Speech Anxiety: Lawrence Olivier

Speech Aniety: Lawrence Olivier

Imagine Sir Lawrence Olivier nervous before his performance
Speech Anxiety experienced by Sir Lawrence Olivier.

There are many other approaches to the feeling of unease we experience when required to perform in public. For instance, Marshall McLuhan, the philosopher of communications, had a distinct "take" on this condition. It is well known that Sir Laurence Olivier, despite his standing as a great stage and screen actor, experienced profound stage fright throughout his entire performing career. He writes about the forms his panic took in his theatrical memoirs, and he puzzled as to why he continued to feel this way despite his vast experience appearing before audiences around the world. In later years he came to regard the excess sweat his body produced, the jittery nervousness, etc., as simply symptoms that his body was warning him that he would shortly have to appear before audiences and perform in public. He was able to ignore these sensations and feelings while on stage, but not before or after.

He was drenched in sweat.
Why did Sir Lawrence Olivier experience Speech Anxiety?

McLuhan's view of the matter is that of a social psychologist. Sir Laurence felt little or no anxiety prior to the performance. Anxiety levels spiked when he entered the dressing room and removed his regular clothes and stood there semi-dressed before donning his costume (the robe of King Lear perhaps). During this period of semi-dress, he had no role to play. He was no longer the man known as Sir Lawrence; he was not yet the character known as King Lear. Having no role to play, he had no way to deal with his fears and apprehensions. Once on stage, there was no problem. Techniques honed over years of training and decades of performing simply took over. After all, he was a consummate actor. The situation was reversed when he stepped off stage and entered the dressing room where he removed the robe of King Lear. Once again he was nervous and he found he was drenched in sweat. He was no longer the actor, but not yet Sir Laurence. He would never receive visitors in his dressing room before or after a performance. Once he had showered and changed into his regular clothes, he was himself again. It was as if he had been living a nightmare.

The above is an excerpt from an article about Speech Anxiety by John Robert Colombo.

Speech Anxiety
Fear of Public Speaking
Stage Fright

George Torok
Executive Speech Coach
Motivational Speaker

Speech Anxiety: Freud, Jung & Alder

We are born naked and helpless.

Sigmund Freud on anxiety.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, placed great emphasis on the fact that we are born naked and helpless. From birth we experience panic and we express it in cries and in tears. As adults we may not express the panic directly by crying out loud or weeping in public, but we still feel this initial sense of dread when we have to "expose ourselves" before the eyes of others. Freud saw the level of anxiety to be a reversion to infantile behaviour.

We assume our enemies--our listeners--are aware of our secret weakness.

Carl Jung on human frailty and public speaking fears.

Carl Jung, the analytical psychologist, noted that human beings display the characteristics of archetypal figures, especially heroes of Ancient Greece. The warrior hero Achilles is one such figure. Achilles was invulnerable to his enemies except for one part of his anatomy: his "Achilles heel." Except for this tendon, he was invulnerable and impervious to the attacks of his enemies. Achilles resembles the 20th-century comic-book character Superman, the caped superhero who is all-powerful except in the presence of Kryptonite, rocks from his home planet Krypton. Each of us has an Achilles heel or fears Kryptonite. It is our zone of vulnerability. According to Jung, we assume our enemies--our listeners--are aware of our secret weakness. They know we are vulnerable and hence we feel fear.

We are powerless before powerful people.

Alfred Adler on why we fear public speaking.

Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist, made many contributions to individualistic and humanistic psychology. After examining the nature of neurosis, he popularized the concept of the "inferiority complex." It was Adler's view that, when we "present" ourselves before others, we stand "." We project our talents and abilities, our information and knowledge, onto other people. We empower them, but at the same time we disempower ourselves. We elevate them as we lower our sense of self. This projection leaves us feeling uneasy, uncanny, and vulnerable.

This is an exerpt from an article on Speech Anxiety by John Robert Colombo.

George Torok
Speech Coach for Executives

Shyness: Zimbardo

The Shyness factor Zimbardo:

The Root of Speech Anxiety is Shyness.
Philip G. Zimbardo, the well-known cognitive psychologist, has devoted decades to the study of the "shyness factor" as it affects people of different ages, backgrounds, businesses, and cultures. He found that shyness figures in everyone's life. Most people admitted to him that when under pressure they experience symptoms of anxiety: the jitters, sweaty palms, knocking knees, facial flushes, watery eyes, leathery tongue, dry mouth, wild heartbeats, shortness of breath, memory lapses, mental confusions, high anxiety levels...to limit the list to one dozen symptoms of chronic shyness.

Zimbardo found that there are differences in the ways that shyness is handled by peoples of different countries and cultures. Such differences may account for variations in reporting levels of shyness and presumably in experiencing high or low levels. For instance, people he interviewed in Japan admitted to experiencing a greater degree of shyness when meeting with strangers than did people he interviewed in Israel. But across the board he found that everyone owned up to some degree of shyness, some people to an alarmingly high degree, even when being interviewed by Dr. Zimbardo! Shyness is thus a characteristic of human nature brought about by our physiology, neurology, psychology, and social conditioning.

