Have you ever stopped to think about how often we are at a loss to describe the emotions we experience? How even, at times our own understanding of different emotions is hard to comprehend or vocalize. This is doubtlessly true in the case of our emotional experience of public speaking. Often we claim we feel fear, anxiety and or excitement without being able to pinpoint the true nature of our feelings or which of those feelings we are actually experiencing. Truth be told, on a biological level those feeling have often many commonalities that lead us to confuse our emotional experience with public speaking. In my years of public speaking training I have heard from students this common confusion. Emotions are common with public speaking but the ability to pinpoint their message is a learned skill.
Anxiety & Fear Are a Choice
For most novice public speakers, anxiety & fear are natural human emotional responses. Often this is ONLY association people have with public speaking. Scientific studies consistently place fear or anxiety of public speaking as one of the top human fears – but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can unlearn associations, just as we can rewire our understanding of any experience. Public speakers can retrain our minds and our emotions to focus on the excitement of the opportunity to speak or communicate in public – rather than the anxiety or fear.
We can “rewire” or emotional responses to different stimuli. Scientific study after study shows that we have a tremendous capacity adaptation and evolution. A simple example comes in the form of systematic desensitization. With desensitization we attempt slowly and continually introduce a stimuli to a person (public speaking) while attempting to reduce the negative emotion they associate with that situation or experience (public speaking). Over time they learn and associate new feelings and emotions with that situation or experience. This is exactly how I teach my students to overcome the hurdle of fear and anxiety they previously associated with public speaking. Over time, they learn to associate excitement, joy, freedom and positive outcomes instead of their old emotional baggage.