Clubhouse & the Fear of Public Speaking

March 15, 2021

Imagine yourself going onto the stage. There are 10s to thousands of people awaiting your delivery at the microphone. The spotlight settles onto you, the audience gets quiet and the cameras set their focus from multiple angles onto you. The air is perfectly crisp in temperature. You notice a loved one in the audience staring at you supportively. You take a breath in. Go.


Can you believe that humans rate glossophobia, the fear of public speaking as the thing that they fear the most? Death comes in at number two. Reflect on that. Why would that be the case? Why would a human being, on average, prefer to die before public speaking?


I sense two things:

  1. The pain of public speaking creates a deep overwhelming autonomic response on the body that is felt
  2. Whereas dying equates to no longer feeling, it is being equated to dying while remaining alive to the pain.


What's there? What exists in public speaking that has this reaction arise? At it's core, it must be that the individual intrinsically feels that a part of them needs to be perceived affirmatively for what they say, do or express while being witnessed by whoever the audience is. When any living being is fearful of a need not being met, they are fearful of a threat to their survival. Survival does not necessarily mean 'life or no life'. Rather, survival can equate to surviving the moment, surviving the experience, both of which can feel so overwhelmingly anxiety provoking or a hijacking of feeling like themselves, that they equate it to death while living. And so, the survival here is not dying, but death in the eyes of others.


That's it.


In that moment where someone even begins considering or is asked to step up to speak or sing or play music or share a story or debate or present, if they aren't already feeling comfortable with it, which is the case for more than 75% of the World, a part of them that is fearful can express different variations of symptoms that can be classified as anxiousness, which equates to them feeling unsafe. Things that can go wrong, what failure means, rejection. At it's core, if we are to not be 'received' by the audience, we can be rejected. If that rejection is perceived, it is a threat to survival. To be ostracized by the clan can mean threat to survival; away from resources, away from community, away from needs; which can mean death. And so, a person finds every reason to not 'stick their necks out'. Not risking their position is less risky, they are safer. Not that sharing or speaking or presenting...etc, is necessary,  but when the opportunity presents itself, their hand doesn't go up, they don't offer an opinion, they don't jump at the opportunity, they don't engage, they don't lead. (Leadership can be an adaptation on this, where your voice that is guiding others makes you a more valuable member of this group, 'less ostracizable' because of their position, influence, hierarchy. I will elaborate on this in other entries). A voice inside may question why there isn't a contribution being made, but it is overrided with relative inaction by avoiding that component that puts the microphone or focus onto the individual.  


An important thing to consider is if and when there was an occasion that the individual witnessed someone or they themselves were either silenced, stopped or dismissed for a share that they made with others present. The extinguishing of one's expression of any kind, even in a conversation or times previous can create and reinforce the barrier that allows the person to express or even consider it. Were the environments, especially early on life, ones that you grew up in where your voice was supported or not? Was your voice allowed and even encouraged to be expressed? Were you put into doubt? Was your voice extinguished? Was it silenced? Did you see the voices of others supported?


As difficult as it may be, this is adaptable. Not that it's a necessity, but it is available. It can be reclaimed.


Practice allows you to reexplore their relationship to the concept of public speaking and all that it means to you. What's at stake if you were to not able to execute it well? how do you even define failure? It is paramount to understand it as a fear that is rational in evolutionary theory and conceptually, but irrational to most circumstances that we are in everyday. In applying the fundamentals behind challenges facing speaking publicly, you discover or rediscover how to navigate it, what needs to be discussed in order for it to be effective, how it could be a powerful opportunity and maybe even fun. It may take multiple experiences, the right groups of people, where you feel uncomfortable but able to still feel through it, especially in arenas where failure is less important, where the stakes aren't as high. Confidence can be gained to gain or regain trust in your voice, adaptive in expression, adaptive to the variations in audience and the stakes that are perceived. You remember the adaptable person that you are. Your voice, as important as any other. Anyone else who speaks is as human as you. They are no higher or lower. Those are misperceptions. Your voice is as valuable as any. Your relationship to the worth, capacity, efficacy and ease of expression adapt. Interestingly, this has a catalyzing effect, where humans see others expressing themselves in potentially vulnerable places, it gives them permission to consider it in their mind and bodies first, confronting some of their hesitations, but then, it creates opportunities for them to stand up for their expression which is as permitted as any.


And so, let's imagine yourself going onto that stage again. There are 10s to thousands of people awaiting your delivery at the microphone. Loved ones are there, they are smiling and attentive. You feel them there. The spotlight settles onto you, the audience gets quiet and the cameras set their focus from multiple angles onto you. The air is perfectly crisp in temperature. You take a breath in remembering that the sense of rejection, transient narratives of potential failure to deliver or be received by the audience dissipate. You feel present and connected with the expression you are about to share. You breathe in. You trust in yourself without thinking it. You know your ability, permission and capacity to do it. And so, you do.  

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