Fear of public speaking is widespread and much talked about – to the extent I sometimes wonder if it isn’t somewhat self-perpetuating. The more everyone goes on about how terrifying it is to stand up and speak in front of an audience, the more everyone believes it. While I completely accept that, for some, the fear is deep and real, I suspect many more people suffer from a fear induced by the cultural expectation and tradition that we should be afraid of public speaking.
The good news is this: however intense and paralysing your fear of public speaking is, you can overcome it. Whether we’re talking about wobbly knees or serious panic attacks, you can slay your demons and learn to feel safe in the spotlight. If your fear is huge and powerful, you may have some hard work to do and it may take time but in the end you will prevail. (See my article about public speaking phobia.)
As it says in this Observer article, visions of an upcoming public speaking engagement tend to consist of fantasies of what could go wrong. The way to combat this is not airy-fairy positive thinking but taking practical steps to make sure you really know what you’re doing.
How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking
Whatever your level of anxiety about public speaking, I have three recommendations:
1. Learn the techniques of effective public speaking
Read up on how to speak smoothly, practise, maybe get some coaching. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, getting up in front of an audience is always going to be scary. Once you’ve nailed the skills, you’re in a far better position to face down your fear.
You’ll find a lot of advice here in the Public Speaking Skills section of this website. If you want more depth and detail, you’ll find it in my public speaking ebook. If you’d like some personalised public speaking training, just get in touch and we’ll arrange it.
2. Don’t avoid or evade opportunities to speak to a group
The best way to overcome your fear of public speaking is to speak in public as often as possible, until the scariness is eroded by familiarity. However, this does not mean rushing – or allowing yourself to be pushed – into situations where even an experienced speaker might struggle. If you’re not well versed in the subject, if the audience is known to be difficult, if you haven’t got enough information about the background to or purpose of the talk, if there isn’t time before the day to prepare properly… it’s probably better not to take on this task. You need to build up your confidence gradually, by feeding it success.
Be honest with yourself about whether the talk you’re being asked to give is objectively outside your current capabilities or whether you just don’t feel you can do it because public speaking scares you. If it’s the latter, take a deep breath and agree to doing it. Then prepare and practise until you’re absolutely in command of what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
Do NOT allow yourself to confirm your fear by setting yourself up for failure. Push yourself to accept the invitation to speak but make absolutely certain you know exactly what you’re doing. A session of coaching can make all the difference.
3. Get on and prepare your talk as soon as you’ve taken it on
Once you’ve agreed to do the speech or presentation, start preparing straight away. A great deal of the fear you’re feeling is fear of the unknown and getting to grips with preparing your talk will do a lot to reduce that. Looking at the situation through the other end of the prism, fear of public speaking can easily lead you to procrastinate preparing your talk. If you leave the preparation till the last minute, you won’t be able to do yourself justice and, ironically, your fear will be well founded.
‘Social’ Fear of Public Speaking
Some degree of nerves in anticipation of making a speech or presentation can actually be useful, if it spurs you to prepare thoroughly and not cut any corners. A blasé attitude to addressing an audience can result in a baggy or lacklustre performance. Harness those butterflies and get them to work for you: they’re on your side.
The first thing to do, as I’ve said above, is to learn the techniques. If you’ve never acquired the skills associated with successful public speaking, you’re at a disadvantage and it’s bound to be scary. Once you know what you’re doing, there’s really no need to worry any more. Many of my clients who tell me they are afraid of public speaking surprise themselves by losing virtually all their fear as soon as they’ve mastered the techniques.
Deep-Seated Fear of Public Speaking
If your fear of public speaking goes way beyond nervousness, I suggest you may be reacting to something more than the prospect of giving a talk to a group of people. I think it’s likely your fear is based on experience from your past – probably your childhood – and aggravated by views expressed by those whose opinions were formative. For example, perhaps your parents were always telling you not to show off and that “pride comes before a fall”. Perhaps your school classmates used to sneer at you when you answered the teacher’s questions. Perhaps every time you opened your mouth at a family gathering your older brother or sister told you to shut up. It may sound trite but this sort of experience can foster beliefs about oneself and the world that are completely untrue (such as It’s wrong to speak up in front of a number of people or Nobody is interested in what I’ve got to say).
This undermining of self-confidence can occur later in life too. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, ‘friends’, partners, colleagues and bosses can do a lot of damage to a delicate psyche.
The important thing to remember is that your fear is based on other people’s opinions, not facts. With time and determination, you can change your limiting beliefs and shake off your fear.
The first chapter of my public speaking ebook is devoted entirely to preparing the psychological ground for your success. It contains concrete suggestions and exercises to help you to overcome even the deepest-held fear, to access positive energy and become a confident, effective speaker.
Don’t let fear of public speaking limit your life. Stop avoiding it, forget about beta-blockers, get to grips with how it’s done and free yourself of this fear for ever.
Overcome Fear of Public Speaking with One-to-One Coaching
It’s a sad irony that many people who would benefit from public speaking training don’t enrol on the course, because they don’t want to have to present in front of the rest of the group. The solution is one-to-one coaching.
Fear of public speaking takes many forms (see this Business Insider article listing the 10 Biggest Public Speaking Phobias) but it can be cured by a two-pronged approach: practical work, learning the techniques, combined with psychological preparation and mental discipline. I can help you with both aspects.
Contact me and let’s arrange a personalised session to get you over your fear of public speaking and able to turn in a strong, confident performance every time.