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Knowing How This Fear Started Won’t Help, Taking Action Will
(Day 27, Speaking Palooza 2019)

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July is Freedom from Fear of Speaking Month and to celebrate, I’ve invited a team of speaking experts to share their best tips and tricks for improving your speaking skills and overcoming speaking anxiety.

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Knowing How This Fear Started Won’t Help, Taking Action Will

By Guest Expert Marla Genova

I’ve heard this hundreds of times – you want to get to the root of your fear and hope it will solve the problem. Unfortunately, it won’t, but let’s explore how your first negative public speaking experience may continue to affect you.

Knowing How This Fear Started Won’t Help, Taking Action Will

Janet Esposito wrote in her book, Getting Over Stage Fright: A new approach to resolving your fear of public speaking and performing, this explanation:

Many of us can clearly remember the overwhelming experience of feeling intensely threatened and unsafe while speaking or performing – facing the threat of feeling trapped in a situation we cannot easily exit and the possibility of public humiliation. We experienced a disarming loss of control of our inner world – something that is not easily forgotten, on conscious or unconscious level.

“The body stores the memory of this first experience of overwhelm and loss of control. Whenever we face a situation that has some association to the original traumatic event, the whole biochemical response is reactivated, including a flood of stress hormones, in a post-traumatic stress response.

“The natural reaction to a post-traumatic stress response is to become even more frightened – even re-traumatized – by the body’s intense arousal and the accompanying feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.

“We assess this arousal as dangerous and end up frightened by our own thoughts, images, feelings, and body sensations, which lead to feelings of intense fear and loss of control.

“When the feelings and body sensations are at their strongest, it feels like you are spinning out of control and your internal state is heading rapidly down a steep and treacherous slope.

“Learning to be with your fearful feelings and body sensations will support you in not being afraid of them when they do arise and will help to further heal and transform any traumatic memory that may be stored in your body.

Beating yourself up over your past may seem like deserved punishment that will somehow push you into action. If you’re defining yourself by your past, you’re going to create more of your past. If you repeatedly look at your false negative thoughts and outcomes, the “evidence” will feel very real and prevent you from taking action.

One helpful way to start taking action is to be held accountable with your commitment to overcome this fear. Accountability will eliminate the time and effort you spend on unproductive behavior, leading to procrastination.

Creating and establishing accountability doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Your accountability partner could be your friend, colleague, boss, spouse or even a social media contact you made online.

On a structured timeline, you can report on each and every step. Accountability partners will help you reach your goals more quickly and help build a more strengthened version of yourself.

Here’s an example of a plan of taking action:
toastmasters meeting

  • Look online for a forum or a private Facebook group with people who share the same fear.
  • Find a local support group or a group in general (search on Meetup.com) that may require you to speak in front of a small group or introduce yourself.
  • Visit your local Toastmasters club just to check it out. You don’t have to speak or join. Simply go and observe to determine if the club is a good fit for you. If not, and it seems like people don’t understand the fear of speaking, there may be other clubs nearby to check out.
  • The next step at Toastmasters are brief impromptu speaking exercises called “Table Topics”. Membership is usually not required to participate in Table Topics.
  • Sign up officially to become a member. The rates are very reasonable and a 6-month commitment at most clubs.
  • Start with the smaller roles and work your way up to giving speeches. You are able to move at your own pace and nothing is forced upon you.

Take on the smaller roles that will hold you most accountable such as setting up the room, bringing supplies, or taking meeting minutes. If you know that fellow members are counting on you, you are much more likely to attend consistently.

You may even find an accountability partner at Toastmasters that shares a similar goal. Most clubs offer a mentor for members.

Then take it out into the “real world”

  • Contribute in a work, academic, or volunteer meeting. Ask a question or make a statement. Increase your participation at each meeting.
  • Offer to do something at work, school or in your community that involves you taking on a leadership role of speaking.

This may seem overwhelming at first, but in small steps, your confidence will build and your fear will fade.
Now is the time to change. The key is to start before you think you’re “ready”!

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About Marla Genova

Marla GenovaMarla Genova’s mission is to help others overcome their fear of public speaking, knowing firsthand how debilitating it was most of her life. She’s been facilitating support groups since 2006. After achieving her ICF Certified Master Coach certification, she founded Socially Speaking LLC for social and speaking anxiety services.

Marla facilitates a powerful 2 day Getting Over Stage Fright Workshop, which focuses solely on fear, rather than presentation tips, based on the founder’s, Janet Esposito, two bestselling selling books and CD: In The SpotLight: Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing; Getting Over Stage Fright and Guided Exercises to Create a Calm and Confident State of Mind, Body, & Spirit While Speaking or Performing.


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Want more information on how to overcome the fear of speaking? Check out the first post in Speaking Palooza 2019: The ultimate guide.


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About the author

This post is part of Speaking Palooza. Created by Carma Spence, author of the award-winning, bestselling book Public Speaking Super Powers, it is a month-long event bringing together a wide variety of speaking experts from throughout the English-speaking world to help you overcome the fear of speaking and become a better speaker.

Please see the "About" section above for more information about today's featured expert.