Why are you so afraid of going out there, raising your hand and telling the world about your thing? How much has it stopped you in life already? How much it will?

The fear of speaking in public is a fact of life. According to various studies it may affect as many as 75% of people. That’s a lot. Did you ever hear the term the silent majority? If you are reading this then you could be one of them.

You sit back and watch others take their shot at success, while you tell yourself: maybe next time.

You miss out on opportunities thrown at you, because you can’t stand the spotlight. You avoid being in the center of attention for those few precious moments which usually are all it takes. To get that promotion. To get that job. To sell that business idea. To create a positive impact on your life. You sit back and watch others take their shot at success, while you tell yourself: maybe next time.

That sucks.

Fortunately for you, that fear can be greatly reduced to an extent that allows you to perform and stop hindering your life and career. Interested? Read on.

Why, Not What

Contrary to popular approach you are guaranteed to find online I will not supply you with a long list of tips or practices on how to combat this fear. Why not? Because I believe it is much more important for you to first understand WHY this is happening, not WHAT to do. At least in the beginning.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to focus on the why first. It sure is tempting to quickly jump into solutions, but without understanding the root cause of the problem you might find yourself mindlessly copying the online gurus’ advice and spinning wheels. After all we are all different. What works for one, might not work for the other. But what we all share is the mutual cause of the problem. The origin.

And sometimes all it takes to overcome your fear is to get to know it better. To understand why it is there in the first place. Let’s start with this and then build on it in the future.

Fear of the unknown

You had probably heard many times before that you fear what you don’t understand. It’s difficult to understand something you don’t know much about. And since we have already established that you were unlikely to have had any form of communication or public speaking class on your way through the educational system, then you most certainly don’t know much about the topic.

You were never exposed to this dilemma. You never discussed this in-depth with anyone. You moved smoothly through life so far because nobody expected you to speak in public clearly, effectively and with confidence.

Now it hits you like truck and you don’t know what to do. But what if you would know more about your fear?

As noted above the first step in overcoming any fear is to understand it. Get to know it better. To be able to look at it from third person’s perspective instead of being permanently stuck in executing the patterns in your head.

So, where does the fear to speak in public come from?

Evolution.

Survival Instincts

Almost anything we do comes down to one thing. Survival. The consistency with which I find this to affect our lives is nothing short of amazing. Despite living here now, in 2016, you and I still make our decisions as we would be running around in the jungle with a spear hunting, or looking for berries. If you think about it, for an ancient male or female, life was pretty tough. I am aware that you probably think that your own life is pretty rough as you read this post sipping latte in a fancy cafe, but no. It used to be much tougher.

Back then you couldn’t really make it if you chose – some sort of ancient equivalent of – sitting alone with your earphones on, surrounded by strangers, sipping your drink. Why? Because unless these people were not strangers, you were in trouble. You would get clubbed to death, robbed, maybe even eaten. Because you were not a member of their tribe.

Yes, it used to be rough. Group membership was the key (not much has changed here to be honest). You had your tribe, you lived a good life. You were protected, nurtured and had friends.

Smooth.

Now imagine you were going to be expelled from your tribe for something you did or said. The group was going to judge you and potentially, kick you out. Mind the environment and conditions we mentioned before. What would you feel?

Threatened? Stressed? In panic?

Threat to your Survival

Sounds awfully familiar to what you feel when you are about to speak in public. Because essentially, it is the same thing. Whenever several members of your tribe look at you at the same time, it feels dangerous. Are they evaluating you? What are they thinking? Is your status in the group threatened? Have you done something wrong and are not a good fit for the tribe anymore? Will you die out there alone?

Your brain, which did not develop as fast as the civilization around you (please don’t take this personally, we all have the same problem) still evaluates those situations this way. It sees it as a threat to your survival. And what would be the best way to make sure you never end up in such a threat in the first place?

That’s right. You avoid it. You stay away from any situations where you might find yourself being looked at by several members of your tribe. You never say anything. You never do anything that makes you stand out in some way. That’s risky. Being judged and evaluated. Because who knows how this could end up?

But your brain didn’t notice that things have changed since then.

Your Tribe Has Changed

First of all, look around. Times changed and with them how we evaluate members of our tribe changed as well. It used to be risky to stand out. Now it’s risky to blend in. Yet you still go through life passing on the opportunities that are stacking ahead of you. You never raise your hand when you know the answer to the question. You never volunteer for that extra project. Never stand out by saying or doing something that matters.

You think you will avoid the judgment and rejection but it’s the opposite. You will get rejected in the other way. You will get classified, along with the rest of the silent majority. Tagged as average. Your tribe wants you and needs you to stand out.

That’s why your fear of standing out in public makes no sense today.

You Have Many Tribes

Next, today you are not limited to a single tribe. Your life stretches across various social circles and numerous tribes: work, family, friends, your squash buddies, your World of Warcraft guild and [insert any social circle you are part of]. Your ancestral brain didn’t know that. Back then it was all in one. Hunting, working, playing, mating and everything else was done within that single tribe. Rejection was game over. Now it’s not.

Even if you fail, it’s not over. You can start again or fall back and recuperate within the safety of another tribe.

That’s why your fear of standing out in public makes no sense today.

You are Free to Choose Your Tribe

Finally, the most critical change has occurred in how you are free to engage with other tribes. You will not get harmed or eaten alive. Quite the contrary. You can make friends with them.

You already do. Do you know people working at other companies? Do you know people who know people who know people? Have you changed jobs? Have you changed friends? Have you changed where you lived? Nowadays you are free to choose your tribes as you please. You have options. And options give you power that your ancestors didn’t have. That’s why they feared being judged.

And that’s why your fear of standing out in public makes no sense today.

Over to You

Clearly, evolutionary odds were stacked against you and me. Everything around us has changed, yet our most precious organ still makes us act as if we would be running around the jungle with a spear. He doesn’t get it is 2016. The society you live in will not reject you for standing out, but they just might, if you blend in with the silent majority. And if they do? So what? You have plenty to choose from. Find yourself a new tribe that gets your ideas and deserves your time and effort.

Your fear of standing out in public makes no sense today. What makes sense is to stop sabotaging yourself by following your ancient brain’s suggestions. He doesn’t get modern times. Do not listen.

Knowledge is power and simply by knowing where does your initial instincts come from gives you that power. Next time, when you have the opportunity, raise your hand, stand up and tell the world about your thing.

It is the safest thing to do.

Now tell me:

  • how does it feel when you are about to speak in public?
  • how will you stop listening to your out-dated tribal brain?
  • when is the next big opportunity?

Leave a comment now.

Wojciech is a trainer, teacher and life-long learner on the topic of effective communication. He believes that speaking clearly, effectively and with confidence is essential to our success and taking advantage of all life’s opportunities. READ MORE
  • It takes courage to stand out and speak in public, but only at the beginning. After each time your self-confidence is growing and people are demanding your opinion as you are the guy “who have something to say” in a positive meaning of course.

    It is not easy, but for sure it is worth the effort.

    • Absolutely. It’s a skill, like anything else. It’s learn-able. Kind of like swimming, especially if you try learning it as an adult (my story…). You start with complete paralysis and looking for excuses to stay away from water. You end up enjoying it and looking for opportunities to swim more. And speaking in public is that kind of swimming which will reap you great rewards in life.

    • Thanks for your comment by the way. It just inspired me to write a new post about speaking and swimming 🙂