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Scared Speechless: 9 Ways to Overcome Your Fears and Captivate Your Audience

Scared Speechless: 9 Ways to Overcome Your Fears and Captivate Your Audience

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Scared Speechless is coauthored by talent rep and 2015 Oscar® publicist Steve Rohr and Dr. Shirley Impellizzeri, a clinical psychologist who has appeared on The Doctors, Hollywood Exes, Workout, and Dr. Drew.

It really is true: What you say and how you say it speaks volumes about your professional promise and leadership potential. Whether it's giving an impromptu sales pitch or keynoting a major business conference, public speaking can make you or break you.

Scared Speechless takes a powerful and unique approach that sets it apart from other public-speaking guides. For the first time ever, the psychology behind our fears is used to explain and tame our anxiety. That's the science. Combine it with the art of organizing and delivering a spectacular speech, and you have the freshest, most entertaining, and effective public speaking book available. This easy-to-use book contains:
  • Funny, accessible, and practical wisdom you can start using immediately.
  • Real-world examples and humorous anecdotes.
  • Advice that applies to every kind of speech in every kind of setting to every kind of audience.

    Believe it or not, many screen legends still fear public speaking. Just because you've won an Oscar® doesn't make you immune to the jitters!

  • Related collections and offers

    Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781632650429
    Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
    Publication date: 03/21/2016
    Edition description: First Edition
    Pages: 224
    Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.80(d)

    About the Author

    Steve Rohr is an entertainment public relations executive and college professor. He is founder and president of Lexicon Public Relations and serves as a publicist for the Academy Awards.® Steve's involvement in public speaking education spans two decades. For three years, he cohosted a psychology radio show with Dr. Shirley Impellizzeri. Steve earned his BA in communication and political science from Concordia College (Moorhead) and his MA in communication from Arizona State University. This is his first book.

    Dr. Shirley Impellizzeri is one of America's most recognized Latina psychologists. She is a frequent guest expert on shows such as Dr. Drew and The Doctors, and cohosted a psychology radio show with Steve Rohr. She maintains a thriving private practice in Beverly Hills, California. She earned her PhD in psychology from UCLA. Shirley is the author of the bestselling Why Can't I Change? How to Conquer Your Self-Destructive Patterns.

    Read an Excerpt


    You've Got Some Nerve

    According to most studies, people's number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

    Jerry Seinfeld

    Chapter Focus

    How to make fear your friend (or at least not your foe).

    Why you're programmed to panic.

    Stage Flight

    Public speaking is the great equalizer. Just ask Hollywood movie director Michael Bay. Bay's numerous films, including the Transformers franchise, have grossed almost $8 billion at the box office worldwide. Yet, even with this formidable experience "calling the shots," the famous director fled the stage at a 2014 Las Vegas electronics show after getting flustered during a presentation for the media. Bay blamed a faulty teleprompter and later wrote on his Website: "I just embarrassed myself." We're not sharing this story to pick on Bay. But his mumbled fumble goes to show that even titans can topple under public speaking pressure. The truth is that effective public speaking is scary no matter who you are or where you're from. Sure, parts of public speaking (preparation or performance) might come easier for some, but no one is born with a silver tongue in their mouth. Effective public speaking is a learned skill. And when you reach your potential as a speaker, life can be a lot more interesting and rewarding.

    Career experts will tell you that strong public speaking skills give you an edge in the workforce. Even if you work in a field like IT or engineering, at some point, you will be asked to give a presentation. But what if you were proactive and volunteered? Promotions, bonuses, and leadership positions come to those fearless few who can speak up in public. Obviously, Michael Bay's encounter with stage flight didn't hurt his directing career. However, quite possibly, it did reinforce his deepest fears about public speaking and will discourage him from taking to that kind of stage again. That being said, Bay is certainly not alone when it comes to stage flight. In fact, public speaking is the #1 fear in America. We can talk about this fact all day long, but the real question should be: Why do we get so freaked out?

    It turns out that we're programmed to panic.

