Fear of Public Speaking – Work with it
I’ve heard that over 75% of people have some amount of fear of public speaking. It’s the number one phobia in the United States. When you get up to speak it can be overwhelming to think that all eyes will be on you, the speaker. You might feel all alone and exposed while in front of the audience, but take some solace in knowing that you are certainly not alone in your anxiety. Most of your audience knows exactly what you are feeling.
Like most phobias, a fear of public speaking is not something that will be cured. But it can be controlled and it can be overcome. What we can do is learn coping skills that enable us to reduce the effects of the fears.
What is it?
The fear of public speaking or speech anxiety is called Glossophobia. It is derived from the Greek word glossa, meaning tongue, and phobos, meaning fear. Examples include performance anxiety, stage fright, and even writer’s block. It can manifest itself through an unrealistic anticipation of negative consequences, panic or anxiety while in front of the audience, or fear of appraisal for a period of time after the event.
Some performance anxiety is normal and even beneficial. However, when it becomes extreme and is accompanied by anxiety in other social situations, it may be a social phobia and require cognitive behavioral therapy or medications. But for the most part, the fear of public speaking is a normal anxiety that can be managed with through an awareness of the symptoms and use of some simple methods of coping.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of a fear of public speaking can be both physical and emotional. They are a natural product the fight or flight drive that shows itself in many of our instinctive reactions. It pushes adrenaline into the blood stream and creates both positive and negative side effects. Below are some common examples of symptoms, but should not be considered exhaustive. How your body reacts to its fears does not always follow the “common” expectations. These symptoms can occur before, during and even after your speech.
|Increased heart rate||Elevated blood pressure|
|Difficulty breathing||Nausea or vomiting|
|Stiffness in back or neck||Dry mouth|
|Cold hands||Racing thoughts|
|Shaky knees||Fear of forgetting|
How can you cope?
While counseling or psychotherapy may be necessary to address the root of phobias, there are a number of ways that people use to cope with the fear of public speaking without the expense of professionals. Try some of these to see if they provide help for your fear of speaking.
Preparing for the speech:
- Practice public speaking. Join a group like Toastmasters.
- Know your topic—inside and out.
- Practice your speech often.
- Arrive early and adjust to the surroundings.
- Know your audience. Meet and greet before speech if possible.
- Think positive. Visualize your success.
- Challenge your worries. List the reasons for your fear and directly challenge each
Before You Begin:
- Loosen your muscles. Move around. Shake your hands. Redirect your energy.
- Avoid caffeine and carbonated drinks
- Drink water, but not so much that you will feel the need to go while on stage.
- Take deep cleansing breaths before going on stage.
During the speech:
- Transform your nervous energy into enthusiasm.
- Smile: endorphins ease your mind
- Slow down and work on pauses
- Drink water — enough to curb dry mouth, but not so much to upset your stomach
- Focus on your material, not the audience
- Think of your speech as a conversation. Engage your audience
- Pay attention to body language
After the speech:
- Recognize your success
- Watch recordings of your speeches to see where you can improve.
It all sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Know your stuff, practice your stuff, do your stuff and review your stuff. But even by knowing all the reasons for your fears, their symptoms and methods of controlling them, fears do not go away through the application of reason and knowledge. There isn’t enough rational logic in the world that will cure my fears of snakes, spiders and speaking before a crowd. But I can use my awareness of the coping skills to overcome the worst of the symptoms. I can use those coping skills to create an awesome public speaker.
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