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Understanding the Source of Our Fear

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Public Speaking is the number one fear of our society. But why is that? After all, if we are objective we have to admit that it is not the worst thing that might happen.

Jerry Seinfeld observed that an internet search would reveal that public speaking is the number one fear of our society, while death only makes it to number six. It stands to reason then, that if you have to go to a funeral, it is better to be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy.

Something is out of place here. Should we really be more afraid of speaking than of death? And how did we get this way?

My own situation involves some childhood experiences at public school. When I was about nine my teacher gave my class an assignment. She told us to write a report/project on an animal of our choice.

That was it. Write a report on an animal of our choice. No further instruction.

I had never written a report before; actually I could hardly write at all. How was I supposed to write a report if I didn’t know what one was?

I procrastinated and put it off until the day before it was due. I managed to scribble down some unintelligible sentences along with a picture, that if you looked at it at just the right angle, it might have been interpreted as a dog.

I handed it in and hoped that it would be acceptable. Boy, I was glad that was over; what could possibly be worse than a research project? Well I found out soon enough; a research presentation. Yes, not only did I have the stress of having to read and write about a subject with next to no instruction, but now I also got to stand up in front of my classmates and tell them what I knew (or didn’t know) about the subject. Now there was a recipe for humiliation.

Take the stress of being responsible for the outcome of the presentation, without knowing what would make it successful. Add the potential for humiliation and I got a lot of psychological pain. Now our subconscious learns from pain better than anything else; and it doesn’t matter whether it’s physical or psychological. Our subconscious just knows that it does not like it.

Fast forward in the life of David 20 plus years and I was still associating that pain with public speaking. Every time I would have to speak, my subconscious would start screaming, “AAAAAHHHHH, it hurt last time!!! I don’t want to do it!!!!”

Perhaps you can identify with parts of this situation. I expect that many people developed their fear during childhood because of stress and humiliation.

The good news for me (and for you) is that I am no longer that little nine year old (nor are you). I don’t have to mentally regress every time I have to speak. I can learn how to speak effectively so that I have control, and I can accept that my audience is not there to humiliate me.

By making a few simple changes to my perception I am able to control my fear of public speaking.

What is most important, is that so can you.

David Mudie

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