eyed into the faceless masses and … nothing comes out.
Terrifying isn’t it?
It doesn’t need to be that way
There are two things that you will need to deal with when speaking in front of an audience; the physiological effects and the mental game.
Physiologically speaking your body cannot differentiate between speaking in front of an audience and being chased by a tiger. Both trigger the body’s instinct towards fight or flight which in turn causes the adrenals to start pumping epinephrine into the bloodstream, causing a number of physiological reactions:
- Heart starts pumping harder
- Heart rate and blood pressure increase
- Lung airways open and respiration increases
- Senses become sharper
- Nutrients are released into the bloodstream for energy
Sounds like quite the workout!
The second component of the stress response activates next. This is known as the HPA Axis and consists of the Hypothalmus, Pituitary, and Adrenal glands. The HPA works to release cortisol into your system as long as the perceived threat remains which acts as a “gas pedal” to keep the body in a stage of hyper-readiness.
Counteracting the effects
It is the inability to manage stress properly, combined with the increased number of stressors that we encounter in our daily lives, that lead to many health problems that occur these days, such as weight retention and risk of heart attacks. The body is always in a low level state of readiness to combat these perceived threats. Unfortunately the body can’t differentiate between that tiger attack and another fall in oil prices on the news.
As the response to stress is physiological, so is the cure. You must work to lower your cortisol levels, thereby activating the parasympathetic system and putting the brakes on the stress response. 1
If you are reading this the same day that you are speaking in front of a group then there isn’t a lot of time to develop a practice in some of these techniques. But fortunately, the most powerful one is also the most immediately accessible:
Deep breathing helps to relax the body and focus the mind. By concentrating on something other than the perceived threat you can start to calm down and eventually turn off the physiological responses, which will allow you to further relax.
Box breathing is a skill I was introduced to through Mark Devine’s Sealfit Program. This is a powerful breathing exercise that can help calm your mind and reduce stress, while developing your lung capacity. Here is a brief summary of the exercise, although I highly recommend checking out Mark’s work as well:
- Breath in through the nose, deep into your belly.
- Hold that breath for 5 seconds. Use this time to clear your mind.
- Slowly release the breath over a period of 5 seconds.
- Hold the exhalation for another 5 seconds.
The effects of this technique can be very powerful, especially if you’ve developed a practice of it already and established it as a calming exercise.
While the stress hormone cortisol is working to keep your adrenaline pumping, it is also responsible for sending the body a message to store fat. As such, managing cortisol has become a hot topic in fitness communities and one simple fix has risen to the top as a great technique to balance cortisol levels.
Cortisol levels should be highest first thing in the morning, then gradually reduce until the lowest point occurs in the evening before bed. Many trainers now require their clients to drink a “Morning Margarita” first thing, every day.
The Morning Margarita
- 1/4 tsp. of Colored salt
- 1 shot of lime juice
- Big glass of water
The salt works to nourish your adrenal glands and the lime juice helps alkalize your PH level. Combined, this will help optimize your energy levels and insulin sensitivity throughout the day, which in turn allows for better sleep and easier weight management, all while keeping those cortisol levels in check.
One of the many benefits of living an active lifestyle is the positive effect that exercise has on stress management. Because cortisol release is triggered by stress you can raise the threshold at which it is released by consistently exercising. And it doesn’t need to be as hard or for as long as you might think.
The standard recommendation of “30 minutes, 3 times a week” was developed for a reason. It’s effective. This amount of work, while keeping your diet in check, will allow you to build some muscle, lose some fat, and improve your heart health. All of which help manage cortisol levels and your response to stress.
If you already train then keep at it. If not, start by walking – just around the block at first. Build up to the recommended 30 min. 3x/wk. The effects will carry over to the rest of your life.
The Mental Game
All of the points mentioned above will help you prepare physically but you still need to deal with the fears mentally. And this is something that you will need to work out for yourself.
We’ve all heard the old adage of imagining everybody in the audience is naked, so if that works for you then go for it. If you have another method that you use I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Personally, the best advice I have received on the subject is to simply remember that it is not about you; it is about your audience. They have invested their time and energy to come listen to what you have to say and it is up to you to simply deliver your message. Get out there and provide some value. Stop making it about your personality and make it about your message.
And if you really want a crash course in crowd management go perform at an open mic night at a comedy club. Because if you can handle that you can handle anything.