Does this sound familiar? Feet resolutely frozen to the floor, shaking hands glued to the lectern and fear written all over your pale face? If this sounds like you, then it is time you learned how to ‘let it go, let it go’ (as
Queen Elsa so proudly sang it) in public speaking.
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.
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
What Do You Think?
Here’s what I notice when I review this question with fearful speakers. Their strategies during a speech are designed to:
* End the speech as soon as possible
* Avoid any pauses or interruptions during the speech
* Avoid contact with the audience
* Hide the fact that they are afraid
These all involve efforts to resist and fight public speaking anxiety.
Fearful speakers create trouble for themselves when they don’t embrace the role of Speaker. Instead, they try to be the Unspeaker. They try to “get through” the experience without committing themselves to the role of Speaker. They read, they drone, they overlook the audience, and they focus mainly on resisting their fear. The result of this resistance is, typically, that it gives you more public speaking anxiety, not less – just the opposite of what you want.
Let me explain.
Rushing through a talk requires that you talk fast. Talking fast interferes with your breathing. Instead of breathing comfortably, you breathe in a short, shallow manner, or you might even hold your breath. This gives
you the sensation of running out of air and being unable to breathe, a common fear in this situation, and one that greatly increases fear of public speaking.
All this hurrying reduces the chance that your audience can enjoy your speech. It creates a barrier between you and them, which might have been your intention, but this will actually increase your fear. The less of a
connection you have with them, the more unfriendly they will seem to you, and the more speech anxiety you will experience.
IGNORING THE AUDIENCE
Fearful speakers often try to ignore the audience, hoping this will decrease their speech anxiety. For instance, lots of fearful speakers avoid eye contact with the audience. This prevents you from noticing any audience reaction. You won’t notice when people seem more interested, or have questions.
When you have no audience contact, you focus on your own thoughts. And if you’re a fearful speaker, your thoughts are virtually guaranteed to be far more negative, and unrealistic, than anything your audience might think or say. The result? More, rather than less, fear of public speaking.
FIGHTING TO HIDE YOUR FEARS
Finally, efforts to hide your fear create the additional fear of being “found out” as a nervous person. This only adds to the public speaking anxiety you already experience.
It has another negative side effect. After you’ve given a speech, even if it has gone well, you may take no pride in your success because of this thought: “If they knew how afraid I was, they’d think less of me.”
I’ve worked with many successful business people who, despite their speech anxiety, actually presented frequently and did a good job.