Harvard Business Review: To Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking, Stop Thinking About Yourself
I am grateful to share with you my first publication in Harvard Business Review. It is about how the power of generosity can help overcome speaking anxiety.
To Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking,
Stop Thinking About Yourself
Most of us — even those at the top — struggle with public-speaking anxiety. When I ask my clients what makes them nervous, invariably they respond with the same answers:
“I don’t like being watched.”
“I don’t like the eyes on me.”
“I don’t like being in the spotlight.”
And it follows that when they get up to speak, nearly all of them initially avoid making eye contact with members of the audience. Therein lies the problem: While avoiding direct eye contact may seem like an effective strategy for coping with speaking anxiety, it actually makes you even more nervous.
To understand why, we need to go way back to prehistoric times, when humans perceived eyes watching us as an existential threat. Those eyes were likely predators. People were literally terrified of being eaten alive. In response to that prehistoric reality, the amygdala, the part of our brain that helps us respond to danger, kicked into full gear. And when our fight-or-flight response gets triggered, we understandably feel intense stress and anxiety. What does this have to do with public speaking? Turns out, everything.