Chances are heard it before. More adults fear public speaking than those who fear death.
Really? Is it that scary?
The truth is: More people fear public speaking – by a pretty sizeable number.
A 1973 study – the study that led to that popular myth – found that 41 percent of surveyed adults were afraid of public speaking, compared to just 19 percent who said death.
More recently that number has been reiterated. A Gallup Poll conducted in 2000 found 40 percent of people said they feared public speaking. And according to the poll, public speaking was the second most common fear, behind only a fear of snakes.
Public speaking ranks higher than our fears of heights, being closed in small spaces, flying, getting shots and mice, to name a few. But why are there so many people who fear public speaking? What makes it such a miserable experience for so many?
In short, fear of public speaking resides in the mind. Deep in our subconscious – that huge repository of memories, beliefs, and desires – we’ve developed strong opinions of how we feel about public speaking and our confidence in our public speaking abilities. The challenge is untangling these thoughts, and filling our minds with new, more helpful information.
That’s where hypnosis comes in.
In a state of hypnosis, our minds become much more receptive to new information. We listen to suggestion and we file them away in the subconscious – they’re much more likely to stick. As such, hypnosis and hypnotherapy are popular tools for helping people overcome their fear of public speaking, because it empowers them to remove those automatic thoughts.
How exactly does hypnosis work for people who dread speaking in front of audiences? What does the research say? And why exactly do we fear public speaking in the first place? This guide explores the topic in detail – take a look and try some hypnotic techniques for yourself.
Why Is Public Speaking So Hard?
We talk to people every day. Our friends, family members and co-workers. Most wouldn’t even think twice about striking up a conversation with a stranger in the checkout line.
But in front of an audience – from thousands, to even just a dozen – we freeze up. We get in our heads and feel anxious. Why does this everyday task become so difficult in front of groups of people?
Well, there are three different aspects that can cause and reinforce our fears of public speaking, including:
- The Fear Is An Evolutionary Trait
Our brains think about survival all the time, in every situation. We’ve evolved to become adept at recognizing threats. And when we recognize a threat, our bodies respond – the fight or flight response.
You know the feeling.
Heart racing. Sweaty palms. The inability to recall. Nervous fidgeting.
When we recognize a threat, all we want to do is flee. Get out of the room and to safety, away from the situation.
But why does something like public speaking (which can be tough, but will never cause physical harm) make us want to run?
Well, that’s because we’re hardwired to seek approval. We’ve evolved to form tribes, and use language to earn acceptance into the tribe. In small groups, and in situations, we can gauge how others are responding to what we’re saying, we can read body language, facial expression, and hear their responses.
In front of large groups, we can’t. And that’s one of the key reasons public speaking is so difficult – the fear of disapproval. That fear of getting kicked out of the tribe triggers the fight or flight response.
- The Fear Is Self Perpetuating
You’ve studied your notes and rehearsed a hundred times. But what if you mess up the first words? What if you screw up that one part you’ve had a difficult time remembering?
In our fear, we become self-sabotagers.
We think it will go poorly. Or that we’ll have a bad experience. Or that our voices will crack and we won’t remember our lines.
And next thing you know: You’re stumbling. You’ve made yourself believe that you would fail, and when you believe something so strongly, it affects your performance (and contributes to your anxiety).
What’s worse, a negative experience fuels your fears. Your irrational, self-sabotaging thoughts become embedded and reinforced. Any future public speaking experiences is seen through this prism that your mind’s created, that you’re an incompetent public speaker.
- Negative Thinking Patterns Amplify the Fear
Up until you step on the stage, your mind races. Your thoughts are all over the place; you lose your focus. You’re “in your head.”
And when you get in your head, your nervousness amplifies.
You stumble over your words. You get distracted. All that hard work you went into rehearsing gets drowned in these minute-to-minute thoughts that are running through our minds.
But what causes this? For one, we put too many qualifiers on what success is in any given situation, and when the performance runs contrary to these demands, we run off course.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you walk into a noisy, chatty room. Backstage, all you can think about is how noisy these people are, how no one will listen, etc. You’re lacking that sense of confidence that brings success in public speaking.
When you step on stage, the room doesn’t quiet down right away. Instead of letting the mind experience and even enjoy the speech, you’re thinking about how much they hate you, how much you’re words aren’t landing. So you start to speak faster, you cut words from your remarks, and you stop speaking a passionately as you rehearsed.
In other words, negative thinking patterns – before, during and after your speech – can derail your performance. Your thoughts get in the way.
Freeing the Mind for Success in Public Speaking
Now you see the conundrum. Many of the factors that make public speaking difficult seem out of our control. They originate in the subconscious mind. It’s automatic.
