Fear Public Speaking the Attack of the Butterflies Essay

Pages: 5 (1763 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Communication

Attack of the Butterflies

Mark Twain did it. So did John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and Elvis Presley. Bono claims he's done it regularly for years. Thomas Jefferson was rather famous for it and even George Washington, the father of our country, was known to do it too. It's not just the purview of men. Notable women such as Margaret Thatcher, Barbra Streisand and Barbara Walters admit they're in the same league. What do all these people have in common? What have they done and, in some cases, continue to do? They have not been afraid to admit it. They all reported nervousness at the prospect of speaking in public. Add Johnny Carson, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, John Updike, Jack Welch and James Earl Jones to the list. You can add me, too. I have a serious attack of butterflies even thinking about speaking before a group. Yet, here I am today. It's not by choice, but after the research I have done, I know I will get through it. Everyone does.

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Well, there is one well-known exception. President William Henry Harrison apparently had no fear of public speaking. He gave the longest inaugural address in U.S. history. By all accounts, he spoke confidently and with conviction. Unfortunately, Washington D.C. can be quite chilly in January and the new President Harrison exchanged all his hot air for the frigid outdoor air. He developed pneumonia and died after spending just a few short months in office. So technically, one could say that public speaking killed him. I might be taking a risk by being in front of you today. No, that's ridiculous. That doesn't happen. Really, it wasn't public speaking that killed President Harrison, it was pneumonia. People who are nervous about speaking in public like to use President Harrison as an example, hoping it will get them off the hook.

Essay on Fear Public Speaking the Attack of the Butterflies Assignment

In his 1977 book titled The Book of Lists, David Wallechinsky et al. conducted some very unscientific surveys and reported "speaking before a group" as the worst of all human fears, even before heights (number two on the list), deep water (number five), death (number seven), escalators (number fourteen) and clowns (not on the list but pretty scary anyway). As Scott Burkun points out in his hilarious book on public speaking, The Attack of the Butterflies, facts about public speaking are often misleading, since they frequently come from people selling services, such as books, that benefit from making public speaking seem as scary as possible. If the authors of those books can "cure" one's fear, then the price paid for the book is well worth it.

Burkun operates on a different premise, that public speaking really isn't anything to be afraid of at all. He uses logic, explaining to us that our brains are sometimes not very logical at all. As he points out, the real danger is in the crowds. Fans at rock concerts and soccer matches know that crowds can be dangerous -- and even deadly -- places to be. After all, if one is on stage, one has much easier access to the fire exits. Moreover, fall, faint or have a heart attack and everyone will know immediately and help can be summoned. Being in front of everyone is being in the safest place in the room.

And yet… Our primal instincts kick in. Our brains tell us that we are in a very bad position for survival. We are standing alone, in open territory, with nowhere to hide. All these creatures are staring at us. We have no weapon. In the long history of living things, these were the signs of danger. Our ancestors, at least the ones who survived, developed a healthy sense of fear and the flight or fight response. We are biologically programmed to be fearful in front of a crowd. Even those who appear calm, like me, experience heart palpitations and shortness of breath. It can be very brief, yet that sensation of fear is very real.

As Burkun points out, it is a response that developed from a real need for self-protection. We don't decide to increase our heart rate to jumpstart the muscles we need for flight. Our bodies do it automatically. Only now, in modern times, the flight response is mostly unnecessary. The stress responses that enabled us to protect ourselves physically are now channeled into nonsurvivor situations. Today's dangers are different. Instead of being chased by wild animals, as our ancient ancestors had to fear, we're afraid that our computers will crash, or we're stressed out in heavy traffic. The result is ulcers, high blood pressure, headaches and other ailments. Giving this speech would not be as scary if I had been chased by tigers on the way here today. As Scott Burkun tells us, our perspective on what things are worth fearing is freshly calibrated.

Fear focuses out attention. Asking someone for a date, going after a great job, writing a novel -- these prospects are interesting, exciting and a little scary. Failure is always a possibility and we fear rejection, disappointment or embarrassment. But that fear of failure is also what motivates us to do what it takes to be successful. The way the brain is wired, there is actually little difference biologically between the fear of failure and the anticipation of success. Fear is actually a good thing. Really?

Really. Comedian and motivational speaker Ian Tyson says this: "The body's reaction to fear and excitement is the same…so it becomes a mental decision. Am I afraid or am I excited?" Since our bodies can't tell the difference, it's up to our brains to decide whether we'll use our instincts to help rather than hurt ourselves. To be successful, we have to choose it, and not let fear pull us over to the dark side.

How do we use the fear? For one thing, successful speakers practice. The main advantage a speaker has over the audience is knowing what comes next. Practice, in this case, does not make perfect. A good speaker doesn't memorize a speech word for word because it can sound unnatural and even robotic. The goal of practice is to learn the material well enough to inspire confidence. I'm comfortable with my presentation when I have a clear vision of my destination. I know what I'm going to say.

Practice takes time and this is one reason people don't often do it. They feel silly standing alone in a room, making their presentation out loud. It's easier to procrastinate and let the fear of really speaking in public build up until we are nearly beside ourselves with misery and dread. Scott Burkun assures us it does not have to be that way. Practice. It's the only way to get comfortable with a presentation, to learn it, to make mistakes in the safety and privacy of our own space and to prepare for anything that might happen during a speech. Without practice, you're so worried about your material that you can't think what to do if the audience is restless or the Powerpoint presentation doesn't work. Then there are whole new things to fear.

Even professional speakers get the jitters, but they've learned to outsmart their biological fear instincts to make their presentations. There are several techniques to use to help minimize the body's sense of danger. Some people might find it useful to go to the gym or even take a walk several hours before a speech, just to release some of their nervous energy. It makes sense to get to a venue early, so you don't have to rush. Walk around the presentation area, if possible, so your body feels safe in the room. Take a moment to sit where the audience will sit, so you can get their perspective on what they'll see.

Eat lightly, and early enough, so you're not hungry for your talk but not so full that all your blood goes to your stomach to aid in digestion. That fizzy drink? Probably not a good idea right before a talk, as those bubbles may come back at the most inopportune moments. It's best to finish eating and drinking, then change into the clothes you plan to wear for the presentation. Obviously you want to think that through carefully, and you don't want to ruin the perfect outfit with a long drip of egg yolk or a splotch of ketchup.

Arriving late, changing slides, trying to give a speech without practicing it first -- these are all ways to self-sabotage. Any of these things will add to our fear and anxiety, and yet these are all factors within our control. The body is going to respond to stress, that's a fact. It's how we channel those stress responses that makes the difference between a successful speech and the opportunity to embarrass ourselves beyond our wildest fears.

No one wants to be judged harshly or laughed at. We fear this when giving a speech. We're afraid we'll do something… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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