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Face your Fears and Enjoy the Ride
30 November 2015
Why do we expect ourselves to overcome obstacles without ever doing the thing we fear?
We swerved toward the edge of the precipice. This road had been carved by men who abseiled down the cliff face and hurled blocks of TNT into the rock. It is a sheer, cavernous drop and one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
I was in the midst of a 1,400km cycling trip, which was (literally and metaphorically) taking me to great heights. I had only started road-cycling training a few months earlier, but just days before I attempted the ride I had started to develop muscles I’d never seen in my legs. The training was paying off.
My pulse was racing, my forehead featured a deepening crease from my serious ‘concentration face’ and my palms were clammy. My body told me I was fearful, but my mindset had shifted from the original thoughts I had conceived a month ago – ‘I’m going to fall off the edge of the cliff and die’, ‘I’m going to get hit by a car full of people and die’. All these fears had faded away and all I was experiencing was a quiet, calm confidence, and it was fun!
Obviously I could never have conquered my fears of cycling the Combe Laval Road if I hadn’t gone there and done it, and yet in so many areas of our lives we expect ourselves to overcome obstacles without ever doing the thing we fear.
Public speaking is something people are said to fear more than death. Many of us imagine a jabbering, uninspiring disaster and we would much rather spare ourselves the humiliation than expose ourselves to the risk of rejection by our audience and peers. But what is it that drives our fear? I believe it is what we imagine might happen in the future based on interactions we have experienced in the past. Our minds play games with our bodies, which send us into a state of paralysis.
At NIDA we practise strategies to manage fear. No actor goes on stage without a rehearsal, just as no athlete achieves their personal best without training, a purpose and a positive mindset. It is all about learning by doing. Emulating real-life situations to help you better manage them when they come up.
Conquering fear of public speaking is possible for anyone, and there are some practical strategies we teach at NIDA to help people in managing presentation nerves.
Rehearsals are a ride in the park
You can’t cycle up a mountain without learning how to ride a bike. Practice makes perfect. Get up on your feet and rehearse your presentation. Speak your presentation aloud. Make use of gesture and adjust your tone of voice to emphasise key points. Become familiar with the equipment you are using and the environment you are going to present in.
Visualise success, don’t fall off the cliff of despair
Many psychologists, personal trainers and people of influence speak of the power of positive thought. A challenge we face when communicating is managing our thoughts and imagination. Ourinner critic – that voice in our head which says ‘they’re not listening’, ‘you are not interesting’ – needs to be silenced. When rehearsing your presentation, write down three positive things you achieved rather than dwelling on the negatives.
Don’t hold your breath
Oxygen is fuel. Think about how many endorphins you get from going for a run or participating in a yoga session. Shallow and rapid breathing is a typical part of the stress response. Controlled breathing can promote relaxation and reduce the effects of stress. Being aware of this and allowing yourself to stop and take a few deep breaths before your next presentation will help calm your body and reduce your nerves.
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ is not just a catch-phrase from the eighties. At NIDA, we offer a safe and supportive environment to test yourself, strengthen your skills, and learn by doing instead of imagining. If you are keen to overcome your fear of public speaking, I challenge you to come along to our Public Speaking Bootcamp, or one of our other great courses, to learn some strategies to help you stay calm in the moment. And hey, you may even enjoy it!