In other words, the key to success in public speaking is “fixing” or reducing the friction in the mind that’s holding us back.
If we can tame negative thinking patterns, we gain focus in the moment and reduce pressure on ourselves. If we reduce some of the natural fight or flight fear, we gain confidence when speaking and eliminate those biological reactions – i.e. shaky voice, sweating hands – that can through us off our game. And if we can empower the mind to expect success, we prevent the fear from self-perpetuating.
So how can you go about improving the mind’s reaction to public speaking?
Well, behavior therapists might tell you it comes down to practice. Speak over and over again, until you’ve become so good that you eliminate the fear.
You might hear that breathing and mindfulness are helpful – and they are, they can help speakers stay in the moment during their speeches.
But the problem with many traditional techniques: Those fight or flight thoughts they’re still there. Even if we practice them away, they still exist, and it takes is one negative experience (a heckler, for instance) to drum the fear back up.
That’s why so many people turn to hypnotherapy for public speaking.
Hypnosis empowers us to gain access to and control over those unconscious thoughts and negative thinking patterns. And when we can remove those thoughts, we gain confidence in our abilities.
How Hypnotherapy Can Help Your Public Speaking
Changing the brain’s autopilot settings is no easy task, because those thoughts and beliefs are so deeply ingrained in our minds. You might have had a negative public speaking experience in grade school – and next thing you know – you struggling as an adult to speak at a school board meeting.
The reason: You mind learned early about that negative experience. Then, through repetition and self-perpetuating thinking, you began to believe that you weren’t a great public speaker.
In other words, it’s such a challenge because it requires unwinding and removing years of reinforcement.
That’s why hypnotherapy is so effect for public speaking fears.
During a hypnosis session, you will be guided to a highly relaxed, yet highly aware, state of mind. This trance-like state unlocks a special area of the brain – the subconscious. You can bypass your critical mind – the mind that analyzes all information that you hear – and work directly on the part of the mind that holds all the unhealthy information that’s holding your public speaking fear in place.
While under a state of hypnosis, the mind is receptive to new suggested information. And using hypnosis techniques, a hypnotherapist can help to update how the subconscious views public performances. For instance, you might be stuck in patterns of negative thinking; hypnosis can help to quiet and shut off this noise.
In particular, hypnosis offers a number of benefits for people who fear public speaking.
- Calming Unhelpful Thinking Patterns – Do you find yourself getting “in your head” prior to a speaking engagement? You might get distracted, or concentrate on the wrong details or aspects of your performance. These thinking patterns can drive our performances off course.
Hypnotherapy helps to remove those old, harmful thinking patterns and provide that sense of underlying confidence. In other words, utilizing hypnotherapy, we can begin to push those negative thoughts out – i.e. thinking the speech has to be perfect or thinking that no one wants to listen to you – that can set yourself up for failure.
- Taming the Perpetuation Loop – Did you have a bad experience with public speaking? One failure (maybe even in grade school) can completely change how the mind views your ability. And this form of thinking occurs automatically and irrationally. We don’t think about that one time – our minds just become panic-stricken at the thought. And we begin to expect failure or misery, and you get stuck in the loop.
Thanks to the power of suggestion, hypnosis can help you to improve your sense of self, and remove the influence negative experiences have on your confidence.
- Reducing the Fight or Flight Response – Public speaking is so terrifying for people, because of the imagined and automatic “threat” of being kicked out of the group. We fear disapproval. We fear upsetting people. We fear not being liked.
This fear is embedded in the subconscious and it’s completely irrational. Fortunately, it can be tamed and removed. Through hypnosis, we can begin to alter how the mind perceives public speaking, which can reduce the fight or flight response.
Does Hypnosis Really Work for Public Speaking?
What does the research say about hypnosis and public speaking? A wide body of research has established that hypnosis is a powerful tool for overcoming anxiety. In fact, hypnosis is being used by medical facilities like The Mayo Clinic as a complementary treatment for anxiety-related disorders, i.e. like fear of public speaking, social anxiety and fear of flying.
For example, an important study conducted in 1997 examined how people who had severe fears of public speaking would respond to hypnosis. The study examined two groups: One partaking in traditional behavioral therapy and another group that used behavioral therapy and hypnosis in tandem.
The study found that hypnosis helped to improve expected and perceived levels of anxiety during public speaking. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that hypnosis was effective because it helped to moderate the expectancy. People didn’t expect failure and misery as strongly, and their performance improved because of this.
Read up on the latest research regarding hypnosis and anxiety. Our Anxiety Hypnotherapy guide features a run-down of the latest research.
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