    Relatively Speaking

    Three might be a crowd, but for our ancestors, it also meant not becoming a happy meal for a hungry pack of giant kangaroos. Yes, carnivorous kangaroos used to prey on early humans. Humans also needed to fend off predatory hyenas, pythons, lions, tigers, and bears. Oh, my! Traveling in a pack reduced the chance of an attack. And you thought your commute was hairy.

    The story goes something like this: Until about 12,000 years ago, our distant relatives were nomadic and spent a lot of time foraging for food. They traveled in small groups, which was a necessity for survival. It allowed for some of the folks to look for food, while others kept an eye out for danger. The emphasis was on the tribe as a unit. And because these were the only people you knew on earth, it was imperative to keep one's individual tribe membership in good standing. The bottom line: If you were banished from your bunch, you became a kangaroo's lunch. To avoid this feast of fate, members adhered to social norms (not stand out), respected hierarchy (not stand out), and played nice with others (not stand out). You might see a pattern here. "Standing out" means the prospect of rejection. Rejection can lead to tribe ejection.

    Oh, and forget about switching tribes if you're banished. Nothing doing. Evolution took care of that by equipping us with our very own "stranger danger" device. This funky feature saw anyone outside our group as a threat. So, if you did happen to run into another human, it's likely they would be highly suspicious of you — especially if you were traveling solo.

    So what does this have to do with you and public speaking? After all, you probably aren't traveling in a pack, foraging for food, and fending off beasts. However, part of your brain still thinks you are. Okay, we'll explain. But before we get a-head (pun intended) of ourselves, you need to know something about your noggin.

    Head Start

    Our brains are remarkable in many ways, but there is one area that hasn't really evolved in 300 million years. It's appropriately called the primitive brain. How primitive is it? Steel yourself. Our own nerves, and the way they communicate, are comparable to the most ancient multi-organ animal on the planet: the jellyfish. To put this in perspective, jellyfish have been around for, give or take, 700 million years. That's three times older than when the first dinosaurs roamed.

    The primitive brain's purpose is both singular and critical. To put it bluntly, it keeps us alive. It's the control center for our bodily functions, regulating breathing, heart rate, body temperature, digestion, elimination, reproduction, and balance.

    The primitive brain also acts as our body's Department of Defense against outside threats. When we sense danger, it prepares us to fight, run (flight), or freeze (play dead).

    Brain Trust

    When the primitive brain detects fear it automatically switches us into fight, flight, or freeze mode. While in high alert, it also disconnects from the thinking part of the brain. This is actually a good thing, especially for those of us who have a hard time making decisions. Can you imagine bumping into a tiger and having your thoughts paralyze your progress?

    "Hmm. Is that tiger looking at me or the mouthwatering antelope behind me?"

    "Wait, is this a friendly tiger, or the one that ate my entire village last week?"

    "Gee, I wish I had paid more attention in How-not-to-get-eaten-by-a-Tiger Class."

    Okay, you get the idea. Although tiger run-ins are a rare scare, remember the primitive brain treats all threats (real or perceived) the same way. In other words, a modern version of a tiger attack just wears different stripes. For example, have you ever had a romantic crush on someone? They don't know you exist, but you know where they'll be at 3 o'clock on Tuesday. Yes, that kind. So what would happen if you ran into your crush unexpectedly in a supermarket aisle? Instantly, your primitive brain has you turning on your heels to get the heck out of there while your thinking brain has bolted to the bread section. At this point, the primitive brain is working in your favor because you can't remember your name, let alone know how to say something cool to your crush. What's the threat in this scenario? Rejection: "If I say something stupid, she/he will hate me forever!"

    Although this all sounds like a pretty good deal (except for not getting a date), there is one drawback. Remember the primitive brain hasn't evolved much. Let's just say there haven't been a lot of new ideas flowing through it, like ever. Come to find out, evolution can be both industrious and totally lazy. In the case of the primitive brain, there was no need to "fix" something that wasn't broken. As far as evolution was concerned, the system was working, you're still alive, so why adapt beyond the basics?

    We're about to sound really ungrateful here. So, don't get us wrong; the primitive brain does a great job of keeping us alive. However, it can't discern between the anxiety we feel when chased by a tiger and infinitely less dangerous fears like public speaking, closed spaces, and flying on an airplane.

