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Fear of Public Speaking? Why it's Totally Sane & What to Do About it!

September, 16 2019

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Dr. Brynn
Written By
Dr. Brynn

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking at Work

Recently, I was asked this question in an interview: 

Q: Why do so many people struggle with speaking publicly at work or in their career?

A: People are generally exceptionally smart about these types of things; they know intuitively what neuroscientists can corroborate: 80% of all neural networks are involved in social processing (assessing others, basically) and 70% of all the thoughts a person is having at any moment are negative, evaluative, critical and/or judgmental.

In other words, if people are paying attention to you, 70% of the time they are indeed and in fact judging you as much and as harshly as you fear. No wonder then that the fear of speaking up, speaking publicly, or presenting formally is enough to keep people awake for nights or weeks before a big presentation and put the fear of God into people’s hearts and minds, especially at work, where the stakes are high.

This reminds me of an old Seinfeld joke I sometimes botch for people in proper ‘Tim-the-tool-man-Taylor’ fashion and re-tell on stages during a couple of my talks (it goes something like this): “There was survey research done in America that found out people’s greatest number one fear in the world is ‘public speaking’. Their number two fear? Death…. So, basically, you people would rather be in the coffin than giving the Eulogy?!”

Seinfeld is a comedic genius precisely because he is such an astute student of our social realities: fear of public, social rejection turns out to be the greatest fear of all. This is corroborated by the way, by all the latest brainscience on the matter. As example, one of my former doctoral supervisors is an expert on bullying as well as ‘social pain’ and has shown through empirical research that social rejection and social pain aren’t just processed through the brain’s physical pain centers – but that these things hurt just as much.

You know that old children’s saying ‘Stick and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me”…? It couldn’t be further from the truth: sticks, stones, name-calling and social rejection are all processed in the same pain-processing area of the brain…and feel the same.

All this to say: it’s absolutely completely reasonable, sane, rational, logical and frankly downright clearheaded to effectively be petrified of speaking publicly at work. All the more so because saying the wrong thing (or saying it the wrong way) at work entails some very high potential downsides – social rejection, isolation, ostracization, or ill-acceptance at work means more than out-group identification and de-tribalization – one’s livelihood, family security, future, career prospects, psychological safety, belongingness, and reputation are potentially at stake.

Q: So what can we do about it? Is there a way to increase your willingness to speak up, take the limelight, make yourself heard at work?


I teach a very popular course entitled 'Influence & Leadership Presence' that is aimed at building these exact skills: the full-day training helps you develop your executive presence, your confidence, dominance, and mastery so that you will be a more influential leader and contributive colleague.

Join us for the next run - October 4th!

Sign up here: www.bit.ly/DrBrynnInfluence

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