Friday, October 10, 2008


In a memorable scene from the movie "8 Mile" the character played by rapper Eminem enters a competition and gets on stage to prove his prowess in front of a rowdy crowd. Using rhyme and rap, he must show his skill at cleverly putting down the reigning champion. Winning the contest could mean fame, fortune and a way out of his grimy, dead-end life. We know he's up to it. In the preceding scenes he's brilliant in front of his friends and the bathroom mirror. But when he faces the jeering crowd on the big night he freezes and is unable to speak. As the crowd chants "Choke! Choke!" he leaves the stage in shame.

Freezing in front of an audience is every speaker's worst nightmare. Eminem was clearly facing a hostile crowd. But why do some speakers freeze even when they are in front of an audience that is friendly and receptive?

Our voice is especially sensitive to our state of mind. It mirrors our emotional state. Public speaking, of course, is inherently stressful. During stress, the body secretes the fight or flight hormones of adrenaline and noradrenalin and a sudden, over-abundance of these hormones in the bloodstream is responsible for the uncomfortable symptoms we associate with the fear of public speaking: sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, shakiness, "brain freeze, " and a sudden but temporary loss ofvoice.

While these symptoms can be scary for people who aren't used to them, in most cases, they are temporary and feel worse than they look. However, losing a normally healthy voice during a speech is a warning sign that there are deeper psychological issues at work that should be examined so the problem can be resolved.

So why do we get so nervous? Recent psychological research conducted by psychoanalyst Dr. Norberto Keppe, shows that the hardest thing for us to accept in life is goodness. We create the most stress, and consequently the most illness, by unconsciously rejecting and fighting against success, opportunity, love, and all the other good things life has to offer. It's as if we are inverted, says Keppe, and on a deep unconscious level we push away the very things we should rationally want the most.

This was certainly the case with Eminem's character in 8 Mile. Street smart and savvy, well prepared and dedicated to his craft, he certainly had the right stuff to handle a tough crowd and rise to the occasion. Yet these were precisely the qualities he resisted, and because he was terrified of looking at this resistance in himself, he blocked and froze. Eventually, he succeeded, and you will too if before your next talk, you take a moment to gather up your courage and try to listen to the message behind the nerves. What precious awareness is waiting for you there? It is through this process that the masterful communicator within you will be born.

No comments: