Fear of public speaking is incredibly common, and not just in those with anxiety. While anxiety tends to fuel public speaking fears, nearly anyone can suffer from this type of phobia. Public speaking anxiety is one of the most common fears shared amongst most of the general population, and unfortunately these days few people have the tools necessary to overcome this fear.
What Causes Fear of Public Speaking?
Fear of public speaking - also known as Glossophobia - has its roots in social phobia. It comes from the fear of being judged, which stems from all of the attention that people place on you when you're speaking. Ideally, you need to be able to deliver a loud, effective speech. Yet doubts over our own ability combined with the knowledge that others are forced to pay attention to the words we share can create a feeling of fear that is tough to shake.
Public speaking fear can only be reinforced as well. No one gives a perfect speech. If you go up there and do a great job, but make a few mistakes, your mind tends to focus on the mistakes, and your fear is then confirmed.
In addition, there is reason to believe that the modern day lifestyle makes glossophobia more common than it had been in the past. Consider the following:
- More and more people spend their free time in less public situations, like online, which requires not only no public speaking, but also allows for complete anonymity. Those that spend a lot of time online become less used to the idea of talking in public and being judged.
- More and more people have work related communication that requires less speaking in public as well. Now you can send emails, talk on the phone, or use online workrooms. No longer do you need to worry as much about others looking at you and judging you, which is a problem for future public speakers because it means less experience speaking in public.
It doesn't matter if you're younger or more experienced - the modern day lifestyle has less interaction with other people, which can only increase the ease to which people develop public speaking anxiety.
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How to Reduce Public Speaking Anxiety
A little bit of anxiety as you prepare for a big speech or presentation is common. Even the best speakers in the world get a small amount of anxiety before they get on stage or speak in front of a large group. You should never expect yourself to be completely anxiety free. What you need is for that anxiety to fuel you into giving a great speech, not hold you back from speaking.
When your fear of public speaking overwhelms you, you need help. The problem is that we have a tendency to focus on the mistakes, so it's not always easy to overcome that anxiety right away. One mistake (and yes, everyone makes mistakes), and you may accidentally convince yourself that your fears were justified.
In order to cure your public speaking anxiety, you need to make smart decisions _before, during, and after_ you speak. Some people get public speaking anxiety just by talking in front of their friends when their friends are in large groups. That type of anxiety may be more related to social phobia, so if that describes you make sure you take my 7 minute anxiety test to find a better treatment.
In this case, we're talking about learning to speak in front of a group. It may be planned (such as a presentation at work) or unplanned (such as talking at a meeting when you have a good idea), but you still need to make the right choices and deal with your anxiety directly.
Below are strategies that will help you overcome your public speaking anxiety.
Before Your Speech or Talk
Obviously practice is step one, and the step that you need to complete beyond adequately. You practice for several reasons. You practice to remember your speech or your lines. You practice because it turns the act of speaking into more of an instinct. You practice because you become more familiar with what giving your speech and speaking up is like, so that if you do lose your way and your speech is derailed you have an easier time making your way back.
But you need to over-prepare. Don't just stop because you think you know it. Stop when you're annoyed that you have to keep doing it. Then do it three more times. The point isn't just to know your speech. The point is to know it so well that you don't even want to give it anymore. That's when you're ready to go.
Visualization and Relaxation
Your next step is to try to get used to the fears you're going to have. Do this only after you've practiced thoroughly. Then, imagine a huge crowd of people judging you. Imagine upset faces and anger. Imagine the things that will cause you anxiety.
Once you've done that, you should start to experience a bit of anxiety. Your heart rate should increase a little and your fear should start to take over. Once that happen, take some deep breaths. Try to relax. Imagine those frowning faces mean something better. Imagine that they really love your speech, and they're glaring at you because they can't handle it. Try to calm yourself down until you feel better, then keep going.
Once it no longer brings you anxiety, give the speech and imagine you're giving it in front of a hostile audience. See if you can calm yourself down while giving the talk without any distractions. That'll help you get used to it.
Get Used to Embarrassment
You can also try a strategy that some people use to get over their social phobia. You can try to get used to the idea of embarrassment. If you no longer fear embarrassment, your ability to overcome some of your public speaking fears will be cured with it.
How to do this is up to you. One of the easiest ways is to dress up in some ridiculous outfit and simply sit outside somewhere public. People will look at you, and people will think you look funny, and you'll feel embarrassed. But if you stay out there for a long time, eventually that embarrassment won't bother you anymore.
