Fear of public speaking is very common, but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.
But why do we get so nervous when faced with speaking in front of an audience?
This article will look at the root causes of this fear.
We’ll also share some great tips on how to handle yourself, and your nerves, when giving presentations and speeches, or simply talking in front of groups of people.
Why is this fear so universal?
So many people struggle with a fear of public speaking that there must be a reason behind it, right?
Having everyone watching us can be pretty intense and our body reacts as it would with any other stress.
We go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This is when our bodies prepare for some big physical exertion.
Adrenaline starts coursing through our bloodstream, which makes us feel on edge. We might start sweating more or shaking.
These physical signs of nerves make us feel uncomfortable, so we get even more self-conscious about ourselves and it all ends up being a bit of a mess…
Some people can handle this better than others. You, too, can slow down your stress response and start to enjoy public speaking.
It takes practice, but it is possible.
When you’re in the depths of presenting-anxiety, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this!
So many of us struggle with public speaking, which is why it’s such a well-known issue.
Why are we afraid of public speaking?
However silly or dramatic it can feel, experiencing anxiety over the thought of public speaking is totally normal.
Some people might even experience a panic attack at the prospect of speaking in front of others. This is nothing to be ashamed of.
Everyone has a slightly different reason for this fear, but there are a few common explanations for it.
For some people, the fear comes from past experiences.
If you’ve been embarrassed in the past when speaking in public or giving presentations, you’re probably holding onto this feeling in some way.
Whenever you are faced with a similar situation to the one that caused the embarrassment, you relive that memory.
And memories aren’t just visual reminders, they are emotional reminders too.
So when you think back to when you were embarrassed, you begin to feel that way again.
This then turns into fear of experiencing that feeling anew with this upcoming speech.
Other people may feel nervous after watching someone else struggle with public speaking.
You can feel fine with your own speaking skills, but as soon as you see someone else choke on their words, you convince yourself that you’re going to choke too.
It reminds you that there’s a possibility of saying the wrong thing or looking a bit silly.
If you’re prone to anxiety and find yourself getting stressed or worried about a lot of day-to-day activities, of course you’re going to find public speaking difficult!
There are so many things to think about, from how you look to what you’re actually saying.
This is a totally normal and natural response, so don’t beat yourself up over it.
Of course, there’s also just the general awareness we all have that it might go wrong!
It’s one of those things that has become common knowledge and is portrayed across the media.
Any TV shows or movies with big speeches or presentations make them out to be incredibly stressful – and something nearly always goes wrong!
Because we’re being sub-consciously taught to fear public speaking from the media we consume, we convince ourselves that it must be valid.
The people around us also massively influence how we feel about things like public speaking.
If a colleague is getting stressed out before a meeting, you’re bound to pick up on it and start panicking as well, even if you felt completely prepared and fine beforehand!
How To Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking
Here are some tips on feeling more confident with public speaking, whether your fear comes from a past experience, general pressure, or living with an anxious mind.
Practice, practice, practice.
If you’re someone who panics over public speaking, you probably put off thinking about it.
That can often mean you don’t practice as much as you perhaps should, which can then make things even worse when it actually comes down to it.
The more you practice your speech or presentation (however stressed it may make you), the more comfortable you’ll feel when it comes to doing it for real.
You can go through it on your own, of course. If you’re not a fan of your own voice, play some soft instrumental music in the background so that you can get used to speaking without feeling self-conscious.
The next step is to rehearse your speech in front of your loved ones – anyone you can trust to give genuine feedback and who you won’t feel uncomfortable in front of.
If you don’t like your friends or family seeing you when you’re a bit vulnerable, do it front of strangers instead!
This can actually be really helpful as you know that they won’t care beyond the five minutes of your speech.
Find a local Toastmasters club, a local Meetup group dealing with public speaking, go to your local co-working space, and search for other nearby places that host practice runs.
A lot of places host mock interviews, so you’re bound to find something similar where you can go through your presentation a few times.
For many of us, public speaking opens us up to a bit of humiliation – what if we choke on our words, what if we forget everything and just stand there, bright red?
Getting comfortable with being embarrassed is one of the best things we can do, whether it’s in reference to public speaking or chatting to strangers or even going on dates.
This could mean singing at an open mic night or reading some poetry out at a local event.
Force yourself to do ‘silly’ things every so often so that it doesn’t feel so horrible when you maybe do blush a little bit.
Make an effort to ask questions in meetings so that you get used to your voice, and any little wobbles will stop seeming like such a big deal.
One of the things that can make people awkward during public speaking is how it feels so different to normal – we never normally go this red or sweat this much, so we feel like we’re standing out so much from everyone else.
In actual fact, most other people don’t monitor your skin tone or whether or not your palms are sweaty!
The more we can get used to the physical signs of embarrassment, the more we’ll learn to brush them aside and just crack on with it.
Prepare your body.
As we mentioned earlier, nerves and stress result in specific bodily reactions.
There are some ways that you can learn to manage these.
Start by carefully considering what you put into your body leading up to a presentation.
Things like caffeine essentially speed your body up – while coffee might feel like a great energy boost before a meeting, it’s also going to send blood pumping around your body more quickly, and boost the levels of adrenaline at the same time.
That means that your stress or excitement levels will surge suddenly and you’ll end up feeling a bit jittery, clammy, and even more fearful of speaking!
Alcohol is also a no-no before any public speaking for similar reasons.
Too much sugar can also be a hindrance to you feeling calm. It can cause energy spikes and sudden dips that make you feel even more stressed out.
Fake it till you make it.
This common advice is useful in many instances, but it is particularly relevant in terms of public speaking,
The more you project confidence, the more people will just assume that you’re confident.
Don’t make the mistake of sharing how nervous you are. Not only is that not good for you and your stress levels, it also plants a seed in people’s mind that you’re not going to be great at presenting.
I made the mistake of telling my boss I’m nauseous for 24 hours before any presentation and he started expecting me to be bad at presentations based on that!
That expectation then fuelled my own anxieties and made everything more stressful than it needed to be.
As soon as I made the shift and started talking about how I was looking forward to presenting and was feeling prepared, he mirrored that and I felt so much more confident – and my presenting skills got so much stronger!
The way we talk about ourselves (and our fears) to others really dictates how they see us, so it’s important to have a positive mental attitude and use positive language.
Acknowledge and accept your fear.
Part of the issue with having a fear of public speaking is that there’s a lot of guilt or shame around it.
We don’t want to feel this way and it’s frustrating and embarrassing when we lose control.
These feelings build up and cause more stress than the speaking itself!
By accepting how we feel about things, we can start to move past the fear that’s driving it all.
Make time for mindfulness.
Mindfulness is one of the best things you can do in life, especially when it comes to public speaking.
Getting yourself into a good mindset before you do any form of public speaking is always going to be beneficial.
This is also a good way of allowing your speech to settle in your short term memory, though you don’t need to know your presentation word for word.
The more comfortable you are with the subject and the more passion you can get into your speech, the more easily you’ll be able to talk about it.
After getting into the right kind of mindset, you’ll end up breezing through and chatting away – all without worrying about how you look or sound.
You can also go through certain breathing exercises before your speech or presentation.
Visualization techniques are great for boosting your confidence too – imagine how you want the public speaking to go, and think about how good you’ll feel once it’s over.
And remember – if all else fails, just picture everyone naked…
Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.