Demystifying the “Problem”

I’ve tried everything

I have spent thousands of dollars and years of my life trying psychotherapy, hypnosis, dropping out of major training programs, to overcome a problem that TalkPower eliminated in one weekend. – Christine, human resources director

Fight or Flight… In the Boardroom?

When you are called on to speak and you feel threatened, the autonomic nervous system is activated, sending adrenaline and sugar into your bloodstream, revving up your body to meet the supposed danger, urging you to escape. As a result your beats faster, your muscles feel tense, your throat becomes dry, your stomach tightens, and you breathe using your chest muscles. This reaction to threat is known as the “fight of flight response.” This is exactly how you would react if you heard strange sounds outside your window in the middle of the night.

Since you are usually sitting or standing still as you wait to speak, and you cannot fight or run, you begin to feel trapped. This feeling of being trapped triggers such high levels of anxiety that your cerebral cortex (the thinking brain) shuts down and reasoning, logic, and speech are affected.

“I can’t seem to think straight,” you say. “I block, I become incoherent. I can’t make the most obvious connections.”

The interference with your thinking process is similar to what happens when you are worried, eat dinner and then have a case of indigestion. The indigestion occurs because, in a state of worry or stress, your brain does not send signals for the production of digestive juices. In other words, your digestive system, like your ability to think clearly, shuts down when your fight or flight response is activated.

Does Therapy Help?

Even though fear of speaking in public usually originates in childhood, or a post-traumatic stress reaction, the fact remains that speaking well in public is a complex skill. This skill requires systematic training to develop and manage the vast array of necessary neurological underpinnings, like thinking, organizing, remembering, and performance skills, as well as physical control. Compounding this is the element of high visibility, which is part and parcel of the public-speaking situation. This is why trying to learn to be comfortable when speaking in public, in a therapist’s office (as many of my clients have), is like trying to learn how to swim by talking about it.

As I have said, when people experiencing intense anxiety speak in public, their fearful thoughts trigger a fight or flight response that is a mechanical reaction, similar to a knee-jerk. This condition does not respond to reason, insight, positive thinking, understanding, or other cognitive processes.

It is true other phobias, like fear of flying, fear of tunnels, or fear of heights, respond positively to various therapeutic desensitization techniques, like systemic desensitization, relaxation training, flooding, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and visualization techniques. But the one-dimensional aspect of these nonperformance phobias, where only you and your therapist are privy to your fears, is very different from the element of high visibility that accompanies public speaking. Consequently, these approaches do not diminish public-speaking anxiety.

If you have spent time in therapy, hoping to reverse your fear of speaking in public, and have had little or no results, don’t lost hope. As a matter of fact, in the past twenty years, hundreds of therapies, psychologists, analysts, lay counselors, psychiatrists, and priests have attended the TalkPower seminars and have overcome their own public-speaking discomfort.

For more tips and instructions, please purchase "TalkPower: The mind-body way to speak without fear" or attend one of our upcoming TalkPower Workshops on September 17&18 or November 5&6 (if not satisfied, money back guaranteed). 

© 2000-2013 by Natalie H. Rogers