Fear Of Public Speaking: How To Overcome It

Are YOU a nervous (or terrified) speaker?

How To Become A Confident Speaker

Does the thought of having to speak to an audience fill you with dread?

When you stand up to speak, do you have butterflies in the stomach, shaking, sweating, dry mouth, rapid heartbeat and more?

Perhaps you are so apprehensive that you avoid situations where you might be required to speak and miss opportunities as a result.

Well, here’s the good news! You are normal! The fear of public speaking is very, very common. So, you’re not alone.

By the way, Glossophobia is the technical term for a fear of public speaking, not of gloss paint or shiny objects. But we’ll gloss over that.

In this post we’ll look at what causes so many of us to fear speaking in public.

We’ll then look at ways to deal with those fears and become a more confident speaker.

Anxiety, Nerves, Fear – The Causes

Did you know that a lack of confidence can be triggered by a single traumatic event, often in childhood?

Over time that first event will be reinforced by others. It’s a bit like a snowball increasing in size as it’s rolled in the snow.

If something happens when you are young that scares or embarrasses, or even humiliates you, it can seem really important and all-consuming.

When recalled in adult life, it will probably seem to be a very small incident and of little consequence. It may even be forgotten. But your unconscious mind links the emotion experienced at the time with other events as you grow.

Eventually it develops into a firm belief. This can continue unconsciously well into adulthood before it emerges as a significant issue.

Many of us have a specific fear. Spiders, birds, snakes, heights, tunnels, public speaking, entering a room full of strangers, flying; the list is endless.

And sometimes we have a combination of several fears, or a general unease and lack of confidence.

Speaking confidence flattened by a snowball

Beware snowballs

Don’t Look At Me

If, in your early life, you haven’t been listened to, or you’ve been told to stop talking rubbish, it’s easy to develop a belief that what you say isn’t worth listening to.

Then you can become willing, to give others the stage. You big them up in your mind and taking a back seat becomes an expectation leading to a belief. A belief that being away from the spotlight is where you belong. It is your role. It is where you fit. 

What you have done is to settle into your comfort zone. You avoid challenging yourself to tackle something that might go wrong.

In meetings you may be afraid to express your opinion. You let others do the talking even though you know more about the subject under discussion than they do. But you still keep quiet.

In that way poor decisions may be made because the confident, but less informed ones, hold sway. And sitting meekly in meetings can give the wrong impression of your abilities, and so your career prospects are damaged.

So that comfort zone isn’t always comfortable. Certainly not if it stops you from achieving your ambitions.

Expectation

Most of us have expectations. Expectations of others and of ourselves.

We are disappointed when others don’t meet our expectations. We may feel let down. Likewise, we can be fearful of letting down others.

As a result, we avoid challenges such as representing our boss at a meeting, making a presentation or giving a best man’s speech.

And our background can have a strong bearing.

If we come from a family where mother, father, aunts and uncles are doctors, lawyers, company directors and the like, we’ll probably grow up believing that we will engage in a similar profession. It’s a sort of unconsciously absorbed confidence.

However, if we come from a family struggling to make its way, to find work, to put food on the table, to pay the bills, we may well find it difficult to envisage standing up and speaking in front of two or three hundred people at a conference.

Become a Confident Speaker

Change Your Beliefs

Firstly, there needs to be acceptance that beliefs are not necessarily fact, but you choose to accept them as such.

Superstitions, old wives’ tales, conspiracy theories and urban myths are all examples of this choice.

So how do you dismantle that belief?  Start by picking holes in it. Ask yourself:

  • Even if lots of people believe this, does everyone believe it?
  • What would happen to me if I did not believe this?
  • Is there any rationality in the belief? If there is, what is it?

For nervousness about public speaking, pin down the actual fear or belief.

You will find it useful if you can share the belief-busting activity with a friend. Ask each other questions and probe the answers that you come up with by asking some more questions related to that answer.

The second thing to remember is that the members of most audiences will be on your side wanting you to succeed. Why wouldn’t they? Keep reminding yourself of that.

The New Kitchen Problem

Ever had a new kitchen? Drawers and cupboards are different sizes and in different places.

As a result, the cutlery, plates, glasses, kitchen equipment get moved. It’s all in different places.

After a couple of days, if you really concentrate, you go to the right cupboard first time. But let your concentration slip and you go into auto-pilot mode.

An auto-pilot that, using unconscious memory, sometimes referred to as ‘muscle memory’, goes to where things used to be kept. You open a drawer and find tea towels rather than the expected knives and forks.

Things get better over time but, years after, you still get it wrong occasionally. You see, your unconscious mind had developed a belief that guided your behaviour.

Routines and Habits

We spend a lot of our time relying on routines and habits. Routines and habits are driven by the unconscious mind, which not only helps us feel secure and in control but also saves the conscious mind from having to use the energy required for intense concentration. For oft-repeated tasks the unconscious can be left to get on with them.