No one should feel that nature has singled him or her out for a special affliction. No one should feel freakish because he or she panics when faced with the need to present in public. It is human to feel some anxiety. Some people experience more of it, some less. Successful speakers are men and women who have found ways to find relief from these sensations and emotions. They have found ways to make them "work" for them.

Execerpt from article by John Robert Colombo

George Torok
Executive Speech Coach

Speech Anxiety

Speech Anxiety: Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking
By John Robert Colombo

This article addresses these questions about speech anxiety and the fear of public speaking.
1.Why do we fear public speaking?
2. Is speech anxiety normal?
3. What can we do to face our public speaking fear and speech anxiety?

Fear of Public Speaking or Speech anxiety is a general term for the sense of fear or panic that overtakes a person when he or she is called upon to speak or otherwise perform in public. There are other ways to refer to it: anxiousness, nervousness, "the jitters," stage fright, fear of public speaking, performance anxiety, etc. It usually strikes when someone has to deliver a presentation before a group of people. It makes little difference whether the audience is large or small, composed of familiar or unfamiliar faces. Psychologists consider speech anxiety to be a special case of what is commonly known as shyness.

What do psychologists: Philip G. Zimbardo, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler say about speech anxiety - the fear of public speaking?

George Torok
Executive Speech Coach

Presentation Jokes - Should you tell a joke?

tell jokes in your presentation
Presentation Jokes

No jokes please.

If you are performing stand up comedy – tell jokes. That’s what the audience wants. They want to be entertained. They don’t want a message. When you are delivering a business presentation don’t tell jokes. Your audience did not come to hear jokes. They came to hear your message.

Remember that the purpose of your presentation is to get a particular message across in a convincing way that moves your audience to act in the way that you desire. In a business presentation you might want your audience to buy, to approve, to work, to donate or to volunteer. That is your purpose and everything in your presentation should focus to achieve that purpose.

In a business presentation your purpose is not to tell jokes. In fact you should avoid telling jokes. There are three reasons:

1. Most business presentations cannot tell a joke well in front of an audience. It might look easy but those standup comics know the art and science of telling jokes and they practice a lot.

2. Too many presenters tell a joke that has nothing to do with their message. The disconnect leaves the audience confused, Instead of listening to what you say after the joke they are thinking, “What was that about?”

3. Most jokes make fun about other people – some other race, sex, culture, religion etc… That might offend some of your listeners. Don’t use humor that pushes people away from you.

You can and probably should help them laugh. So how can you help people laugh without telling jokes during your presentation?

Tell funny stories or anecdotes about yourself. Tell them about some thing you goofed up, a personal frustration or a minor flaw. Reveal your imperfection.

When you do that the audience warms up to you because they see you as human – imperfect like themselves. And the bonus is they might laugh or at least lighten up. And that is all you want. There is no need to have them rolling on the floor convulsed with laughter.

Two important rules to keep in mind when telling a story:
1. Keep is as short as possible. Be sure to rehearse it well.
2. The story must support your message.

There you have it – no more excuses for telling jokes in a business presentation. Start practicing your funny stories. Watch for more tips on telling stories later.

George Torok
Speech Coach for Executives

Presentation Content

Presentation Content

The content of your presentation is important. Yet, it is not only what you say that makes the difference, it is how you present it that determines if and how your message will come across. Understanding is the test of effective communication. If your concept is not grasped, you did not do a good job.


It is unfortunate that the way we communicate often distorts what we are trying to say. Your topic is not everything. It is what you do with it that really counts! There are some exceptions of course. Some presentations do succeed in spite of the poorest techniques. You can announce a 20% raise or two extra weeks vacation for your staff and they will not care how you do it! You can do a terrible job and they will still love you. The power of certain messages is sometimes enough in itself. However, most of the time, the way you say it determines whether you will be understood and have your ideas accepted.


You have to believe whole-heartedly in your message. If you do not, it will show. Let us assume that head office asks you to explain to your people that every department in the company must remain open 30 minutes more per day, but you do not agree. You have a choice: Do not present, change your mind, or resign. Remember: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. Do not talk to your staff until you are in harmony with the topic.

The above is an excerpt from the book, Secrets of Power Presentations.

George Torok

Questions for your Speech Coach

Questions for Your Speech Coach

If you know that you need a speech coach, then here are some questions you might ask your prospective speech coach.

Tell me about your most unusual or most challenging presentations that you have delivered.

Tell me about some of the books that you have read recently on presentation skills.

Tell me about some of your speech coaching triumphs.

Tell me about your experience working with executives and executive issues.

Show me what your clients say.

Your best speech coach is one who speaks as well as coaches.
Your best speech coach is one who has experienced some of your speaking challenges.
Your best speech coach is one is constantly learning as well as teaching.

George Torok is the Speech Coach for Executives

To arrange for Executive speech Coaching – call 905-335-1997

Speech Coach for Executives