Common Barriers Experienced by Public Speakers

Common Barriers Experienced by Public Speakers

Like most people, you'll have experienced situations where you've held back from saying certain things or starting conversations. It can happen with people you know well and with people you don't. Some of this is due to a lack of skill set – simply not knowing how to start or handle a conversation. But there's another factor that holds many people back and that's fear. Perhaps you don't label it “fear”. Perhaps you call it “uncertainty”, or maybe you pass the moment off because it “just doesn't seem right”. However you justify it though, it is one or another form of fear that is presenting itself and stopping you.

It could be the worry about what other people might think. It may be concern about looking stupid or making a mistake. Or it could be fear of rejection. After all, you're not holding back because you're worried people will accept you with open arms are you? So what is fear and what can you do to change the “fear feeling” and get to a point where you're comfortable taking action?

Fear is an emotional reaction to a situation you are in or thinking about. Your thoughts about the situation dictate how you feel or the emotions you experience, and that determines the action you take (or don't take). In turn, the quality of the action you take determines the result you get, which feeds back into the thoughts you associate with the situation in future. For example, you're likely to feel good about a meeting if you're excited about the information you're going to share. Enthusiasm means you are likely to perform very well and get a good result. Next time a similar meeting comes up you're going to be very positive about it because of past results. Of course the same is true of the things you fear. When you think about something going badly you don't feel great about the situation and are unlikely to perform to the best of your abilities. 

Fear is not real. It is an emotional reaction that you do to yourself under certain circumstances. This could be either when something is actually happening or when you think about something that might happen in the future. Your emotional pattern or reaction is based on out-of-date experiences from a time when you didn't have all the resources you have today. In most cases, fears were developed when you were a child in situations that caused you distress. As a child you did not have the ability, the voice or the logical reasoning to stand up for yourself or deal fully with situations.

Scientists believe we are only born with two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. That means that all the other fears you've developed over time are learned – through observing what happens to other people, watching television, reading books and, of course, your own life experiences. It is your thoughts that cause your anxieties and fears, so a great starting point to overcoming those fears is to develop a better awareness of your own thoughts and emotions.

Remember not to let fear stop you making progress or taking action. Yes, you may need to reduce the fear level down to a point where you feel you can push on and take action. Many people take action regardless of fear because they know they really want the outcome. I once heard someone say that courage is mastery of fear and not the absence of fear – something worth remembering.

Finally, notice when thoughts drag you to the past or project you into the future and become aware of that – just notice it. You will probably be surprised how often it happens when you start observing. Focusing on the present moment will help retrain your mind to do this past and future projection less frequently. We associate different feelings with different words, and just quietly and calmly saying the word “relax” to yourself a few times can really help your body start that process. Fear doesn't exist when you are relaxed. 

Fear of Rejection

One of the biggest reasons people don't speak up or ask for something or talk to somebody they don't know is fear of rejection. This stems from not knowing how to handle what appeared to be rejection, if it happened, and goes back to childhood for most people. As a child, when you get into trouble, you can't defend your position because it's an adult, teacher or parent, telling you off. You just have to take it: feeling humiliated and embarrassed. As an adult though, you can stand your own ground in a calm, confident and friendly manner. You no longer have to fear vulnerability from rejection.

When approaching someone to start a conversation, fear of rejection returns in the form of the fear of getting a bad response. But how rational is that fear? If the person you're talking to is shy, they might ignore you or look away, but that's down to their own shyness not you. If they're confident, they'll probably engage with you or at least answer you. It's highly unlikely that you're going to get a bad response in either situation. 

The best way to overcome a fear of rejection is to add two new skills to your skill set: how to approach and what to say. You also need to develop your mindset around rejection and realize that, even if it happens, it is not you being rejected. Instead, it is your actions, your views or your ideas. If an idea, action or view is rejected, it doesn't mean you are wrong: it just means the other person has a different point of view, which may be based on the mindset and place that person is in at that point in time. 

Fear of People's Perception

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like every single person is looking at you? Some people take this to the extreme and become highly sensitive and embarrassed about walking into any public situation, imagining that the whole room is looking at them and judging them. No doubt you've already heard this said before ...People have got far too much going on in their own lives to be worried about what you're doing or what you're getting up to. Nobody is thinking about you as much as you think they are!

Even so, when you walk into a room, some people are bound to look up. Does that mean everyone is looking at you and disapproving of you? Actually, what is going on here is something quite different. It's human nature to look up or glance over, regardless of who's just come into the room. It's one of our inbuilt defence mechanisms to protect us from danger when something comes into our environment. “Friend or foe?” It's a subconscious reaction to ensure the coast is clear. There could be other explanations too. Maybe people are looking round as you enter simply because they are waiting to meet someone. Of all the reasons people might glance up, 99.9% of the time it will have nothing whatsoever to do with you! 

Make sure you pay attention to your inner voice and the things you are saying to yourself. Ask yourself “Are these things constructive and moving me in the direction I want to go or is there another way of looking at this?” You have to imagine things going well. You have to imagine people liking what I was doing. 

When you worry too much about what other people think, you are in real danger of missing out on what you could achieve. You, too, can change your beliefs about yourself and be amazed at how you can transform your life and results in a short period of time. 

Fear of talking to strangers

Most of us grow up with an inbuilt negativity towards speaking to strangers. During your formative years, your parents may have warned you to stay away from strangers, for instance. Maybe those messages still affect how you feel and act in certain situations today.

There is a limit to how much you can grow as a person or grow your success and happiness in life with the people you currently know. The simple fact is – most of your future success and personal growth depends on people you do not yet know. If you can work on changing your mindset and how you feel about talking to strangers, you will open up a whole world of new opportunities for yourself.

Anybody you start speaking to could end up being an employer, a customer or a lifetime friend. You need to be open to communication, whether in “random situations”, like a bookshop, a coffee shop, the supermarket or a sporting event, or in business situations, such as a conference, training course or seminar. There are so many opportunities out there once you start expanding your horizons and your contact base to include the people that you don't (yet) know. 

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