You can also do something a bit more active. You can try yelling in a bar ("who here loves baseball?!") or try to say "hi" to everyone you walk past. It's not that important what you do, but it is important that you do a lot of it. You do it until you it bores you, and you stop worrying about whether people are judging you.
This isn't a cure for public speaking anxiety on its own, but every little but helps.
What to Do on the Day of the Speech
On the day the speech arrives, you need to make sure you do all of the little things that help your body and mind control anxiety. You need to make sure that you're fully rested, with a good night's sleep. You need to make sure you're properly hydrated and that you've had full and healthy meals. You need to go jogging, or do something to relieve some of your muscle tension.
You should also prepare everything you need in advance, so that you don't have any worries about whether or not you have everything ready. You can try practicing the presentation one more time and do the visualization techniques again - or you can integrate many relaxation strategies to make sure you're calm for the day, such as:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The less anxiety you experience that day, the easier a time you'll have on the speech. The buildup can be one of the worst parts, and avoiding the buildup will decrease the way that anxiety affects you.
Finally, remind yourself that it doesn't matter what people think. Don't go in there worrying about everyone else. Go in there reminding yourself that you've done what you can, and that no matter how well it goes you'll continue to get better.
There are strategies you can integrate when you start speaking to reduce anxiety as well. These include:
- Starting Strong Don't try to ease into it. Start as loud as you can't. Don't even worry if you're a bit too loud. Many people think they'll start slow and ease into it, but the best thing you can do is start strong.
- Look at No One Don't worry about looking at people. Look around the room as though you're talking to everyone. You may find yourself getting more nervous if you can't help but look at one or two people and they're not giving you the "face" you want. Look around the room to ease some of the tension you have about someone specific judging you.
- Don't Worry About Stumbles It's easier said than done, but you should never expect it to go perfect. Perfection takes years of practice, and none of the most world renowned speakers were as skilled right away. You can look back at old YouTube videos of well-known speakers and see the way that they stumble. If you lose your place or something happens, just figure out where you were and keep going.
Once you're into the speech there isn't as much you can do. But there are ways to improve the likelihood of a positive outcome. As soon as it's over, pretend you did a great job. Worry about any mistakes you may have made later.
After the Speech is Over
One thing that many people don't realize is that what you do after a speech can also affect how well you are able to handle the next time you speak. If you sit in the corner and think about all of the things that went wrong, then you'll worry about the next speech more. If you allow yourself to feel too "relieved" as well, you'll reinforce the idea that what you did was scary, and increase the likelihood of fear next time. Consider the following:
- Write Down 10 Positives The mind has a tendency to focus only on the negative, but the truth is that ample positive things occurred during the speech. Make sure that you acknowledge them for yourself. Even if you had a terrible presentation and stumbled over every word and cried on stage, there are things that you can write out that were positive. For example, remembering some important lines, some degree of eye contact, speed of talking - don't worry about the negatives and write out the positive things so that you're not letting your mind increase your anxiety.
- Don't Party There's a tendency after big speeches to party hard. After a college graduation, for example, many people go out and celebrate. Some celebration is okay, but keep it moderated. You don't want to see the speech as something tremendous you overcame, and partying too hard can actually cause more anxiety. If you must go out, keep it as low key as you can, and don't try to numb your high emotions.
- Give the Speech Again Finally, if you did have a truly bad presentation, or you simply can't stop focusing on the negatives, give the speech one more time in the comfort of your own home, either to your family or to your dog or to nobody at all. One of the problems is that your last memory of giving the presentation is up on stage when you were anxious. Replace it, by having your last memory be of you sitting in your pajamas talking to a wall with a poster of a cat hanging from a tree branch.
How You Can Overcome Public Speaking and Anxiety
The reality is that you can recover from your fear of public speaking. Using the above tips can be a big help. If you're also someone that suffers from anxiety regularly, you'll also benefit greatly from controlling your overall anxiety. Anxiety tends to be cumulative, and those with anxiety are far more likely to develop public speaking fears.
I've helped thousands of people recover from their anxiety problems, but to start, you have to take my free anxiety questionnaire. It lists symptoms and experiences, and it'll help me get an idea about what's affecting you.
Kirsch, Irving; Henry, David. Self-desensitization and meditation in the reduction of public speaking anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 47(3), Jun 1979, 536-541. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.47.3.536
Pertaub, David-Paul, Mel Slater, and Chris Barker. An experiment on public speaking anxiety in response to three different types of virtual audience. Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments 11.1 (2002): 68-78.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.