Fear of Public Speaking

By Sig Nordal, Jr.

Many of us, indeed most of us, are nervous of speaking in public be it for a large crowd of people or a more intimate setting with under ten people concentrating on what we are saying. This could be a presentation, an interview, a speech or even within a meeting. In fact, the more intimate the setting the more nervous we can feel as we are able to see each and every person and their reactions to our words.

Many people suffer from a great deal of stress and anxiety before (and indeed during) such public speaking where they can feel themselves start to sweat, feel their hands or knees shake and their heart pounding. Often the ‘speaker’ can speak too quickly or forget half of what they had intended to say. Such physical nervous and stress responses can be overcome or at least reduced by identifying the causes of your fear and looking at ways to overcome them. Your own worst enemy is your inner critic who is always harsh so ensure that you are realistic in your expectations of how you will perform. Convince your mind through positive thoughts that you are confident about what you will be speaking about as you plan and prepare your presentation or speech.

Many people learn what they will say ‘by rote’ like an actor with a script. Learning ‘by rote’ can have pitfalls as if you forget one line you may create inner panic and thus stumble over your words and forget a great deal more. If interrupted or distracted you can be completely thrown off balance. Imagine, if you would, an actor whose next line is a response to another character’s words – the actor who is confident and ‘unflappable’ can often compensate for the other actor by integrating what the person should have said within their own line. The key to speeches or presentations is to ensure you know exactly what you are going to say and what comes next. A useful tool is to have key words that encompass each verbal paragraph you are going to be speaking about – such could easily be on a notepad rather than separate pieces of card. How many of us have been somewhat distracted within a presentation by a speaker shuffling a deck of key cards as if performing a magic trick? The additional downfall of such key cards is that you will be preoccupied with them and fail to make eye contact. Keep it simple as much of your message falls outside the words you are saying but rather the body language, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.

Public speaking is always going to heighten one’s adrenalin which you could negatively believe is fear but why not view it positively as excitement? You are to be communicating something – something that you know about and so you are prepared already for questions. Ensure that this is the case. Do not aim for perfection but improvement each time. Make sure that you do thorough research on the topic you are presenting even if it is your own field. Why bother if it is in my field? A good reason is because very few of us know everything. Depending upon your presentation or speech it is certainly worth using the Internet in order to see both sides of any statements you are making. Play ‘devil’s advocate’ with yourself. What’s the upside and what’s the downside of that method or theory? Then you will be fully prepared for any questions.

Useful strategies for nervousness focus upon mental, physical and psychological techniques. Experimenting with a combination of all three can give you a wider ability to reduce fear and nerves. We all require different techniques to achieve a state of calm and in control. The key is to not give up or be daunted by a memory of a previously poor attempt – use where you went wrong in order to grow and improve. Try to ‘mingle’ with the people attending prior to giving your presentation or speech. The more amiable you are towards people face to face the more likely they are to respond to you when you are standing in front of them communicating your well-prepared information. Again, this works in your favour too as they are no longer strangers and you thus become more relaxed when delivering your speech.

The standard formula for a presentation is to inform the audience what you are going to talk about (often using a story that will make people laugh), tell them a few key points (with stories to illustrate the points) and then to recap what you have already said. Avoid cramming in too much information as people can only withhold a certain amount of knowledge received audibly. Also, in this day and age, beware of ‘Death by Powerpoint.’ For many presentations, this is now a very common tool. Think of the times you have been faced with a screen of words watching the back of the speaker’s head as he or she reads it? Not many of us can read and listen simultaneously and we often speed-read the screen feeling ‘put off’ by the speaker! As the speaker, you are not making eye contact with your ‘audience’ and are purely reading out loud as though those in the room are incapable of reading for themselves. Having said that, if you wish to use a Powerpoint then interest can be garnered through visual images that hint at the next thing you are to be speaking about. If you are talking about profit (for want of a better example) a cartoon image of cash (be it dollars, pounds or another currency) with a ‘red tick’ to denote success could work very well to draw in the audience – not to mention it could be a very useful prompt for yourself as to what you are going to be talking about next! If you want to include additional information (or to concisely summarise what you were speaking about) by all means have some prepared ‘handouts’ to distribute at the END of your presentation NOT the beginning as you will lose those who have read it all before you have even cleared your throat!

Think of the presentations you have attended. The most successful are those where the speaker talks to you and not at you. Be genuinely enthusiastic and interested about the subject. You will not be able to please everybody as this would be an irrational fear. Do not worry about a possible few in the room who do not appear to be enthralled but focus upon those you are pleasing and to do your best. To paraphrase Bruce Lee ‘low aim is the crime not failure.’ Most people do not mind if you stumble over your words a couple of times – in fact they probably do not even notice. Tell yourself how prepared you are, remind yourself that you know what you are talking about and you are going to succeed. Keep repeating affirmative thoughts to yourself. If you are fully prepared, relaxed and know your subject you will get the best results. Once you have accumulated successes in various public speaking roles your confidence will improve and your fears will be replaced by fearlessness.

