The Fear of Public Speaking: Here’s How You Can Overcome It

The Fear of Public Speaking: Here's How You Can Overcome It

Do you suffer from the fear of public speaking? Do your hands begin to shake, every time you have to speak in front of a large group of people?

You can solve the problem of public speaking anxiety.

Fear of public speaking is the most common of all phobias. It’s a form of performance anxiety in which a person becomes very concerned that he or she will look visibly anxious, maybe even have a panic attack while speaking.

Over time, people try to protect themselves by either avoiding public speaking or by struggling against speech anxiety. In this way, people get Tricked into making the fear of public speaking more chronic and disruptive.

Some people do this with avoidance. They choose college coursework in such a way as to avoid public speaking, rather than taking the classes they want. At work, they pass up promotions and assignments which would require speaking.

The fear of public speaking may even lead people to choose a career that doesn’t call for public speaking, rather than one they want. This is often the case with people who have feared public speaking from a very young age.

Others don’t go that far but will go to great lengths to avoid making presentations or even just having to speak at a meeting. They may deliberately arrive late, hoping to miss the customary introductions (“let’s go around and introduce ourselves…”).

Many others will gamely accept an assignment and show up to give a speech when it’s important to their career. But they try to get through those situations without feeling afraid. They focus on what they feel, rather than on the message they’ve come to deliver. This is often the case with people whose fear of public speaking developed later in life. The more successful they become in their career, the more they are called upon to share their expertise with groups, and the more anxious they become.

Read After the Abuse: The Price of Speaking Out

The Trick

The fear of public speaking draws upon the same Panic Trick as other fears and phobias. People naturally want to rid themselves of public speaking anxiety before they do any more speaking. But they get Tricked into using methods which actually make the fear of public speaking stronger, and more persistent, over time.

New patients who come to me for help with fear of public speaking usually expect that I will first help them lose their speech anxiety, and then they will go out and do some public speaking.

I’m usually able to help people overcome this problem. But that’s not how you do it. That’s how you get Tricked!

Try this Exercise

Think of the things you do during a speech, or a brief introduction, in an effort to feel less afraid. What do you do in an effort to control your fear of public speaking?

Take two minutes. Write down all the responses you can think of. Then come back here.

What’s On Your List?

Fearful speakers I’ve worked with have included items such as:

* Read it

* Don’t look at audience

* Rush through it

* Skip portions of my talk

* Tell myself it’ll be over soon

* Imagine audience in their underwear

* Cough, pretend to have a sore throat

* Use a lot of slides

* Clench fists beneath lectern

* Keep swallowing, to make sure I can drink fluids

* Let a colleague do most of the talking

* Wear my lucky shirt

One of the first things I ask my clients is, specifically, how do you think these will help control public speaking anxiety? So let me ask you to review this for yourself.

Take two more minutes to look at your list and identify exactly how you think these measures will help you overcome the fear of public speaking. Write down your answers, then come back here.

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