Overcoming the fear of public speaking
In the book Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun, the author shares one fact that I have to share with you, because it’s vital for anyone who might suffer from a fear of public speaking.
I’m sure you’ve heard or read this fact about public speaking, it goes something like this.
Did you know that people would rather die that speak in public?
So where has this popular fact come from?
Because I have to say that, personally, I’ve not heard of anyone taking their own life, jumping off a building or leaving a suicide note based on an upcoming presentation!
So where has this popular fact come from?
Well, the source appears to be a trivia book “Book of Lists”, by David Wallechinksy.
It includes a list of things that people were afraid of.
- Speaking in public before a group
- Insects and bugs
- Financial problems
- Deep water
The problem with this? The fear of public speaking is a complete myth!
So how do we know it’s a myth?
Firstly, let’s start with the research process itself.
The research carried out by a team of market researchers who asked 3000 Americans a simple question.
What are you most afraid of?
They allowed them to write down as many answers as they wanted. There was no list to pick from, so the survey data was far from scientific.
Secondly, no information was provided about who these people were.
Therefore we have no way of knowing if these people were representative of the rest of us.
Let’s take a closer look at the top 10…
If you look at the list above – heights, deep water, death, sickness and flying – it’s probably safe to say that death should feature in the No. 1 spot!
The reality is that facts about the fear of speaking in public are often misleading because they are often quoted from people selling a service or product.
Most fear of public speaking comes from the fact that the speaker is selling something.
In addition, another factor is the frequency of the fear.
The truth is that when faced with a question like this, people tend to list fears of minor things they encounter in everyday life much more often than more fearsome but abstract experiences like dying.
After all, no-one has ever died and later told the fearful story, but we often experience fear, stress and anxiety in everyday situations — such as peering over a steep cliff, or finding a massive spider in the bath, or the fear of public speaking.
And the outcome is that because these are fairly normal, regular occurrences that happen to most of us at least occasionally, our anxiety levels only increase the next time we have to experience that thing.
Are you afraid of public speaking?
Rest assured that you’re not alone.
Fear of public speaking is more common than you may think. So common, in fact, that it has even been officially recognised as a phobia: glossophobia affects as many as 75% of us. Here we outline seven steps you can take towards reducing your fear of public speaking and wowing any audience.
Steps to overcoming your fear of public speaking
1. Stop panicking, start planning
The number one way to overcome a fear of public speaking — indeed, a fear of anything — is to consciously remove emotions from the equation and analyse the fear rationally.
It’s all in the planning! So take pen and paper in hand, and ask yourself these two quick questions:
- Why are you speaking in public?
- What do you want to achieve by the end of your talk?
Answering these two questions (don’t spare on the detail!) will set you on the road to overcoming your public speaking anxiety.
Once you do that, you can move on to spending the time required to understanding your audience and their needs and view of the world, and preparing your content for that audience.
This preparation will help you both to craft a message that engages your audience, and to achieve what you want from the presentation.
Once you’ve planned thoroughly, and are comfortable with your material, rehearse—aloud!—as often as you can.
2. Public speaking is about your audience, not you!
In my experience, through well over a decade of working with some of the most successful business men and women in the UK, Ireland and further afield to help them hone their speaking communications, I have learned one thing about the fear of public speaking.
Most people who suffer from this public speaking anxiety make one key mistake: their primary focus is on themselves and their fear of public speaking.
You must remember, however, that you are presenting to them.
It is their presentation. Without your audience, there is no presentation!
If you move the focus away from yourself and on to the audience, this will take the pressure off you.
3. So focus instead on your audience
- Who is my audience
- Why are they there?
- What is relevant to them?
- What questions are going through their minds?
Pondering these questions will help you quiet your own nerves about public speaking and tailor your content, message and delivery for the people who matter.
4. Talk to your audience (not at them!)
Think of your audience as your friends.
Use simple jargon free language in a conversational style.
It may even help to think of your audience as a single, friendly person, and speak directly to them.
This will help you calm your fear of public speaking when you get up on stage.
5. You’ve gotta keep breathing
Take the time to breathe deep inside your ribcage as opposed to high in the chest.
Breathing for public speaking takes practice but it works.
Working on your breath helps to reduce nerves and gain control.
6. The public does not see your fear
You need to think about this as soon as you walk into that room.
Be aware of how you walk, how you stand and how you “own the space”.
Slow everything down.
Think tall, stand tall, walk tall.
7. Think about what your voice is saying about you
Speak slowly and clearly and make every word count. If your voice lacks energy and emotion — your audience will tune out.
Ask yourself — what emotion do you want your audience to feel.
Interest? Excitement? Curiosity?
You then need to convey this emotion in your voice.