Public speaking anxiety
Public speaking anxiety is the negative voice in our heads negatively hypothesising what can go wrong. We have all been there where you are in a group setting and everyone’s asked to introduce themselves. As the line goes around the room and gets closer to you, you feel a sense of panic. Your muscles tighten, and you frantically search your brain for something to say when it’s your turn. A bead of sweat nestles on your forehead, and your mouth feels dry. As the introductions move ever closer to you, your body enters a kind of fight or flight zone.
I have many memories of feeling like this especially from my childhood and my teen years. In school, I would dread it when the teacher would go around the room and ask people to read either from a book or from the blackboard. Given that I am visually impaired and could barely see my textbooks and couldn’t see the blackboard I was always extremely anxious when it came my time to read. I remember one day in school where the girl sitting beside me couldn’t find her book and she had to share my book. She was asked to read and I was up next. The panic inside me was immense.
We feel this panic and anxiety because of human nature we all fear being ridiculed, embarrassed or rejected. When it came time for me to read, I couldn’t see the text no matter how close I looked with my magnifying glass and so I just couldn’t speak. I could hear girls in my class laughing and giggling under their breath. I remember the teacher getting frustrated with me and asking me again to start reading. I remember pushing back my chair and running out of the classroom. I ran down the corridor and into the bathroom and just waited there until the class time was up. I left school early that day.
There were many days like that for me in school. I am a different person now from that girl. I have spoken nationally in Ireland and internationally in many countries. I have spoken for an audience size of 7,500 people and for smaller groups of 20 people.
What can cause fear of public speaking
A fear of public speaking can be mild to debilitating. Varying terms are used to describe a fear of public speaking and are often used interchangeably, such as ‘stage fright’, ‘communication apprehension’, ‘public speaking anxiety’ and ‘glossophobia’.
The term ‘glossophobia’ comes from the Greek words “glossa” (tongue) and “phobos” (dread or fear). Some people fear public speaking because they aren’t prepared, however, many people can fear public speaking even with a great deal of preparation. The roots of ‘glossophobia’ can come from many sources. For example, an experience where a person was once embarrassed, ridiculed, or even overwhelmed can cause anxiousness and bring back many memories.
For others, ‘glossophobia’ can come from a past performance which didn’t go well or is perceived not to have gone well. If this is the case then this can cause anxiety, worry and negative thoughts for the next speech such as: “I’m going to blow it,” “I don’t belong here,” “What if they don’t like me?” and so forth.
Fear of public speaking is not to do with the fear of public speaking itself. It’s about a fear of being judged, humiliated, or being ostracised from a group of friends.
Tips to Overcome Your Fear
Fear of public speaking is an incredibly common experience, even the most experienced speakers can fear a presentation. If you entirely lose your fear, there is a risk of becoming complacent. You want to find a balance where you feel nerves and excitement, but not to the extent that it messes with your head and sends you into a fight-or-flight response. Fortunately, public speaking is a skill that anyone can improve with the right strategies and practice.
Here is my five-step formula to overcome the fear of public speaking:
1. Identify your fear with public speaking
Write down your fears, thoughts and beliefs about public speaking. Example:
• “I’m not the best public speaker because [insert belief]” or
• “I am afraid of speaking in public because [insert fear].”
Fear is an emotional experience in your mind that physically triggers reactions in your body and mind. Knowing what limiting beliefs hold you back gives you an opportunity to transform your thoughts and beliefs. if you tell yourself you aren’t good enough to present at the next company meeting, you are giving yourself permission not to pursue it. There is simplicity in staying in your comfort zone.
If you want to go far in your career you must be willing to become uncomfortable and face your fear. Public speaking isn’t easy but it becomes far more enjoyable when you free yourself of the thoughts that limit you.
2. Your speaking style
Every speaker has his or her own style, and you should develop your own personal style. The important part to delivering an effective presentation is to approach it using a conversational style. Unfortunately, many people approach presentations as a performance. When you are in performance mode, you typically are focusing on what your audience is thinking and not on what you are saying.
Learn to have a conversation with your audience. This will allow you to connect with them more effectively. Use your own natural conversational style, and you will find that your presentations will be not only easier for you to deliver but more enjoyable as well.
3. Be Prepared
Nothing will relax you more than knowing you are properly prepared. The more you know about your speaking environment and your audience, the more relaxed you will be when delivering your presentation. What do you need to know pre-speech?
- What are the organisation’s major needs, problems, and concerns?
- How large will the audience be?
- What is the main purpose for the event?
- Is there a theme for the event?
- Will there be any other speakers on the program before you or after you?
- What speakers has the organisation had in the past? Has any past speakers spoken on the topic that you will be presenting on? If so, who were those speakers?
The answers to these questions will help you better understand your audience and their expectations. The more you can find out about your audience, the better you will be able to address their needs.
Many people become wrapped up in their own fear of public speaking that they forget that the presentation is about the audience, not you. It’s not all about. Connect with your audience, in that first moment when you stand on the stage or when you are welcoming them on a Zoom call. The audience are invested in the presentation.
They want it to be as good as much as you do. They don’t want to sit there and watch someone who is completely caught up in their own spiral of negative voices. When speaking, think of your purpose instead of the performance. You have something to teach this group of people, and they want to learn from you. You have information they want or need, and it's your job to deliver it to them, You don’t need to be perfect, and the desire to achieve perfection can actually do more harm than good.
Overcoming Glossophobia is a process that requires patience, time and practice. One of the best ways to overcome your public speaking anxiety is to learn from other speakers by witnessing an experienced speaker present live. Remember, public speakers aren’t born experts, they have spent years building experience and knowledge of how to give the best speech. Another way to tackle Glossophobia is to gain experience yourself and learn from each time what went well.
I hope you have found this blog helpful and that by following the tips you will be able to overcome your fear of public speaking and presenting. Good luck.