    Yes, for the primitive brain, fear is one size fits all. There is no internal "think tank" deciding if you are about to become a delicious tiger snack or, if you're a fearful flyer, boarding a plane to Pittsburgh on a snowy evening.

    Fear of flying or, brace yourself, pteromerhanophobia is one of the top 10 fears for American adults. Despite statistics showing commercial airline travel is overwhelmingly safer than all other ways we get around, this phobia keeps some of us permanently grounded. One would assume fearful fliers are afraid of the airplane crashing. Seems logical, right? If we're talking logic, however, many fearful fliers will tell you they know the fantastic safety record but still freak out. That's irrational behavior. So what else could be going on here? Scholars who study social phobias might tell you it is about survival, but perhaps not entirely how you would expect. A psychologist who treats anxious fliers recently revealed that two thirds of his clients are more terrified of freaking out and "alienating" other passengers than of crashing. These same clients reported being scared of appearing "weird" to others. In other words, they were afraid of rejection from the group.

    In this case, the anxiety is compounded. Not only does our primitive brain assume the crash position, it is terrified our nervous behavior will make us stand out in a group. And as our ancestors knew all too well, rejection could lead to tribe ejection. So, in a sense, "death" comes by way of exclusion rather than an accident.

    Public Threat

    Now that we know what the primitive brain can do, and what it fails at miserably, let's talk about how your brain reacts to public speaking.

    First, public speaking means physically and figuratively standing out from a group. In doing so, our modern self gets sent danger signals from our ancestral past. It shouts:

    "Hey, idiot, what are you doing? This group is going to reject you and your stupid speech. You want to die? Turn around slowly, then run!"

    But wait, there's more. Lucky us, we also fear strangers. Though this might continue to benefit us in some respects, it's not so helpful when it comes to speaking in public. When looking into a crowd of unfamiliar, unsmiling faces, our evolutionary stranger danger device goes berserk. Now our ancestor self is screaming in our head:

    "You don't know these humans. They may be dangerous. Don't trust them. And, by the way, they think your suit looks cheap. Run!"

    So as these fear fireworks blast off in your head, what happens? Your primitive brain is in full-on survival mode. Biological buzzers are going off throughout your body. Your mouth is so dry you can't swallow. You suddenly feel lightheaded and your face turns beet red. Your hands turn ice cold or your palms are slick with sweat. Oh, and of course, just when you need it most, your "thinking" brain is disconnected. Chances are you have experienced one or more of these reactions at some point. You're in good company. These are common physiological responses triggered by our primitive brain and what we typically refer to as nerves. Guess what? We all get them to some degree when it comes to public speaking. Sure, some people call them jitters, butterflies, apprehension, stage fright, or anxiety, or dress them up as "anticipation," but they all mean one thing: You're human.

    In a later chapter, we'll explain why, despite our natural fears, when it comes to public speaking, audiences are seldom your enemy. In fact, we'll turn your primitive brain on its head and open up your mind to the notion that they actually want you to succeed. Take that, primitive brain!

    In Be Twain

    Samuel Clemens, better known by the pen name Mark Twain, famously said, "There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars." In other words, we all get nervous. Twain himself gave more than 1,150 public speeches in his career and knew what he was talking about. Frankly speaking, anyone who claims they can "cure" your public speaking nerves is talking out of both sides of his or her mouth. One public speaking book by a major publisher released in 2014 gives the impression it can do just that. The title assures that you will Never Be Nervous Again. Let's be clear here: It's impossible to eliminate all nerves. Most jaw dropping is how the title seems to disempower the reader. Let's assume this author has a secret method for reversing at least 200,000 years of human evolution and can make nerves disappear forever. After reading the book, inevitably a speaker will continue to get nervous. So who is to blame for this failure? After all, the book held all of the secrets to never being nervous again. It must be reader's fault when it doesn't work. That's really the only conclusion. The silliness of this "sale" confounds us. Though we applaud the writer for wanting to help people, it's like a cookbook author promising that if you follow his recipes, you will never be hungry again.

