What the Dentist Taught Me About the Fear of Public Speaking

As a public Speaking coach I don’t have the same fear of public Speaking that many people have, but this does not mean that I don’t know irrational fear. While I do get nervous before a major speaking gig, I do not suffer the anxiety that many people do. I suffer anxiety in other scary situations — namely visiting the dentist!

Nine months ago I broke a filling in one of my teeth. While it did not hurt it was uncomfortable and was hard to clean. Instead of going and getting it fixed I put it off hoping that the problem would somehow magically fix itself. Strangely enough it didn’t. So after 9 months of avoidance behaviour, this morning I had the tooth repair.

As I was lying in the chair, feet raised to the ceiling, I could feel my level of anxiety increase. The dentist had not even entered the room and I was feeling nervous. When the dentist arrived and took a look in my mouth, he calmly said, ‘Lets make you numb and fix it up.’ His calm words scared the life out of me. I started to squirm in the chair. My breathing became shallow and erratic. I closed my eyes to ensure that I did not see the massive needle that he was using. I had started to panic.

It was then that it dawned on me that this is how many people feel when they have to give a speech. So I started to control my breathing as I tell my clients to. After a minute or so, I was feeling much better. Then, as hte deentist was examining my other teeth, I started to realise that this was not so bad after all. No I do not like needles or the dentist, I realsied that the dentist was there for my benefit. He wasn’t passing judgement – he was just there as part of the process. He didn’t want me to have a broken filling or to need any other work. he wanted me to have healthy teeth, and set about me getting them.

As a nervous speaker, our relationship with the audience is pretty much the same as a nervous patient with his dentist. The audience wants to see us doing well. After all, they don’t want a presentation that is boring. And like the dentist, they understand that sometimes things go wrong. Despite your best efforts, sometimes you will lose your place when speaking, sometimes you will drop your notes or sometimes you will get the order messed up. In the same way that a dentist knows that despite your best efforts, sometimes you will need a filling, a clean or a broken filling replaced. That’s just a part of life!

So please don’t be so harsh on yourself if you are a nervous speaker. Everyone gets nervous or anxious in one situation or another. The trick is to realise that you can over come the fear and emerge the other side better for it. When you do you will be able experience the situation with less anxiety, and who knows, maybe even enjoy it one day.

‘Til next time

Darren Fleming

(with a great smile)


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  • http://www.TotalCommunicationsCoach.com Joan Curtis

    Dear Darren,

    Thank you for the reminder that we all experience fear in different places. Indeed, the dentist’s office is a place where many of us feel that sinking stomach.

    As for public speaking, I agree that controlling your breathing helps. But, I’d also suggest making the unknown, known. Learning as much as you can about the people you’ll be speaking to and the place where you’ll be speaking is a great start. Also, I suggest to my clients that they practice their presentation so many times they no longer need to rely on notes. That means they reach a point where they know their speech and they can use their brain to guide them in response to the audience. It creates a much more relaxed and seemingly flexible presentation.

    I recently posted some ideas for giving your voice power on my blog. Take a look and give me your comments. http://www.totalcommunicationscoach.com/blog/
    I’d also like to invite you and others reading this to join the Public Speaking network on LinkedIn. http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/77377/3809E543793B

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