It has become commonplace to say that the vast majority of us dread public speaking. This fear, as pervasive as it is, sometimes takes the form of an uncontrollable aversion. This inner experience is so violent that it makes it unthinkable to speak and the prospect of having to do so makes one literally sick. However, this type of fear is a bad advisor. For among those for whom speaking is paralyzing, there is a pool of talented speakers with enormous potential, provided that they’re ready to listen.
Our brain needs to go fast, it loves shortcuts, to the point of twisting our view of reality in order to match our beliefs. Feeding the belief that we are bad speakers, only because we’re afraid, is one of those shortcuts. It latches on even tighter to encourage us not to relive this perceived unpleasant situation. And, the way we see ourselves is totally biased. Even if our entourage repeatedly tells us that we were brilliant, that we seemed confident, that we were clear, funny, moving and reassuring, we won’t believe it.
This “automatic” part of the brain is also the most primitive, a mix of survival reflexes and gregarious instincts acquired through evolution. When it is in control, it is responsible for managing self-image, including the sense of belonging and positioning in a group. This mechanism means fear of being judged, being silly or putting oneself in the forefront too much. It induces a strong sense of what is done and of what is acceptable and disproportionately increases the importance that we give to the perception of others. Do you recognize yourself?
Fortunately, the more modern prefrontal part of our brain brings us reflection and questioning about our learning and beliefs. It is necessary not to get overwhelmed by stress and accept it as a signal that our embedded automatic habits are no longer adapted to the situation. The moment of speaking is precisely the one where, regardless of people’s perceptions, one must assert one’s individuality. The fact that your speech is judged, criticized or discussed won’t be a problem when you can affirm that it’s not a truth in itself, but simply the expression of an opinion, a reflection of your experience, your thinking and your feelings
Those who refuse to overcome this stress are often stifled in expressing the leadership that their entourage is already prepared to grant them. But they also deprive their organizations and teams of a voice that’s able to guide, mobilize and unite. This hunt for those who are unaware of their potential to become great speakers is a powerful lever to support innovation and the social, industrial and economic performances of companies.