Overcoming fear of public speaking

| September 29, 2015

Overcoming fear of public speaking

Let me begin by asking a question: what are the Top 4 Fears? The Book of Lists says this about the Top 4 Fears:

  1. Speaking in public
  2. Heights
  3. Flying
  4. Spiders

Yes, speaking in public is at the top of the list! A normal physical reaction to having to speak in public is a release of adrenaline and cortisol into your system. This can be compared to drinking several cups of coffee.

Even experienced speakers feel their heart thumping very excitedly indeed. This astounding reaction to speaking in public is certainly not only felt by novices, even some of the great professional actors and entertainers suffer with real physical sickness before they take to the stage or podium.

You are not alone

Speaking in public is truly scary for most people, including many whom outwardly seem very composed. Our brain shuts down normal functions as the ‘fight or flight’ impulse takes over.

Presentations skills and public speaking skills are very useful in many aspects of work and life. Effective presentations and public speaking skills are important in business, sales and selling, training, teaching, lecturing and generally entertaining an audience.

Therefore, improving the confidence and capability to give good presentations, and to stand up in front of an audience and speak well, are also tremendously helpful competencies for self-development too.

Presentations and public speaking skills are not limited to specially gifted people – anyone can give a good presentation, or perform public speaking professionally and impressively. Like most things, it simply takes a preparation and practice to improve your skills and abilities.

As I mentioned previously: you are not alone if the thought of speaking in public scares you. Giving a presentation is worrying for many people. As we saw before, presenting or speaking to an audience regularly tops the list in surveys of people’s top fears – more than heights, flying or dying.

As an illustration, I quote two popular sayings which feature in many presentations about giving presentations and public speaking:

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”.

Mark Twain said, “There are only two types of public speakers in the world. 1. Those who are nervous and 2. Those who are liars.” (1835-1910, American author and humourist).

Overcoming fear

A very useful acronym to help you put fear in a different perspective is:

Keep in mind that feelings are not facts. Check the facts before you act (like running away and hiding) on your feelings.

One way to overcome your fear is to use an activity to break down your fear into controllable components. It’s simple to do and it really works!

Here is an easy exercise you can do if you, like so many others, have a fear of speaking.

  1. Tell yourself exactly what you are afraid of. “I am frightened to speak in front of a large group”.
  2. Explain to yourself why you are afraid. “I am afraid because I think everyone will laugh at me”. “I am afraid something will go wrong”.
  3. Tell yourself why you shouldn’t be afraid. “I have never seen a speaker get laughed off the stage”. “No one has ever laughed at me during my earlier presentations”. “If something does go wrong, I can put it right”.
  4. Close with positive thoughts about yourself. “I am an intelligent and well-prepared person”. “I can give a solid presentation and make a good impression on my audience”.

Quote: Understanding our fears is the first and most important step to conquering them. As the saying goes, don’t try to get rid of the butterflies – just get them flying in formation.

Other ways to help overcome your fear

  • Know your material inside out. Remember the quote: prior preparation prevents poor performance. It could also say that: prior preparation presents perfect performance.
  • Know the room. Arrive early and check out where everything is. Walk around and look at things from the audiences view.
  • Make contact with your audience before you speak. It’s wonderful to have made friends that you can connect with while speaking.
  • Use good relaxation and breathing exercises. Watch how you speak about yourself. Change: “I am so nervous”, to: “I am really excited”. What you say is what you get. Change the nervous energy to enthusiasm.
  • Have some cough lollies to warm and moisten your throat. Before a speech, don’t eat or drink dairy products; it often clogs up your voice. Drink only water at room temperature, it’s better for your voice than cold water.  And don’t try to calm your nerves with alcohol!
  • Never apologise. Don’t worry about missing a point – move on. The audience does not know what you have prepared and will not miss it. If they do, make light of it (laugh at yourself) and correct it.
  • Focus/concentrate on your message or idea. Not how you communicate it. Don’t start to think about the lady who is yawning. Remember how you sometimes yawn even though you are interested and listening to a speaker.
  • Remember: the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. They want to enjoy themselves. All you have to do is do it!

Public speaking and presentations are just one form of communication and you communicate already every day. You can do it!