    Why do we bring this up? Because we don't want you to buy into the false notion that there is magic cure to get rid of nerves or even that nerves are bad.

    Make Nice With Your Nerves

    As you have learned, nerves keep us alive. They keep you from having a picnic in the middle of the freeway or wandering down a dark alley at night. That can hardly be something you should be eager to get rid of. So, why not work with your nerves, instead of against them?

    It's time to make nice with nature.

    Let's go back to what happens to your body when you get nervous. It's usually the same symptoms (sweaty palms, the good old leg shake, or something equally annoying) and it drives you to distraction, right? You've tried to control nervous symptoms and even attempted to medicate them. Yet, they keep showing up every time you get anxious about something like public speaking. But let's stop here for a minute. We want you to consider something. If you know what your nervous symptoms are, and they occur every time you get nervous, then why are you so surprised every time they show up? It's like this: You know your hands get sweaty when you speak in public, yet when it happens you're thrown for a loop. Suddenly, all your focus is on your sweaty palms. It's time to start expecting the expected. Once you begin to expect and accept nerves when they do happen, you can start to acknowledge their primitive role and move past them.

    White Out

    We've had people tell us that despite understanding nerves are a natural part of public speaking, they still worry about going blank at some point during the speech. We call this a "White Out," where suddenly you're in some hazy fog and not sure which way to turn. In the next chapter, we'll talk about the power of visualization and the importance of positive self-talk. This should be helpful to avoid the White Out scenario altogether. Generally speaking, another way to tackle this is with a lot of preparation and practice. Nothing beats it. You can't cram for a public speech. Well, not if you really want to shine. However, if you still find yourself in a White Out wipe out, we'll shed light on how to get you out of a fog.

    First, don't assume the audience knows you're in one. Unless they wrote the speech, they have no idea what's supposed to come next. So, you're in charge, even when you feel like you're not. Second, freeze. We probably don't have to tell you that because you may already be there, but what we mean is don't fidget or start talking if you don't know what's going to come out. Most importantly, do not apologize or acknowledge your nerves! Again, the audience doesn't know you're experiencing technical difficulties. This is a tough thing to do, but it's critical.

    Next, think of the last thing you said or remember saying. Then, turn whatever you said into a question for the audience. It can be rhetorical or if the situation is appropriate, you can actually pose a question. Asking questions is one of the most powerful ways you can engage an audience, while buying yourself time. Here's why: When you ask a question, even a rhetorical one, the audience goes into "answering" mode. They start thinking about the question, pulling focus away from you. This brief moment gives you time to catch your breath and get back on track. Let them ponder your question. No need to jump back in right away. If you have prepared and practiced, hearing the question out loud and taking this extra beat will likely lift the fog.

    For example:

    The last thing you remember is telling a story about a woman who found a wallet, turned it in, and received an unexpected reward. After that, you went into White Out mode. You might ask the audience any number of questions, including:

    "So ask yourself: Would you have rewarded the woman? Aren't we expected to do the right thing?"

    Or, "Have you ever found something valuable and considered keeping it?"

    Or, "Have you ever lost something and it wasn't returned?"

    Or, "Do you think the woman should have accepted the reward?"

    Or, "What can we learn from this story?"

    Or, "What does this story say about our society?"

    Or, "How many of you have been in a similar situation?"


    Excerpted from "Scared Speechless"
    by .
    Copyright © 2016 Steve Rohr and Dr. Shirley Impellizzeri.
    Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

    Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: You've Got Some Nerve,
    Chapter 2: Hey, Are You Talking to Me?,
    Chapter 3: Surprise, It's Not All About You,
    Chapter 4: Tell Me a Story,
    Chapter 5: Use What You Know to Steal the Show,
    Chapter 6: Talk Like a Human; Act Like One, Too,
    Chapter 7: The 7 Deadliest Speech Sins,
    Chapter 8: Address the Dress,
    Chapter 9: Rewire Your Routines,
    Chapter 10: Putting It All Together,
    Chapter 11: Speak Easy: Tips for 7 Types of Speeches,
    Appendix: Anatomy of a Speech,
    About the Authors,

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