Fear is an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, real or not. It functions to make us alert and ready for action should we encounter problems. Depending on the manner in which you handle your apprehension, fear can either stir you to action or immobilise you.

Types of fear

Basically, there are two types of fear - empowering fear and disempowering fear. Empowering fear may include the fear of developing lung cancer through smoking. This would inhibit you from picking up the bad habit or impel you to kick your addiction.

An empowering fear may also be termed as a "healthy" fear. Of interest here is disempowering fear that can incapacitate aspects of how you function if you do not overcome your fear. How would you respond when you are asked to give an impromptu speech in public? This may send some people's heartbeats racing or give them butterflies in their stomachs. It is no surprise that public speaking has been ranked as one of the top causes of anxiety in people.

Let's examine the roots of the fear of public speaking. Truth be told Why do so many people dread public speaking? The truth is, most people are not fearful of speaking in public per se.

Instead they are more apprehensive about the unfavourable scenarios that they have built up in their minds. For instance, people who have a phobia of public speaking may be afraid of rejection. "What if I perform badly and end up making a fool of myself?" and "What if my audience dislikes me and rejects me?" are some thoughts that flit through their minds. If you perceive yourself being rejected and faltering as a speaker, this may very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Usually, speakers who are not confident are likely to lose their audience's attention.

On the flip side, having fear is not always a bad thing. If you never experience any fear, it is likely that you are living your life much too safely and avoiding challenges. It is only when you conquer your fears and venture out of your comfort zone that you learn and grow most as a person.

Managing fear

When it comes to public speaking, there are only two choices: You can either avoid it or face it. Dodging will only remove your discomfort temporarily as your fear returns when you are asked to deliver a speech again. You can successfully eradicate your fear only when you identify the root of the problem and learn the art of re-directing your focus.

Ask yourself: "What can I do to overcome this fear and become a better speaker?" One of the most effective techniques to deal with fear is to practise visualisation. You can start by picturing yourself in the act of accomplishing your most lofty goals. Flex the muscles of your imagination and envisage what it feels like to live in a world where you are comfortable making a speech or giving a presentation in front of thousands of people.

Visualising success allows you to overcome your fear directly. The more time you spend thinking positively about what you want to accomplish, the less time you have to be fearful. Fear does not necessarily inhibit you. Learning how to separate unhealthy from healthy fears, letting go of fears that paralyse you and focusing your energy on eliminating them can do wonders for your well-being and self-esteem.

Article by Jacky Lim and Jeffrey Williams, masters of ceremonies and training consultants on public speaking.

For more information, e-mail them at zhengwei_lim@yahoo.com or aws100@singnet.com.sg