Performance Fear and How to Deal with it

It is a while since I did my last blog. I am now winding down my counselling practice and devoting more time to writing and voluntary counselling people tramuatised by war or sexual abuse.
In the last blog you saw how difficult it was for Jason to attend lectures. I meet this in some of my younger client, but going to lectures is only one of hundreds of specific situations that provoke fear and avoidance, so it might be helpful to further mention a few of the more common ones. One of the most widespread is fear of giving speeches or presentations. This is labelled performance fear, which is not so much fear of making a mistake as of others seeing your fear.
Most people suffer mild stage fright, but when it becomes debilitating it is pathological. Such extreme fear is expressed in the body is several distressing ways – increased heartbeat, palpitations, raised blood pressure, feeling dizzy or weak, dry throat, weak voice, nausea, perspiring, stomach knotted, and intense anxiety, which John R. Marshall calls anticipatory anxiety. I have met people for whom the very thought of standing in front of an audience and making a brief thank you speech caused days of worrying, lack of sleep and extreme anxiety. It is very difficult for those who do not suffer social fear to understand such an extreme reaction to what seems a minor issue.
Barbara Markway and her colleagues give valuable advice on preparing for a presentation and David Leisner, the famous classical guitarist and composer, compiled six golden rules to counteract performance fear, which can be used in any areas where you are facing an audience. The first and most important rule is to remind yourself that you have practised to the best of your ability. When I was a school Principal I had to make numerous speeches, and I found the best place to practise was in the car as I drove to and from work. In that way I repeated my speech many times. There was always some difference with each rehearsal, so I knew that the speech I ultimately gave would be slightly different to the ones I rehearsed, but I also knew that I could go on autopilot and keep the same theme.
Having prepared well, your second golden rule is not to become over-conscious of how you are performing. This will distract you and destroy the natural flow of your speech. You will find yourself concentrating on the form or style of your speech rather than upon the content.
The third golden rule is to avoid being sucked into the audience by trying to second-guess their reaction to how your speech is going. If you yield to the temptation of looking at the faces of some of those present, you will be even more distracted from your presentation as you vainly try to imagine what they are thinking. So if you see one person looking out the window you will be sidetracked by the thought that you are boring, and this negative feeling will be reinforced if you see someone with her eyes closed, apparently asleep. If you see someone yawning it may simply be that they are tired. You cannot tell what a person in an audience is thinking, so look over their heads as you speak. You cannot focus on your presentation if you are focusing on the audience.
The fourth and fifth golden rules can be combined and remind you to remember that your task is to clearly communicate a particular theme to the audience, a theme that you have practised until it flows easily and naturally.
Finally say what you mean and believe in what you are saying. In that way you can enjoy making your speech, which is about informing and sharing with others what you have learned. Even if you are simply making a thank you speech, let it be sincere, enjoy praising others for whatever contribution they made to the occasion.
Extract from my book – Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood.
I am the author of seven books
When a Child Dies. Footsteps of a Grieving Family
Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying
Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood.
I’ll Meet You at the Roundy O
Priest, Politics and Society in Post Famine Ireland 1850-1891
Prince of Swindlers. John Sadleir MP 1813-1856
My latest book is on DID (Multiple Personality Disorder) which will run to three volumes. Volume 1 has now been published and is titled Emerging From The Darkness.

Posted in Fear, social fear