Just as you can train your brain to take you to the right drawer or cupboard, so you can train it to deal with your fears and anxiety. One of the ways you can help yourself is to accept that your belief is only a belief and therefore it can be changed.

As with the kitchen drawers the odd lapse is to be expected and shouldn’t be allowed to derail your new, more confident self.

Out of the Comfort Zone

Because routines help us feel comfortable, we can feel completely out of control when required to do something outside of our comfort zone.

For most people, delivering a presentation takes them out of their comfort zone. You don’t know what to expect and therefore find it difficult to prepare for it. How can you prepare for the unknown?

When asked to perform an unfamiliar task, you might find that one or more of your latent demons awakens.

Routines provide comfort. They become a safe place. You know what to expect and how to deal with it. As a result, you feel in control.

On the contrary, the unknown is a place of uncertainty, of feeling you aren’t in control. You don’t know what to expect. How can you cope with what you don’t know?

In our new kitchen we can laugh off finding plates where we expected saucepans. But taking on a new challenge at work or in our social life is no laughing matter.

Particularly if it involves dealing with one of the demons living in our unconscious mind. Perhaps the one labelled public speaking fear is ready to jump out.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The old adage Practice makes perfect has truth behind it. But don’t worry about being perfect. You just need to be good enough to take on the challenge.

If you’d entered for a marathon, you wouldn’t just turn up on the start line without preparation would you?

If you were serious, you’d probably start your preparation a year in advance of the event. Gradually you would build up the distance you could run, perhaps taking in a half-marathon along the way.

Developing speaking confidence can be tackled in a similar way.

You could start by trying to speak up a bit more when with friends. Don’t sit meekly and let them talk over you.

How about plucking up courage in meetings? If a subject arises that you know about, why not venture an opinion?

When the opportunity to deliver a presentation comes along, be bold and take it. Learn the subject inside out. Plan the content and structure it carefully. Then practise the presentation. Practise it again. And again.

Try to start well in advance if you can. Rehearse several times a day for a few days before the presentation. Develop your speaking notes as you go. You know your subject and the content of your presentation will now be imbedded in your mind. You are set for success.

Little by little, confidence can be built. As a result, self-belief grows. Others may notice and comment favourably, but don’t worry if they don’t.

Modelling

YouTube offers lots of opportunities to watch others speak. TED talks and politicians’ speeches are there aplenty. Watch as many as you can. Which ones impress you? Watch them again. Look at other presentations they have given. Analyse what makes them good in your eyes. What aspects could you copy?

Take Barack Obama as an example.

Nervous speakers often speak very quickly, hardly giving themselves time to breathe or to think. That also means the listener doesn’t have time to digest the message. Most people can speak at a faster pace than they can listen.

When Barack Obama delivers a speech, his delivery is measured.

One or two sentences at a time.

He gives himself time to scan his autocue.

Time to breathe.

And an opportunity for the audience to take in what he’s said.

Take a look at some of his speeches.

Give yourself time to think and to breathe by slowing down.

Of course, Obama’s approach isn’t necessarily appropriate in a business meeting. If you pause for too long, someone else may jump in to speak. But a slightly more measured approach may help. It will make you sound more confident and it will help the other participants to take in what you’ve said.

Warning!

You shouldn’t try to model yourself too closely on the people you are analysing. It’s a case of selecting the elements that can work for you.

Be wary of looking at top speakers and thinking you could never be that good. The aim is just to be the best you can be.

And one day, you might just be as good as them.

Fear of Public Speaking: The Ultimate Fix

Just as with athletes, top speakers have coaches. That’s probably beyond the means of most people. But there’s a very good next best thing.

Joining a speakers’ club!

Well-run clubs provide a safe place. A safe place to practise. To experiment. And to make mistakes. Development is about making mistakes and learning.

Although the adage is Practice makes perfect, it becomes much more realistic when amended to Practice, plus constructive feedback, makes for a confident and effective speaker. OK, perhaps not quite as catchy but it’s what speakers’ clubs offer.

Take every opportunity to try out new techniques, tackle new subjects, enabling you to receive the valuable gift of constructive feedback from more experienced members. They will demonstrate how to be even better next time you speak. And they’ll provide support and encouragement.

There is one thing that is sure to minimise and destroy your inner demons.

That is to do the thing you fear. Yet so tough to do alone. So much easier alongside people in your speakers’ clubs who love to help.

They have been where you are, felt what you feel, and will guide you towards speaking confidence.

And the demons will be no more.

We can help you chase out the demons

Out with confidence destroying demons that cause public speaking fear

The blog team was joined  by Derek Norval for this article. Derek has previously run session on speaking confidence at Bromsgrove Speakers Club.

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