2014 Event Announcements
Flirt, Freeze, Flight & Fight:
The 4 F's Of Public Speaking Fear
I bet you are wondering how "flirt" comes into it and whether it involves batting your eye lashes at a big bad audience? Well… it can!
Unless you've kept up with social psychology, you may have only heard of the Flight Or Fight Response. Fear is now deemed far more complicated and like all good moderns, multitasks under pressure!
And of course it is that perceived pressure or threat which activates this ancient response. Trouble is, once adrenaline is released in the body, it triggers a series of responses designed to keep you safe. These responses are similar in all animals and tend to follow the sequence of freeze, flight and fight.
Perception Of Threat
In the wide spectrum of phobias and fears, public speaking still ranks in the top 3. If you don't suffer from public speaking fear or avoidance, no matter; you still have the Flight Or Fight Response.
Anything you perceive as a threat triggers this response and can include: being confronted with a daily mountain of paperwork, a drunken yobbo at 2am or a speech in front of 5,000 people. Anything that gets your heart racing, voice shaking or temperature rising.
Interestingly, your brain does not discern a difference between being mugged or introducing yourself as a newbie at a meeting. If you perceive that either or both these things are a threat, then your body will respond accordingly - just doing it's job really.
The Flirt Response
In our sophisticated modern world, the suggestively named Flirt Response can have greater success than freeze, flight or fight. The "Flirt Response" could also be called "Play" or "Fawn" and refers to behaviour that distracts the threat through helpfulness, silliness or attractiveness. It downgrades your status to "no perceived threat." Very useful survival tactic for avoiding confrontation, aggression or even rejection. It's often seen as "sucking up" and works really well in certain situations. I remember using this one as a child when confronted with bullies.
The body language of the Flirt Response includes: taking up less room, softening vocal tone and volume and diminishing body presence. Conversely if safe enough, hair tossing, lip licking, lots of wide-open mouthed laughter and smiling, increased physical closeness, extended open-eyed contact and "cheeky" playful comments to test the boundaries.
The Freeze Response
The degree of freezing relates to the degree of perceived threat and can look like "playing dead" or "hiding in plain sight." This response is designed to reduce the attention that movement attracts. Freezing is useful initially as it provides opportunity to assess a situation before deciding to flee, flight or flirt. However if you are speaking in public, freezing for too long is not a success strategy. Turn it into a pause and intentionally use it to gather your thoughts and kickstart equilibrium.
The body language of the Freeze Response includes: a frozen posture with stiffened or locked up muscles, reduced, awkward or "mis-timed" gestures, wide eyes, hands covering the face, flushing, holding the breath or tentative steps. The voice may also rise up in an uncertain tone, be soft or even seem to disappear (throat muscles tighten and saliva reduces). The best way to counter freezing when speaking is to take some kind of ACTION like drinking some water, checking your notes, taking a breath and intentionally making eye contact with someone supportive. By unlocking your breath and muscles you restore flow.
The Flight Response
"Run away to fight another day" is a wonderful survival strategy. However, it doesn't look too good or help to build interpersonal communication skills if you simply "take off" in the middle of a speech or conversation. So if a situation is something you are wiling to face, notice your body language and shift it toward commitment to tell your body/mind that you are staying not fleeing. Turn with full engagement, lift and open your face, take a "I can handle it" stance, breathe and clear your mind!
The body language of the Flight Response reveals our desire to flee by subtle direction changes that indicate we wish or intend to vamoose! We reorient our bodies (notice your feet and shoulders) toward doorways. Interestingly, if you have ever felt bored or badgered by someone at a party, hallway or street corner, you will shift your body toward an escape route. This often looks like a side-on turn with greatly reduced eye contact and vocal response. "Uh huh"… eyes flick… feet slide away. You see it clearly in children who want to get away from you!
The Fight Response
Generally, people and animals will choose to fight only as a final resort. It often begins as a display of anger. Anger occurs when we perceive our boundaries have been crossed or threatened. I have seen public speakers get angry with their audience. My my, don't try this at home or in public because it just doesn't work; your listeners are likely to first go into their own freeze response, then flight or even fight (think of hecklers in a group). Don't even think about flirting.
The body language of the Fight Response includes a tense, prepared stance, a lifted chin, clenched fists, fixed and narrowed eyes, heavier breathing and a taunting, clipped tone or even no words at all if all sense has the building. If you are going to fight make sure it's for a good cause. If it's inappropriate, well you just might want to literally take a step back. Break your habitual body/mind anger pattern by moving differently. Restore an even breath, pause and focus on your purpose in speaking, not your temporary egoic reaction.
Yeah I know, easy for me to say, writing this all snuggled up in my cute home office. But believe me, when I've had a combo of PMT and unwilling workshop participants who want to make a scene, I've had to pull out all stops to remember "Hey! I'm a Professional!", even though I sure as hell didn't feel it while my fingers were curling.
Restoring Your Equilibrium
Restore equilibrium through breathing evenly ("in two, three; out, two, three") taking action and applying logical thinking. Your body/mind will downgrade the threat level and your fear, anxiety or nerves will calm. This means your muscles relax, your eyes stop darting about, your breath slows and your mind becomes calm and able to process multiple sources of information. You can see how useful knowing how to restore equilibrium is for communicating with ease and under pressure!
Speaking Is Powerful
Words and ideas are powerful and can be just as threatening and fear-provoking as physical violence. Remember what happened when the Catholic Church felt threatened by the notion that earth was NOT the centre of the universe? People were killed for even suggesting it. When you speak in public you are taking on the mantle of leadership in that moment, whether it's the dinner table or a stadium of 50,000.
Be aware of the responsibility of expressing your words and ideas. And be aware of your right to express them and be seen and heard. Do your best to not trample or infringe on the rights of others. And finally, be aware of your personal reaction to fear or threat and take the steps to handling it. You will be on your way to confidently taking on the world! Taa daa!
For more information on the Freeze Response, here's links to my earlier article and video, "Rabbit In The Headlights" (Feb 2012.)
For help with dealing with the "4 F's", enrol in my Overcoming Fear & Stage Fright coaching program.
Time To Take Your Cool, Calm & Connected Pulse!
Using the Calm Barometer below, rate how cool, calm and connected you feel right now between 1 and 10...
When you speak, lead and live with natural ease and authenticity, you will be closer to 10.
When you feel scattered, distracted or unconfident, you will be closer to 1.
What To Do: If you are "7" or above today, notice what's working well and keep doing it. Accept that daily variations in confidence and clarity are normal. If you are below "7" today, listen to our free recording of the 5 minute Inner Calm exercise. You can also download our 2 free A4 Posters of Inner Calm and the Calm Barometer for your wall.
© 2011, Geraldine Barkworth. Reprintable when full credit is given & whole newsletter is reproduced. Contact Geraldine Barkworth on +61 (2) 6685 1917 or email@example.com
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