How to Overcome Your Public Speaking Fear
You aren’t alone if you have anxiety every time you have to read a paper in front of your class, give a presentation at work, or speak in front of a large group. It is estimated that around 73% of people have anxiety related to speaking in public. With the right tools and techniques, you can minimize or overcome your fear.
What are the signs of speech anxiety?
Glossophobia is the technical term for a fear of speech that goes beyond a bit of nervousness. It’s such a common fear that you or your loved ones may simply brush it aside. However, properly identifying your fear is the first step in overcoming it. Even those who regularly give presentations, speeches, or performances can struggle with glossophobia.
Fear of public speaking symptoms goes beyond nervousness, to:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased perspiration
- Dry mouth
- A stiffening of the upper back muscles
- Nausea and a feeling of panic when faced with having to speak in public
- Intense anxiety at the thought of speaking in front of a group
- Stuttering more or only when giving a speech or presentation
Is public speaking a common fear?
Yes! As we mentioned in the introduction, it is something that affects up to 73% of children and adults. That makes it the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders, and height. Some children will outgrow their fear, while others will continue to struggle into adulthood. In other words, you’re not alone!
While it’s not something everyone admits publicly, people you would never expect have a public speaking fear—including actors, performers, spiritual leaders, and politicians such as Barbara Streisand, Carly Simon, Hugh Grant, Thomas Jefferson, and Gandhi.
What if I only stutter when speaking in public?
Stuttering is a unique condition, that can worsen when speaking in public. However, some people only stutter when speaking in public. Or those who have recovered from stuttering only stutter when anxious.
The most common causes of a stutter are genetics, language development, environment, and brain structure and function. There is also a connection between stuttering and forcing a naturally left-handed person to write with their right hand. If you have always or have recently developed a stutter, working with a speech therapist is essential.
Again, you’re not alone. Although they shine on-screen, Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Roberts began acting to help overcome their childhood stutters. Bruce Willis also struggled with a stutter in his youth. Imagine if they’d never had a stutter, as they may not have found their way to acting!
If you only stutter in social settings or as part of your public speaking fear, it is likely due to a combination of your anxiety and not giving yourself enough space between your words. When your fight or flight response kicks in, you are more likely to rush your words. Rushing your speech often leads to stringing your words and sentences together in a manner that makes what you are saying difficult to comprehend. It also increases the likelihood of stuttering. Your logic may be to get the speech over with as soon as possible, but your objective is also to ensure your content is coherent.
What causes a fear of public speaking?
As with all phobias, your fear is likely due to a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors. However, your fear of speaking to others you don’t know well or giving a presentation to a large group likely stems from one or more of the factors below:
- Self-consciousness—performance anxiety often occurs only when speaking in large group settings and when speaking to a new or high-pressure audience. Also, when speaking on a topic you are not fully confident in.
- Fear of showing your nerves—most speakers get at least a little bit nervous before a speech. However, your fear may stem from your nervousness being visible to those in the audience.
- Fear of judgment—whether it’s your physical appearance, recognizing your nervousness, or the content in your presentation, your fear may stem from the audience judging you.
- Past failure—if your last speech didn’t go as planned you may develop a public speaking fear. This fear may pass after a successful speech, or it may linger.
- Content quality—you may only feel anxious when you have not properly prepared for your presentation. Also, if you haven’t done your homework on the audience you are addressing.
- Narcissism—it is possible for your self-consciousness to surpass general anxiety and transition into narcissism. While you’re giving the speech, it’s not all about you. Even if the presentation is about your opinion or experience, focus on giving to the audience, instead of what they will think of or do for you.
- Lack of experience—if it’s your first time speaking in public or presenting to a new group your lack of experience may be the cause of your anxiety. You may also experience anxiety if it’s been a while since you’ve given a speech.
- Comparison—your fear may stem from comparing yourself to others. This includes coworkers, other presenters, keynote speakers, or even someone you’ve never met.
Are introverts good at public speaking?
Both introverts and extroverts can fear or excel in public speaking, and both can leverage their unique skills. It is essential to understand that introversion is not the same thing as social anxiety. Up to 40% of the population are introverts. This is defined as someone who prefers to turn inward for stimulation. This means they focus more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods than they do on external stimulation.
In this Super Soul Conversation, Oprah and Amy Schumer discuss that they are both introverts.
Introverts can leverage their strengths of preparation, focus, and a desire to add value when speaking in public.
Are extroverts good at public speaking?
While it may not be your first guess, extroverts can have a public speaking fear. While they may shine in their social circle or small group settings, they can experience anxiety just like anyone else.
Extroversion has many definitions, and some debate that there are 2 to 4 different types of extroverts. All can agree that extroverts prefer external stimuli and social interaction.
Extroverts can leverage their ability to open up quickly and accurately express their emotions to improve their public speaking.
How do I get over my fear of public speaking?
There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to overcoming your fear of public speaking. Begin by identifying the factors that contribute to your fear and anxiety, and strategically apply the tips below.
Exposure—public speaking isn’t something most of us do often, so practice makes perfect. This includes practicing in front of friends and family but can also include joining a group such as Toastmasters.
Prepare—preparation includes everything from researching your speech, asking for feedback, editing and perfecting your presentation, and getting enough sleep the night before.
Dress for success—this is part of preparation, but it deserves its own section. Dressing for success is all about dressing for the occasion without sacrificing your comfort or style.
Breathe—deep breathing exercises can calm your nerves before you go on stage and help you pace your presentation or speech.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—CBT is an effective way to manage all phobias. A trained therapist will help you identify the techniques that work best for you.
Be present—your fear and anxiety remove you from the present moment. So, focus on one moment at a time, and one sentence at a time.
Shift your perspective—shifting your perspective can help in some situations. For example, remember that you are presenting to classmates and colleagues you speak to all the time. Also, focus on your enthusiasm regarding the content you are presenting.
Visualize your success—your brain doesn’t know the difference between a visualization and a lived experience. So, visualize giving your speech to create neurological pathways that support your success.
Express your fear—reach out to someone you trust who is empathetic and motivational. This might be your therapist, Toastmasters group, friend, partner, or family member.
Be proactive with your anxiety—identify anxiety management techniques that work for you. This might include meditation, physical activity, sound therapy, repeating a mantra, prescription medication, or taking CBD.
Celebrate your success—each time you complete your presentation or walk off stage, take a moment to celebrate your success. Even if you had areas of opportunity, you did it!
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Here’s to facing your public speaking fear head-on!