Addressing Inferiority Complex

By Sig Nordal, Jr.

A constant and nagging fear that you are worth less than anyone else is what is generally referred to as an inferiority complex. This could emanate from your physical appearance, your mental acuity, your financial or social status, your personality or sometimes all of the aforementioned. It is a truly unpleasant psychological state of being and affects how you interact not only with others but also with yourself. Most people at some point in their life will have feelings of inferiority but some people have them for year upon year and one shortcoming becomes two and then multiplies to almost every aspect of their personality and life in general.

If you explain to others why you feel inferior be it because you are too thin, too fat or too ‘anything’ then usually they will compare you to themselves or just look at the fear objectively and think ‘that’s a silly fear.’ And, we all do it. Many of us have the fear of not ‘fitting in’ with a social group whatever it may be and we outwardly don a mask to cover up the screams inside of us. It’s normal to be nervous or uncomfortable. No one is perfect. I defy you to think that there is anyone in the world who thinks they are perfect as it is impossible. There are of course those who outwardly have the demeanour of being cock-sure and confident about everything they say or do but in others’ eyes they are viewed as self-righteous and arrogant. Ergo, if we continuously concern ourselves with the way others see us we will never win.

The trick to overcoming crippling feelings of inferiority however is to ‘accept’ certain factors about yourself if you are not able to achieve an alternative – and who is to say that the alternative would be any sort of improvement anyway? Many of us have a kind of ‘If only I was taller/slimmer/prettier then I would be happy’ attitude – you can maybe alter physique in many ways but it is not necessarily going to make you feel that much better than you do now. I know a woman who has been too fat then had weight issues and got too thin, has had obsessive behaviours in all manner of her life from partners, lifestyle, drugs, alcohol, compulsive self-invoked superstitious rituals and so on. Twenty five years later she still cannot figure out why she has such extremes in her personality (which remain) as there is no obvious reason for any of it. It is just the way it is for her. She self-analyses in the extreme but now, as a result, has begun to more readily ‘accept’ that this is the way she is and attempts to stop over-analysis about trivia and past transgressions with a ‘I never did care about the little things’ approach – to literally to stop her emotional thought dead in its tracks and refuse to allow it entry.
As I mentioned earlier, we all have flaws. It is only when we overtly dramatise a specific flaw or flaws and give them meaning that it results in an inferiority complex. It is the thought that people belittle you for your ineptitude and call you an idiot or are calling you derogatory names about your appearance that force you into feeling miserable and inferior. However, there are a few techniques to help you overcome these feelings. It is your thinking that has led you to this state and thus it is thinking that will be the answer to overcoming such feelings. What you need to do is to fight against the thinking patterns that you have twisted out of shape. You have to restart yourself by realising that your flaws are not as bad as you think and that it or them do not remove all the good qualities you have. Comparing yourself to others and wishing to be the same as them rather than learning from them is pointless. It is coming to realise that an inferiority complex only occurs when you feel bad about the fact that you may be inferior to others in some way.

One of the most beneficial systems to help overcome your attitude towards yourself is that of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) whereby you assess your feelings, analyse them and make a dedicated change to your thinking on a step-by-step basis. Try to reduce your emotional thinking. Rather than simply feeling ‘down’ you need to be specific about what areas in life you feel inferior. If it is of a particular group of people to whom you feel inferior then try and list a few of the names of particular people within that group. People who feel inferior to others thrive on trying to be anyone that they aren’t. For example, members within a gym. We look and judge others all the time whether we are male or female. We ‘section’ them into categories and often stereotype certain types of people: the slim, toned, tattoo decorated women may fall into your ‘hmm, independent, mentally strong, determined and don’t mess with me type of women.’ And, the nervous or shy parts of your personality, may yearn to have one or two of what you perceive to be their qualities. Your own assumption is, of course, your perception of them – if you actually know the woman in question you may realise that she is just as insecure as you and, like you, hides it pretty well from other people!

Remember that it is you who is making yourself feel inferior by emphasizing what you think others are thinking about you. Eleanor Roosevelt once said ‘no-one can make you feel inferior without your permission’ which pretty much succinctly sums it up. In other words refuse to allow yourself to become depressed by how you perceive others may be judging you. In order to achieve higher self esteem and to gain confidence is to start to try and love yourself. Easier said than done I hear you say – indeed, many of us with an inferiority complex or depressive tendencies are hardly able to bring ourselves to even like ourselves let alone love ourselves. At some point in life we have either been told or assumed we were just not good enough to do something and have been carrying that heavy baggage throughout life. Take heed from Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress who tumbled alone into the Slough of Despond and was unable to remove the Burden from his back. Whereas Christian needed Help to be lifted out, you need to pull yourself away from your own negativity and shed the burden of worrying about how people view you – feel how much lighter your journey will become as you start to celebrate your own identity and and rejoice in it!