Taming your fears

The accounting field is quite obviously more left brain analytical than it is right brain creative. Crunching numbers and working across spreadsheets and various systems such as SAP or Great Plains is where Finance & Accounting professionals thrive, however there are times when public speaking might become a requirement of the job. This is particularly true the higher you climb the corporate ladder where management & budget reporting are a regular occurrence. Many people have phobias with diverse examples ranging from fear of death or flying to fear of spiders. Glossophobia, a fear of public speaking, remains the number one phobia among the majority of professionals on the planet, so if you fear the dreaded presentation you’re not alone. When it comes to overcoming your Glossophobia often the simplest advice is the best advice – just do it. Just doing it is going to be problematic though due to the way our brain is naturally wired to function.

Essentially our eyes and ears will filter sensations and images and transmit them to the Thalamus and then the Neocortex and finally onto the Amygdala. The Amygdala functions as the warning system of the brain and triggers a chain reaction of stress hormones that rapidly rush through your body in a matter of seconds. I won’t drill down too much into the neurological science but essentially the way our brains “normally” process inputs is both complex and rational. When you next get anxious or flustered at work it’s because this process has broken down and you are no longer thinking rationally. If you think hard about it, presenting to the CFO, CEO and Board of Directors or even key stakeholders shouldn’t be a fearful task. I mean, you’re a qualified Finance Professional so the chance of you running out of things to say (quite a common phobia amongst Glossophobes) is very low. They’re not interested in your appearance or what TV shows you like, they’re just interested in the numbers. If you think rationally yourself it makes sense they are thinking rationally about you. Unfortunately, the moment a Glossophobe stands up before an assembled group to speak in public they are overcome with fear. The reason for this is purely scientific. When the brain receives signals from the eyes or ears and processes it through the Thalmus and then the Neocortex there is a time delay due to the complexity of this process. This allows your brain to process those signals more rationally. Indeed, by the time thoughts have arrived at the Neocortex they go through further sifting and process checking to confirm if there actually is any cause for alarm. When you are getting anxious and red faced in front of an audience it’s because a neurological shortcut has been established straight to the amygdala bypassing the Thalamus and Neocortex. This is essentially how evolution has ensured we think rationally most of the time however, for those opportune moments where we need to react quickly there is a backup fail safe triggering the fight or flight response.

I remember reading Daniel Goleman’s thought provoking book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” and the part which most stuck in my mind concerned his argument that these negative emotions (such as getting anxious in front of an audience) are relics of a prehistoric past. They’re more suited to a primitive existence where fight or flight literally was a choice between life and death. These days we experience the same process but for much less serious situations. Left untreated, Glossophobia can seriously derail your career aspirations but fortunately the amygdala and rational parts of the brain are opposing systems, so turning on one shuts down the other and vice versa. The easiest way to nail your next presentation is simply to engage the rational side of the equation. Say to yourself “My fight or flight has kicked in, let’s put an end to that” and be amazed at what you can achieve.


If you are aware of anyone open to new opportunities, please feel free to contact Steven Lane at Abacus Human Capital on (07) 3135 9780.

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