Tuesday’s post on presentation techniques brought up a storm of comments about phobias and panic attacks. Below, I’ve not only given you information on the top phobias in America, I’ve also given you my own techniques for dealing with “Speaker’s Nerves.”
What is a phobia?
A phobia is a completely irrational fear. Sufferers know they are behaving oddly. But that doesn’t lessen the fear – in fact, it can make it worse.
Phobias are a subconscious reaction — logic and rationality don’t help. In short, it is a flaw in their perception of reality.
I found Tuesday’s comments interesting enough that I looked up the 10 Most Common Phobias in America. Did you know that the rest of the world fears different things than Americans? Some of the “World Top 10” — Fear of snakes, darkness, another person, dogs and the dentist — did not make the U.S. Top 10 Phobia list, which is shown below.
Here are the 10 most common phobias reported by both men and women.
1. Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders. There is no escape from these eight-legged beasts. They live in our houses, gardens, and even our places of work. True arachnophobes are even scared of pictures of spiders.
2. Social phobia – the fear of social situations. More than simple shyness. This is an extreme fear of being scrutinised by others, or humiliated by one’s own actions. This is usually where the fear of public speaking falls.
3. Aerophobia – the fear of flying. In a plane, obviously. Often paired with claustrophobia.
4. Agoraphobia – the fear of inescapable situations. The result is anxiety and panic attacks, which can easily become self-perpetuating. Extreme agoraphobes are confined to their own home, which is the only place they consider to be safe.
5. Claustrophobia – the fear of confined spaces. Sufferers will stay well away from elevators, trains and tiny cupboards under the stairs. May cause panic attacks if escape is not possible.
6. Acrophobia – the fear of heights. Sufferers may have panic attacks and put themselves in genuine danger if they can’t get down. Often confused with vertigo – which is merely a dizzy or spinning sensation and not necessarily caused by heights.
7. Emetophobia – the fear of vomit. No one likes the sight or smell of vomit, but these sufferers will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid the stuff.
8. Carcinophobia – the fear of cancer. Although it’s not contagious, a carcinophobe will believe he has cancer because he touched someone else with the disease.
9. Brontophobia – the fear of thunderstorms. Also known as astraphobia. Child and adult sufferers alike hide away from thunder and lightning, lest they suffer panic attacks and have difficulty breathing.
10. Necrophobia – the fear of death. Derived from the fear of being buried alive, after early excavations of coffins showed scratch marks made by trapped victims. Also relates to coffins and corpses.
Which one of the above surprised you the most? For me it was #7. Fear of vomit? Huh. I can only speculate on what parents do when they have that one. Excuse me, little three week old Johnny, but you need to clean that hurlage up yourself…
Confession Time: I have a phobia.
I’ve been deathly afraid of heights since college. (Yes, I have an inciting incident for my handy-dandy phobia – #6 on the Top 10 List.)
I’m going to make y’all a deal, right here in the middle of this Thoughtful Thursday post at More Cowbell: If you give me the scoop on your phobias and irrational fears in today’s comments, I’ll tell you the whole story of why I’ve been afraid of heights since about 1989.
In the meantime, I’ll address the speaker’s nerves I talked about in Monday’s post. My fear of public speaking is somewhat strong, but it doesn’t remotely approach the panic attack
level our pal Angela described in the comments.
If you go with the phobia definition at the beginning of this post, that means my fears about public speaking are still at the conscious level where I can make decisions about them. It hasn’t grown enough to go underground and hide in my subconscious (like heights).
Below are some tricks I’ve used to help me deal with speaker’s nerves. I recommend you practice them pre-presentation and in the mirror at home.
- Give yourself a “nervous object” to hold in your hand – I like dry erase markers because they have a tip to press on without the noise of clicking a pen. Use your non-writing hand. This allows you to channel some of your shakes and nerves into the object. Even if you’re white-knuckling it, no one has to know because it’s down by your side.
- Set a focal point. Even if this is a friendly face that will smile and nod at you, it helps. Get as close to the back of the room as possible for your focal point/person.
- Have a glass of water handy. Sip slowly and often. Use the water as a prop to help you pause and get your nerves under control.
- Count your breaths. I do this for about a minute prior to most of my presentations if it’s a new environment or topic. Focusing on the counting starts to slow your breathing down.
- Use a podium. I used to always present at a podium at big meetings and use it like a nervous object to focus the shakiness in my voice. Pressing my hands into the podium kept them from shaking. When the hands didn’t shake, my voice didn’t either.
I’m interested to discover whether you use any of these “speaker’s nerves” tricks already…do they work for you? Do you have any phobias (and what are they)? Have you always had it, or was there a starting point that you remember? I see lots of writers fight the fear of success or a fear of failure. If you’re a writer, can you address that one too?
I hope you’re getting ready for a fabulous weekend!