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Speaking in Front with John Dawson

Fear of public speaking affects 70% of the population and yet so many of us have to stand up and talk in front of an audience every day.  John Dawson is a coach for his public speaking courses ‘Speaking in Front’ which he regularly hosts at Armada House Conference and Events, Bristol.  In a conversation between John and Armada House, he talks about public speaking from a human evolutionary perspective, psychological fears and the inner voice.

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AH: Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you ventured into coaching people about public speaking.

J.D: The first story is that I did a really bad radio interview in 1989, I avoided public speaking for about 8 years.  I dodged it and I found ways to make excuses such as I was on holiday, I’m at the dentist etc.   It wasn’t until my Dads 75th birthday that neither my brothers nor I spoke at his party. A part of me thought I’d let him down, and a part of me thought I’d got away with it, but the part that said that I’d let him down was far bigger. So I did the course that I now train on, and I loved it so much that I did the course probably about 5 or 6 times before I trained to do the course

AH: That must have been a feel good feeling. It’s quite empowering, I suppose, when you’ve found your voice, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would say that finding your voice is a difficult thing to do.

J.D: Yes absolutely, and that’s what keeps me going as far as public speaking is concerned as so many people are stuck. Many people are not living full lives and that’s the important drive for me now. The best speakers are comfortable in their own body, relaxed and they’re chatty. People tend to think that they have to put on a special show, you have to be perfect and say big words but actually what I’d like them to do is just be themselves.  You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a good speaker, it’s actually about becoming comfortable with being yourself. One of the earliest quotes that I got was on John’s course is like ‘taking your place in the world without apologising for doing so’ and too many of us apologise for taking up space.  That’s the inner voice.  

AH: There are probably a lot of people with those inner voices that they don’t realise are there.

JD: I think we forget that we are evolutionary animals. And we forget that actually language is incredibly new- it kind of arrived yesterday. 99% of our brain was already developed before we even had language, and we’re still getting used to it. And that inner voice, I don’t think, is fully evolved, I don’t think it’s very helpful.

We’ve been primates for 60 million years and we’ve been mammals for 300 million years. All that time until about last Friday we’ve been living in huge threat situations with the questions like- ‘Am I going to have lunch or am I going to be lunch?’ So our brain is really built as a threat detector. We’re all walking around with brains that over-see threat. The brain is like a smoke alarm that goes off for toast burning as well as real fire. We developed colour vision so we could see snakes better.  That solved a problem at that time, I mean I’m really scared of snakes even though we don’t have any dangerous snakes in this country, so that’s left over from 3 million years ago. When we stand in front of an audience we feel like we’re under attack.  The fight, flight and freeze reactions going on, similar to what would happen if there is a tiger in the room.  We need to recalibrate and see it differently and make it simpler.  .... Read the full article here

John Dawson regularly holds his ’Speaking in Front’  courses at Armada House, Bristol. Read more information about his work and course dates on his website:


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