Psychologists frequently use the phrase "retrain your brain" to help you reconsider scenarios and situations in your mind. The process works for dieting, smoking, breaking bad habits and rehabilitating after neurological trauma. Using these types of techniques can help you overcome your fear of public speaking.
An article by business consultant Jeff Shore for Entrepreneur magazine expounds on a neurological bag of tricks to make public speaking tolerable and even enjoyable. Shore points out that people who shy away from talking to groups of people do so purely out of an illogical, irrational fear of a worst-case scenario. Retrain your brain to think of best possible outcomes rather than the worst.
Start with what is called the "experience simulator" in your brain. This is when your mind plays scenarios over and over in your head relating to possible outcomes after taking action. Think of it as a game simulator. If you use strategy A against an enemy in a video game, how does it work to beat the bad guy? Try strategy B instead to see what happens in your mind before you open the boss battle at the end of the level. The same type of strategizing happens with regards to public speaking. You replay your future experience in your head over and over. In some cases, fear of failure creeps into the scenario before success.
Shore points out that in real life, public speakers rarely live up to your dire predictions. The people on stage with the microphone may sweat a little, but in general, they are calm and composed, and they engage with the audience even if they stumbles on some words. A public speaker rarely, if ever, fulfills your worst-case scenario of losing bladder control, turning completely mute and fainting on stage.
Instead of thinking that you will be the one that earns the YouTube title of "worst public speaking video," turn your negative thoughts into positive scenarios. Imagine the applause you receive from your peers. See and hear people laughing appropriately at your witty remarks. Think of your significant other, or your family, in the front row beaming at you proudly. Create a reality by imagining a synthetic reality first. Focusing on good outcomes alters your confidence and creates an attitude that wins the day.
Of course, there are practical ways to improve your public speaking prowess. Start small by talking to a group of three or four people. Speak to your family at home first, because these are people who already value you no matter what. Make presentations at work in front of a select few people. Volunteer to present data to people within your peer group. Branch out later to larger gatherings of people with whom you are unfamiliar to get more and more confident. You do not have to become the next great orator, but gradually expand your comfort zone to improve your overall moxie at work.
No one expects you to have the public speaking skills of Abraham Lincoln or the ability to rally the troops like Sir Winston Churchill. Overcoming a fear makes you a better person and better employee in the long run. Try retraining your mind for success instead of failure, and see how far it takes you down your career path.
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