You CAN Get Rid of Your Fear of Public Speaking for Good

20 May

fear_of_elevatorsWhen the doors close, my world stops.

I can’t think, can’t breathe, my stomach pings, my wide-eyed glare transfixed on the blinking numbers above the doors.

Until it STOPS.

As soon as the doors open, I’m the first one off.

That’s my life with elevators. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid them even when it means – which is usually – climbing 318 steps daily steps to my 4th floor office and my 5th floor apartment. I’ve showed up at doctors’ offices, events, parties, and interviews, breathless. I’ve convinced my high rise friends to ride down to get me, ride up with me, and, yup, ride back down. I recently annoyed the hell out of my daughter as we rode 30-something floors to visit friends near the top floor of the Viceroy in Miami.  Along for the sketchy, jerky ride was a popular NBA basketball player perplexed – or entertained, I’m not sure – by my panic ‘routine.’

Actually, I’m not really sure if it’s elevators I’m afraid of or if it’s falling hard and fast into the bowels of the earth tumbling in its dark center trapped and buried with bitey bugs and slimy worms and silence where no one can hear or save me and I’ll be alone and that’s…The End.  

Sounds pretty rational to me.

There’s no clinical term (yet) for fear of elevators. So I’m going to call it otisitis. Otis is the world’s premiere elevator company with some 1.8 million elevators and escalators in 200 countries. The company carries the equivalent of the world’s population in its elevators every five days.

Here are more interesting elevating facts about elevators:

The Door Close button is an illusion. It only works with a special key you and I don’t have.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was an elevator operator when he was 16.

The only elevator that’s ever ‘fallen’ was in the Empire State Building in 1945 when a B25 crashed into it causing a cable to snap. The female passenger survived the 1000 feet fall.

Elevators are 20 times safer than escalators.

About 26 people die in elevators each year in the U.S. There are 26 car deaths every five hours.

Most victims of elevator deaths are elevator technicians.

The law of physics prevents elevators from being taller than 1700 ft. so hoist ropes don’t snap.

Taipei, Taiwan has the fastest elevators in the world at 3,313 fpm (ft. per min.) or 37.7 mph.

I’ll never ride an elevator in Taipei. FACT.

The U.S. has 700,000 elevators, second only to Italy with 900,000, which is where my otisitis began when I was 16 and snuck out to check out a boutique in Rome while my mom prayed in a Cathedral.

I confidently pulled the old-fashioned lever over the door as I entered the box.

Which was crammed with strangers.

Who didn’t speak English.

And were taller than me.

We dropped.

Before we STOPPED.

For a really really lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng time. Could have been hours.

Yeah, I think it was hours.

Without air.

Or movement.

People were yelling up the shoot.

Before finally it ‘unstuck and bumped’ to a lower floor.

We climbed out.

And were freed.

I was grounded for the rest of the trip.

To this day, I’m perplexed by people who do not have this fear. That may sound dramatic, but really, it’s not. My fear of elevators helps me help others who fear public speaking.

I’ve have otisitis. You have glossophobia (fear of public speaking). Different issues. Same trigger.

You’re good at elevators. I’m good at public speaking.  So let me try to help elevate your public speaking.

The problem isn’t the elevator I’m standing in or the room full of people you’re speaking to. The problem is we’re afraid we can’t control what will happen to us next.

Say it out loud. You’re afraid you can’t control what will happen to you next.

That very trigger causes anxiety. I’m afraid of losing control if the elevator stops or falls, you’re afraid of losing your place or self-control in front of a room full of people.

Losing control fuels our anxiety. Our anxiety is regulated by the brain’s AMYGDALA, two almond-shaped organs above the ears. The amygdala switch is typically ‘off,’ until an unpleasant or fearful experience happens – then the switch is turned ‘on,’ like when someone threatening is following you, or in my case, getting stuck on a crammed elevator for a long period of time.  My anxiety rose, my amygdala got stuck on ‘on’ causing my subconscious – which controls all my automatic bodily systems – to then hijack my emotions and hardwire my elevator panic and, alas, my phobia was born. It’s important to remember, the amygdala does business with your emotions, not your intelligence. So really, it’s not irrational at all.  It’s physical. And it’s not really all in my head, but it is.

So my phobia began in an elevator in Rome, Italy when I was 16. Your fear of public speaking got tripped up somewhere too – it could have begun innocently in grade school or high school when a classmate teased or made fun of you, or you weren’t prepared and felt panicked, or your teacher unknowingly embarrassed you.  Bottom line, you’ve carried it from some prior experience that you may or may not be able to pinpoint.

Think about it. Just as I rationally know I’ll never fall to China in the bowels of the earth via elevator, your audience isn’t going to judge you, boo you, hurt you or disempower you.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. Every audience craves great information. They don’t know you have glossophobia, nor do most even know what it is.They just want you to tell them what they don’t already know and can only get from you so they can go home or to the office and apply what they’ve learned. I’m confident if someone from the Otis Elevator Company spent a few hours explaining elevator physics and safety to me and rode with me a dozen times, I’d get over my otisisis because my AMYGDALA WOULD BE RESET.

After two friends were killed in a plane crash, it took me 18 years to fly again. And when I did, I was terrified.  It was only after an aeronautical engineer happened to sit next to me on a long flight to Hawaii, where he spent hours talking to me about airplanes and flying and physics, could I fully understand why planes don’t just fall out of the sky.  IT RESET MY AMYGDALA.  I fly nearly every month now and when a rough flight does happen, I call Walker, a Delta Captain, who walks me through the experience. I no longer have a fear of flying.

So let me share some of what I’ve learned from my 18 years of public speaking. Because you CAN do this. You just have to reset your amygdala.

Public Speaking 101 

When you have NO speaking engagement on your docket (and no pressure), think back to what triggered your amygdala to get off the charts. Something happened. I guarantee you.  Go back, relive it in your head what you would do today differently. Most likely, if the same situation happened now that you’re older and wiser, your response would have been very different, leaving your amygdala untouched.

Go to and research the amygdala and anxiety. There’s lots of great help to be able to get your anxiety and amygdala back in check.

Once you do those two important things, you have to believe, because it’s true, your audience looks up to you and wants you there.

They want you to tell them what they don’t know and can only get from you.

They want you to succeed.

They want to brag about how great you are. So, give them a great experience. 

To do that you must prepare, prepare, prepare. 

Spend more time than you think putting your thoughts together.

Tell a story. If you get stuck in your speech or presentation, if you go blank, you always have a story to pull you out of it. You need a story.

Own your fear. By doing so, it gives you back your power.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Be kind. Be forgiving.  Keep trying. Trying turns into doing.  Doing turns into greatness.  

By the way, a woman got stuck in the office elevator today for 15 minutes, which is now closed for maintenance, which is what prompted this blog.

It wasn’t me. I was busy scaling the stairs.

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