Sometimes, even weeks before a presentation, I would think, What happens if people think I suck or someone thinks I don't know what I'm talking about?
As humans, we're hardwired to worry about our reputation above almost all things. There are primitive parts of your brain that control your reaction to threats on your reputation, making these reactions extremely difficult to control.
These reactions to threats are precisely what Charles Darwin tested when he visited a snake exhibit at a zoo in London. Darwin tried to remain perfectly calm while putting his face as close to the glass as possible in front of a puff ader snake that was ready to strike.
However, every time the snake would lunge toward him, he would grimace and jump backward. Darwin wrote his findings in his diary,
"My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced."
He concluded that his response to fear was an ancient reaction that has not been effected by nuances in modern civilization. This response is know as the fight or flight syndrome, a natural process that is designed to protect your body from harm.
When you think about negative consequences, a part of your brain, the hypothalamus, activates and triggers the pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH.
This hormone stimulates the Adrenal Glands in your kidneys and results in the release of adrenaline into your blood.
It is at this point in the process when many of us experience the reactions of this process.
Your neck and back muscles contract (forcing your head down and your spine to curve) moving your posture into a slouch. This results in a Low-Power position as your body tries to force itself into the fetal position.
If you try to resist this position by pulling your shoulders back and lifting your head up, your legs and hands shake as the muscles in your body instinctively prepare for an impending attack.
Your blood pressure increases and your digestive system shuts down to maximize efficient delivery of even more nutrients and oxygen to your vital organs. When your digestive system shuts down, this is what leads to the feeling of dry mouth or butterflies.
Even your pupils dilate, which makes it hard to read anything up close (like presenter notes) but improves long range visibility, making you more aware of your audience's facial expressions.
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