How To Handle Your Fears Of Speaking In Public

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During the lifespan of your career, you will be faced with many fears. Whether it is a job interview or flying to another country for a business meeting, there are going to be many opportunities where you will be asked to get out of your comfort zone. But there is one fear that truly beats them all, and that is public speaking.

Do you know what you’re scared of? You probably don’t. You just have a feeling of unease. It’s a bit like your mom telling you to be careful… but she doesn’t tell you what to be careful of. Most of our fears bear little relationship to reality so let’s take a look at our fears and compare them to reality. According to this article, stage-fright fantasies commonly fall into two categories: how badly you’ll perform and how horribly the audience will react.

Common Fears

Here are some of the common fears you will come up against:

  1. Fear that you’ll perform badly, your speech stinks – “My speech isn’t good enough. My material is terrible.”
    No way! If you’ve followed my advice on writing your speech, practiced, revised your speech and practiced some more… you will have great material.
    You may not bewitch the crowd with your silver-tongued oration, but you are doing something that most of the audience wouldn’t even try.
  2. Fear of how the audience will react – “The audience hates me. They’re out to get me.”
    That just isn’t so and to prove it, here is a quote from Professor Max Atkinson’s book – Lend Me Your Ears.
    “…members of an audience are not, as many people seem to assume, wired up to each other in such a way as to constitute a collective mind that somehow enables them to conspire together against the speaker.
    …when asked whether, when they are in an audience, they sit there feeling hostile towards speakers, hoping to see them fall flat on their face and make a fool of themselves. The answer is invariably no…. “
    Now you may not believe me, but a professor?

General Stress Busters

Because the symptoms of stage-fright are the body’s reaction to stress, it follows that any stress busting technique will reduce those symptoms.
These include:

  • Deep breathing – if you only have time to do one thing from the whole of this post, this is the one. Deep breathing will slow down your breathing, give you something to focus on, calm you down and relax you. For a step by step guide, take a look at this great article on deep breathing
  • Relaxation – any form of relaxation you can do whilst you are waiting to be introduced will help. I consciously relax various parts of my body, jaw, shoulders, arms and carry that feeling with me as I walk out.
  • Exercise / keep fit – the reaction to stress causes an increase in heart rate. If you’re fit your body can cope more easily with that increase and you’ll notice it less. So get in shape.

The real secret thought is don’t look nervous. In his book “Public Speaking for Dummies”, Malcolm Kushner says:

The uncommon knowledge is, it doesn’t really matter how nervous you are – as long as you appear calm. As long as the audience thinks you’re confident, that’s what counts.

That is great advice. What you have to do is act out being calm and we all know what calm looks like. Relax your shoulders, let your arms hang loose, no fidgeting, no pacing, no stiff movements. If you’re looking for role models, take a look at the masters of calm:
A. Bill Clinton – cool, calm, collected, no hint that he isn’t enjoying every moment.
B. Barrack Obama – loose limbed and lithe, a man to inspire with his word pictures and delivery.

Things Not To Do

You might be tempted to try some of the remedies that are trotted out whenever public speaking fear is mentioned.

  • Imagine the audience naked – This strategy adds to the idea that “the audience are out to get me” they really aren’t. The audience is just a group of individuals, treat them as such.
  • Don’t look at the audience. look over their heads – I said earlier that speaking to an audience is unnatural… you are doing all the talking and you aren’t getting any feedback. Correction, you aren’t getting any spoken feedback. If you look at the audience you will see smiling faces, nodding heads, puzzled looks. That’s the feedback that you need to get used to in order to make your speech feel more like a conversation.
    Look at the audience members and start getting that feedback.
  • Have a couple of stiff drinks – What I’m advocating in this post, is that you take control of your fears and learn how to control them. If you use alcohol as a crutch, it may relax you but can result in slurred words, fluffed timing and fumbled notes. You look silly and your confidence takes a nosedive.

Final thoughts

There are three secrets to conquering the fear of public speaking, unfortunately… nobody knows what they are. In other words there are no quick fixes. Here is a motivational quote I pulled from Motivation Ping on courage and fear:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.
Mark Twain

It may be that you will never remove all those butterflies, but if you give it time, follow this advice and stick at it, you will learn how to keep them flying in formation.

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