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How can I overcome my fear of being in the spotlight?

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Hi Mark,

I have developed a fear of being in the spotlight, which is difficult as I am in a leadership position and I have to do presentations. I get so wound up about doing these things, it makes me feel really unhappy weeks in advance. Invariably, once I get going I calm down, but it is getting going – my voice quavers, I get panicky…

I have used your site to help, as they really help me to relax. However, I am trying to face my fears and work through this. Any other advice or cool downloads that might help me regain my confidence?

This question was submitted by 'Paul'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hi Paul and thank you for writing in.

You don't say when or how this fear developed, but what can be learned can also (thankfully for me) be unlearned. I too used to find this tough early in my career as a public presenter.

It's not the whole thing; it's just until things get going and then you calm right down. Like the start of a long distance race that can almost be a bit of a shock to the system, even for seasoned runners, until they get into it.

So why do things settle down? Well, of course, fear is there for survival. It speeds up heart rate, sweat response, rate of breathing, and all the other things you need for exercise in anticipation of you actually exercising. I've said this before, but a far less scary (and, in fact, more accurate) metaphor/analogy for inappropriate fear arousal than the often-used 'panic attack' is 'inappropriate exercise response'.

But the emergency systems of your body are also economical. They are looking for signs from the environment that there really is a threat they'll need to deal with physically, but they don't want to waste precious energy on non-emergencies. Like firefighters called out to an address, if they find there is no threat, after a while they will go back on standby again, as the firefighters will return to the depot. It's as if your unconscious mind says:

"Wait a second! We were led to believe that this was going to be a physically threatening situation! But these people (in the audience) are not attacking us. In fact, some of them are even smiling! We are not going to waste energy releasing more adrenaline and cortisol and shunting blood to the major muscles for action. We are going home and you can relax! What a waste of time!"

This is one reason why facing fear can switch it off pretty fast. If you avoided what you feared all the time, then your unconscious mind (in charge of all those 'emergency workers' in your mind and body) would never get the chance to understand that what you fear is not genuinely physically threatening and would actually build the fear because "it's so threatening, he's avoiding it altogether!"

I once worked with a guy who was scared of speaking on stage in front of 500 people. I asked him what would happen if he had to be up on that stage for 24 hours in front of these people. He really thought about it and eventually said that some of the time he might even forget they were there.

"So you wouldn't be absolutely terrified for the whole 24 hours?" I asked.

"Well, no. I would probably only be terrified for the first five minutes."

Your 'fight or flight' response isn't completely dumb and can spot a bogus situation (in the sense of a not really physically threatening situation) pretty quickly – like a hoax call to firefighters – and go back to conserving energy again.

Then we have the negative self-hypnosis in advance of a presentation: 'training through imaginative association'. You have been imagining, even for a split-second, the upcoming presentation at the same time as having a shot of nervousness. So, in your mind, the imagination of the talk and feelings of anxiety become more strongly associated. This is how we learn.

Just as with advertising that plays a particular jingle whenever we see their chocolate bar on TV. You see this a few dozen times and, hey presto, you go into the store, see the product, and hear the jingle in your head. You have learned through association.

You need to be relaxed whenever you imagine the upcoming speech – specifically, the beginning of the speech – so that a new association has a chance to develop. We need to be careful with what we do with our minds.

There will be a new download released later this month (May 2015), 'Introducing Yourself Anxiety', which may be really valuable to you. I don't know what other downloads you've used, but it's worth also using the '10 Steps to Powerful Public Speaking' program. But you may be able to sort this out just by purposefully relaxing a few times each day – just for a couple of minutes – and imagining, in your mind's eye, observing yourself beginning your presentation calmly. Because it's your message, not you, that should really be in the spotlight.

The world needs great communicators. : )

All best wishes,


watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - May 13th, 2015 in

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