According to most studies, people's no.1 fear is public speaking. No.2 is death. Death is no.2. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
- Jerry Seinfeld
I’m Steve, a Trial Manager at the University of Oxford. Like many other people, I’m terrified of public speaking. I would rather eat Marmite straight out of the jar. But why does standing on a podium generate such universal trepidation, raising the heart rate and saturating the shirt with sweat? When the opportunity to attend a Professional Speaking Workshop arose, I was keen to find out.
Apparently, it’s because I’m a chimp.
According to the psychiatrist, Steve Peters, our psychological make-up has three parts; human, computer, and chimp. The human part provides logic and reason. The computer stores experience and provides function. The chimp induces panic. When the human and computer parts of the brain aren’t in control, the chimp creates chaos. This is known as The Chimp Paradox.
We were coached at the Professional Speaking Workshop by Lyn Roseaman at www.nowyouretalking.co.uk. Lyn encouraged the group to discuss the fears that allow the chimp to run riot, and also introduced us to techniques to help the human retain control. Many of the fears are rational, such as forgetting lines or being asked questions that you can’t answer. But it is the chimp that escalates our emotions in any situation, so that our fears seem insurmountable. Lyn also emphasised the need to be prepared and to practice any presentation as much as possible, and that the only way to improve professional speaking is to speak professionally!
Putting my fears into context has really helped my approach to professional speaking. In fact, I was so keen to practice that I immediately offered to present everything that I’d learnt at a SITU session. My journey to tame my inner chimp has begun.