How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

How to overcome your fear of public speaking

Why are so many people fearful of public speaking? It is not uncommon for the average person to consider public speaking as one of their greatest fears, and unfortunately for many people this can affect them both in their personal and professional lives and hold them back from achieving their objectives and dreams.

In a nutshell, fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is a form of performance anxiety or distress where an individual becomes concerned that they will look anxious or nervous while speaking and possibly stumble over the words, not be able to get out any words at all or even panic. As a result, a lot of people just try to avoid public speaking altogether and this only compounds the problem for them and makes it more chronic in nature. Some people simply won’t take a class or a job just because it involves public speaking, and others will pass up promotions in order to avoid having to speak in public or make presentations at all. Others, when given the opportunity, will still go ahead and make a speech or presentation but will focus on the feeling of fear they have rather than what they actually have to deliver. This can increase anxiety and decrease performance, which itself causes its own problems.

Naturally, overcoming the fear of public speaking is more important in some professions than others. For example, if you want to do any form of teaching, coaching or presenting you’ll need to be able to speak in public and will likely be making some form of speech every day, and this will also generally be the case if you want to take up a position of any formal seniority such as management. Indeed, the more successful you become often the more you’ll be expected to share your expertise, so it is easy to see how a fear of public speaking can become an ongoing problem in peoples’ lives.

If this applies to you, when speaking in public you might find yourself rushing through it, not looking at the audience, just reading from a piece of paper, skipping portions of your speech, using too many slides, clenching your fists, getting sweaty palms or getting really thirsty because you have a dry mouth and are swallowing so much. Do any of these sound familiar?  If so don’t worry, a lot of these symptoms are caused by adrenaline and you can learn to control these feelings of nervousness and anxiety over time. Regarding this, there are a number of steps that you can take to help you overcome your fear, which many well-known, successful people who have suffered from the same problem have executed successfully in the past.
 
So what can you do to control and overcome your fear of public speaking?

Know your subject

This is an obvious one but it is vital that you know your subject. If you do you will feel a lot more confident and be more likely to deliver a good speech, presentation or clear set of instructions.

Prepare and be organised

Make sure that you have all of your materials for your speech in order and that you know what you’re going to cover and when. Organising your thoughts in this way and making notes can help reduce your anxiety levels and make you feel more prepared.

Test any technology you might use beforehand

If you’re using technology test it beforehand to make sure it all works. This will avoid embarrassing problems such as where you have a room full of people waiting to listen to you and you can’t get your slide show to start. If you can take steps to eliminate anything like this that has the potential to cause you problems it is always worthwhile.

Practice

There is an old phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ and although this might not be true for every speech or talk, if you practice you will at least know how long it is likely to take, where it requires emphasis and where any difficult parts might be. Doing this in front of a mirror will allow you to examine your body language at the same time and you can work on developing a calm demeanour. Practicing will also help put you in the right frame of mind for making your speech and should help you to envisage a positive outcome.

Present to other people first

If you want to build up your confidence, presenting to a familiar audience such as friends and family can be very useful before you actually present for real. They will be able to provide you with valuable feedback and give you an idea of some of the questions you might expect to receive from your audience. Doing this can also help you put into practice some of the other points we discuss here.

Attend public speaking classes

Generally in life the more you do something the easier it becomes, so by attending public speaking classes you’ll gain confidence and feel like you are getting better. A great way to do this is to join a group such as Toastmasters, which is a public speaking group that helps people get over their fears by getting their members to speak regularly on different subjects.

Record yourself

Recording yourself giving or practising a speech or talk can be another great way to find areas of improvement or discover things that you do well. Additionally, it will help you evaluate your body language, see if you’re going too quickly and get used to the sound of your own voice, which is something that some people struggle with when giving a speech.

Don’t rush

When you hurry your speaking because you’re feeling nervous this only exacerbates the feeling. Speaking quickly can disrupt your normal breathing, cause you to start taking shorter breaths and possibly even hold your breath, which will give you the sensation of running out of air and add to any feelings of anxiety that you may already have. Your audience will pick up on this and this can create an uneasiness that can add to your fear, so take your time.

Establish a rhythm

When undertaking public speaking it is quite important to establish a rhythm. Keeping sentences short and to the point will help you to control your breathing and keep the audience interested. It is also useful to pause between points to give yourself a chance to catch your breath if you need to and create some anticipation about what you’ll say next.

Control your breathing

If you are able to do this it will be invaluable to you when public speaking. When we have excess adrenaline we often take more shallow and rapid breaths which can lead to a feeling of nervousness and anxiety as mentioned above, so if you can learn to relax and slow down your breathing this will help alleviate this feeling and slow the increase in adrenaline. A good way to do this is to breathe in and out slowly for 30 seconds before you begin.
 
Try to relax

If you can relax and let go of your stress your body will feel and look less tense. This will give you a more confident appearance and aid you in delivering your message. 

Embrace the role of the speaker

Many people don’t want to speak in public and when doing so, end up trying to draw as little attention as possible to any anxiety they may have by just reading from a carefully crafted script. This can lead to a hurried, monotone style delivery, which both you and the audience will pick up on and will only make your anxiety worse. To avoid this try to embrace the role of the speaker and take pride in sharing your knowledge to help others, your audience will respond to this and you’ll feel better. Thinking about the positive aspects of your speech and what you’ll achieve through it can be a good way to relax and provide an outlet for your adrenaline.

Exercise

Exercise can be a great tool to help you relax and counter the negative effects of adrenaline. Going for a walk before public speaking can help you gather your thoughts and mentally prepare for what you have to do.

Make adrenaline work for you

Learn to control any adrenaline you do have and you can use it to give your speech an energising boost, whilst negating any negative consequences it may have upon your overall speaking performance.

Take a bottle of water with you

If adrenaline is an ongoing problem for you when speaking in public and you suffer from a dry mouth when making speeches take a bottle of water with you. Not only will it help you with your dry mouth but it will also give you the opportunity to take the natural pauses in your speech that are necessary to slow your breathing and help you gather your thoughts. This can be of great help if you find yourself encountering any problems or disengaging with the audience.

Engage the audience

People who are afraid of public speaking often avoid making any eye contact with the audience or ignore them outright when giving a speech in the hope that it will decrease their own anxiety. Unfortunately, this can cause them to start to overthink what they are doing by only focussing on themselves and their own thoughts, which can lead to nervousness and mistakes and in turn more fear. It is much better to try and engage the audience to prevent yourself otherthinking and to see if they respond to you or if they have any questions. If you do this you’ll come across as a more interesting speaker and once you’ve overcome that initial hurdle of engaging the audience for the first time it will make speaking in public feel a lot easier.

Don’t overthink audience reactions

Although it is important to engage the audience you shouldn’t overthink their reactions during your speech. There will always be some people who are tired, bored or yawning and this does not have to mean you are doing a bad job.

Analyse your speech

Once you have done any form of public speaking you may feel a great sense of relief and never want to think about it again. However, to improve you should really try to analyse it and think about what you did well and where you could do better next time. Did you hesitate a lot, was using slides useful, how was your pace and rhythm? Make a note of this and work on it and next time you’ll have more confidence about it and you’ll be well on your way to overcoming your fear of public speaking.
 
Have you had any difficult public speaking experiences? Let us know and we hope the ideas discussed here can help you out in future!



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