Most people feel nervous about speaking in public, yet millions manage to make speeches and presentations every day. For some people, though, the fear is so strong they would describe themselves as having public speaking phobia.
The Boots-WebMD website defines a phobia as “an intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as snakes, heights, or flying”. It goes on, “The level of fear usually is inappropriate to the situation and may cause the person to avoid common, everyday situations”.
If this is how you feel, you don’t have to spend your whole life ducking and hiding and finding excuses: you can overcome your public speaking phobia.
If the idea of public speaking induces a feeling of panic in you, here are some suggestions that may help:
1. Learn the techniques of successful public speaking
It may be that the root of your fear is having to get up in front of an audience without the skills to do yourself justice. This is a logical, well founded fear, protecting you from the dangers of overconfidence and underpreparation.
A phobia of humiliation or of not being in control of every situation is NOT the same as a phobia of public speaking.
Effective public speaking is a skill like any other and it can be learned, in no more than a few hours. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, you WILL be in control and, with a degree of determination, you can avoid ever feeling humiliated.
The fear that appears to be holding you back from becoming a successful public speaker may, in fact, simply be preventing you from learning the hard way that public speaking requires work: thought, preparation and lots of practice. As with great writers, musicians, magicians, sportspeople, great public speakers make what they do seem easy. But that’s only because they’ve spent years honing their skills.
If you learn the techniques and work hard at preparing and practising your speech or presentation, you have nothing to fear from public speaking. Honestly.
Instead of saying no every time you’re asked to speak in public, get some coaching – or at least read up on the techniques. Learn how to do it well, prepare and practise thoroughly, and then slay your demons by proving to yourself you can, actually, handle public speaking.
This website offers you a good introduction to public speaking skills. For more depth and detail, you might like to download the public speaking ebook that contains the distillation of everything I’ve learnt over 20+ years of addressing audiences, watching and listening to speakers, and training a wide variety of clients to face down their fear and make a success of public speaking.
2. Work through your issues
To be nervous in anticipation of making a speech or presentation is normal, natural and often quite useful. To be terrified is an extreme reaction, which in my opinion almost certainly has a cause separate from and deeper than the prospect of giving a talk to a group of people. If your fear of public speaking is so intense you would classify it as a phobia, I suggest its root is in your past, probably in your childhood.
As you were growing up and learning how to fit into the world, if those whose opinions counted were always telling you not to draw attention to yourself, to pipe down and not to feel important, this may be the reason you have a sense of dread about the idea of getting up to speak in public. The command to keep a low profile may not have been made explicit; you may have picked it up from the fact your needs always seemed to be last on the list of priorities. If you were one of many children, if you had an ailing or disabled parent, if your parents or primary care-givers were preoccupied with their own problems, without anyone intending it, you may have received the message that your role is life is to support others and not to make any demands (such as listen to me).
Another possibility is that those looking after you as you were growing up pigeon-holed you in a way that has confined you. Perhaps you were the sporty one or the arty one, while a brother or sister was the entertaining, interesting or clever one, the one everybody wanted to listen to.
Whatever your situation was, if it has left you with a phobia of public speaking, I suggest the first step on your path to success is to work through the underlying issues that are making a moderately challenging task seem insurmountably scary.
Remember that your fear is based on other people’s opinions and on conclusions you drew as a young child, not facts. With time and determination, you can change your limiting beliefs and shake off your fear.
The opening chapter of my public speaking ebook is solely concerned with demolishing psychological barriers to your success. It contains exercises to help you identify and overcome even the deepest-held fear, and practical suggestions for managing your mind and harnessing your positive energy.
Rather than taking beta-blockers, as many of my clients used to, I recommend you find a good practitioner of a talking therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. But, honestly, you may not need either of those – try some public speaking coaching first and see how you feel after that.
3. Expand your comfort zone
In addition to learning the techniques and working through your issues, you might find it beneficial to push at a different edge of your comfort zone. The point of taking this oblique approach is that challenging oneself in an area completely unconnected to public speaking can result in one’s public-speaking demons reducing in size and ferocity. Once you’ve proved to yourself you can survive in the wild, run a marathon or have a night out on your own and enjoy it – whatever is stretching to you personally – it can be easier to get some perspective on making a speech or presentation.
(Read more about expanding your comfort zone)
Overcome Your Public Speaking Phobia
If you have a phobia of public speaking, do not let it limit your life! A couple of sessions of coaching can transform how you think about and approach public speaking.
Contact me and let’s start the process of liberating you from this paralysing phobia.