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Free Speech Lesson


“This tragedy is not going to stop Boston,” said Thomas Menino, the city’s outgoing mayor. “We are Boston. We are one community and we will not let terror take us over.”

Now for you. What are you most afraid of?shutterstock_130246655

People’s Almanac Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, et al. reports on a survey:

What are you most afraid of?

Speaking before a group 41%
Heights 32%
Insects and bugs 22%
Financial problems 22%
Deep water 22%
Sickness 19%
Death 19%
Flying 15%

This survey obtained more than one response per person. It was an unaided survey—no hints to influence the respondents.

When the same question was asked on an “aided basis,” which means the respondents are given a list of probable fears to select from, more than 90% selected speaking before a group.

Fear of another terrorist attack, fear of making a speech before a group, fear of speaking in English—the physical symptoms are the same in the stomach, mouth, skin and breathing.

What causes this virtually universal fear? The simplest explanation is that when you stand up to speak to a group, you see a gigantic force out there. All those people. You  feel like it’s them against you. A primal physical safety switch clicks on. The central nervous system sends an extra jolt of adrenaline to help you meet this challenge.

It’s the same adrenaline rush and the same question that your ancestors faced back in the Stone Age when they suddenly came face-to-face with a saber-tooth tiger. Fight or flight? Do they stay there and fight or do they run away as fast as they can? No matter what their decision, they needed all the adrenaline they could get.

You are not alone if you suffer fear of speaking in public. It happens to everyone. It’s simply part of being human.

But hey, we don’t overcome fear by wishing it were gone. Three steps are great in  overcoming fear. Here’s the first:


Admit to yourself that your fear of speaking in public is hurting you. It is limiting your opportunity for recognition and advancement. It is holding you back. It is embarrassing. It has no advantages, only disadvantages.

In the next blog will be the next two steps!

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