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Fear

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “Fear” as:

 “A distressing emotion of alarm and agitation aroused by the expectation or realization of danger”

Some might argue that all Fear is irrational because it’s simply created in the mind as a means of dealing with the expectation of what we believe might happen. Nothing is certain; yet we create the Fear in our minds because of what we expect to occur. The trouble is that we often bring about the very situation we feared might take place by our own efforts to induce the concept of a The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Of course, others will argue that the realization of danger is perfectly rational; like when faced with the terror of the plane’s engine quitting, or a grizzly bear visiting your campsite, or the fin of a great white shark circling in open waters. But even those fears are still created in the mind’s reaction to believing the plane might crash or the bear or shark might have us for lunch. But what if the plane doesn’t crash or the bear and the shark find a better meal elsewhere? Fear in situations like those will induce in the brain a Fight or Flight response that could trigger a reaction that just might help to save your life. But if your life was never really in any danger can the Fear be justified as rational? This argument could go back and forth, and we haven’t even touched on the reality of the plane approaching the ground, or the bear or the shark actually attacking. So for the balance of this section, we’ll focus on situations where your life is not in mortal danger. 

Have you ever noticed that it’s real easy to talk to people we are not attracted to? The converse, however, is that if we are romantically, emotionally o, affectionately or sexually attracted to someone we don’t yet know, we often find it difficult to talk to them and be ourselves for the Fear of saying something dumb and looking like a fool. The irony is that they just might actually like us for who we are, but our irrational Fear of looking like a fool causes us to behave like an idiot and we often self-fulfill the prophecy of looking foolish. Right from the days when we were first teased on the schoolyard during recess we have always feared being laughed at for looking foolish. For many those days of prepubescent teasing and ridicule instilled a Fear that lasted well into adulthood and manifested itself in various facets of their lives.


~ Fear of Public Speaking

For example: right up there with spiders, snakes and mice, public speaking is one of most people’s greatest Fears - but why? Is it because they can’t memorize what needs to be said? Or is it because they don’t feel their voice is strong enough to convey the message? Or is it because they believe people will think they look like a fool? The truth is: it's probably all of that, plus a whole lot more. But it really boils down to the fact that most people Fear public speaking because they’re afraid to make a mistake or fail in front of all those people. That Fear can cause a chemical release in the body that could bring about a very real panic attack and self-fulfill their Fear of looking foolish. The truth is though, unless you tell the audience you screwed up, they will most likely never notice. You must first realize that you are the authority they came to hear speak and they are looking to you to walk and talk with confidence. If you do forget a line or say something wrong or out of order, just hold your cool and skim over the error and they will most likely never even notice. Of course, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. 


One of my very first public speaking moments came many years ago while I was working in Health and Fitness co-teaching a class on training with weights. During one of the segments while I was speaking something completely derailed my train of thought and I forgot what I was trying to say. I didn’t have the experience or the understanding at the time to know how to skim over the error so instead I compounded the damage by focusing on my failure and lost my emotional footing as I fell into the deep end of the panic attack pool. Starting in the tips of my toes, the warm rush of embarrassment raced upward, surging through my body, until it manifested itself in a pulse of panicked humiliation in my crimson face. Luckily my co-teacher threw me a safety line when she stepped in and took over during my catatonic vacation of the mind, but the damage was done and my embarrassment was complete. Thankfully, I have never suffered another panic attack like that, but most likely because I learned (very quickly) that had I not initially let on that I had a brain cramp and had simply skimmed over my error the students attending the class probably would never have noticed.

In my next career of real estate, I taught classes on contract writing and contract negotiations to new agents just embarking on their new careers. I had a lot of fun teaching those classes by engaging the students and interjecting a lot of humor to have some fun with those gathered to listen. Inevitably someone in almost every class would raise their hand and say, “I’m sorry, this is probably a stupid question but …” At which time I’d reply, “There are no stupid questions – just stupid people”, which always got a laugh out of the crowd. The truth is though, that the only stupid questions are those that you do not ask. How else are you going to learn something you don’t yet know unless you ask a question? Many people don’t like to ask questions in a public forum for the Fear that the question might be thought of as dumb and they will look foolish for asking, but an old Chinese Proverb reminds us that:

“He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool for lifetime”

                               ~ Chinese Proverb

Engaging with the audience creates a rapport and a connection that can help set them at ease and further involve them in the material. It also helps to set the speaker at ease through that same connection. There are still times when I lose my spot and must find a quick means of changing course or otherwise skimming over my mistake, but once we all feel comfortable in each other’s company those mistakes are far less sensational and easier to get past without making a scene. So, the next time you get to watch anyone speak in front of others see if you can pick up their subtle pauses or gear shifts that might indicate they just derailed their train of thought. They might pause for a sip of water or simply change direction in what they’re saying. If they’re good, practiced and smooth the change might simply seem to be part of the program, but the truth is, they may have just screwed up. The difference between them and those people who lock up in similar situations (like I did during my health and fitness class) is that they know how to walk and talk with a quiet confidence that at least gives the illusion that what just happened was a designed part of the program and exactly what they planned to do.


~ Confidence Overcomes Fear

“Employ in everything a certain casualness which conceals art and creates the impression that what is done and said is accomplished without effort and without its being thought about. It is from this, in my opinion that grace largely derives”.

                           ~ Baldassare Castiglione

The experience of public speaking is just an example; but the concept can be carried through to just about any other moment of our lives. Just walk and talk with a quiet confidence that says you’ve been there before. Like the line NFL Commentators use during football games when a player scores a touchdown and goes into one of those outrageous touchdown celebrations that says:

“Act like you’ve been there before.”

                          ~NFL Commentators

In other words, “show a little character”.

This is basically the same great advice from two very different sources. The bottom line is: walk and talk with a quiet confidence and respect should follow you at every turn. Whether things go wrong or things go right act like you expected that result and move on accordingly.

Confidence can be sexy and attractive. It can add a charismatic quality to your persona that will draw people towards you. But be careful as there is a fine line between confidence and cocky … and cocky will take you farther away from sexy and attractive than you could ever want to be.

A little trick to sidestep that fatal crossover into cocky arrogance is to walk and talk your quiet confidence with a friendly smile and inviting warmth towards others. Without it you will mostly come across as cold and standoffish while projecting an air that you’re better than others, but with that warm smile and friendliness towards others you will draw them into your circle of confidence and most likely both enjoy each other’s company more than you would otherwise. We define this as having a smooth or quiet confidence that says you know what you’re doing and have no need to place others above or below you in any situation. And it’s not too difficult to achieve – just treat others as peers at all times and your confidence will shine through.

Of course, no one wishes to ever look foolish, but sometimes being a little goofy and showing some vulnerability can also draw people to you as well. Quite a few years ago I was out at a local pub with a few friends and one of them had brought along her roommate who was a beautiful girl with a very nice smile … although she almost never used it. She sat on a barstool straight up with perfect posture and almost never made a move. She was so concerned with making a mistake and what people thought of her that she was exceptionally boring and was no fun to be around. The result was that no one engaged her in the evening and she ended up just sitting there. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. She was so worried about what people thought of how she looked and behaved that she ended up looking and behaving like no fun and no one talked to her. The truth is though, that had she loosened up and smiled a bit, maybe even slouched on her barstool or blew a little beer out of her nose when she laughed, maybe she would have had a better time and even made a friend or two. The point is that sometimes we try so hard to protect an image of ourselves that we prohibit who we really are from shining through. A little vulnerability can be a good thing so remember to:

“Sing like your alone in the shower and dance like no one is watching.”


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