A single request to speak in front of others can trigger a flurry of physical, mental, and emotional reactions for many. In extreme cases, it could even lead to a panic attack. Despite what your profession or vocation might be, many times, it might be impossible to avoid. Gear up for your next speech or presentation, planned or spontaneous, by learning how to get over the fear of public speaking.
In the spotlight
If you have ever felt uncomfortable in a situation where you were required to address a group of people, irrespective of what, where, and how it was supposed to happen, then reading this quote can be a consolation.
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
Fear of public speaking, stage fright, performance anxiety, speech anxiety, social shyness, or Glossophobia, whatever you associate with, is real. From an experienced orator to a novice, from a professional speaker to an amateur, many feel anxiety, stress, and associated physiological activity. The spectrum and intensity could vary. But lot of people, to some extent, are scared to speak in front of others.
What could be manageable for one, can induce extreme anxiety for another. Be it a small-group presentation, board meeting, sales pitch, speaking on the college podium, compèring a community celebration, or addressing public in an auditorium. It gets worse if you are expected to do it more often due to your role at work, home, community, or educational institution. A thought of having an audience can become a nightmare.
Wondering how this can impact you? You might risk missing out on sharing all your thoughts and ideas, miss opportunities, or having a say in things that matter. Ultimately, all of this starts to impinge our self-image, confidence, and identity. The spiralling effect can be harmful when we feel out of control, helpless, and lost. So, what could be the signs that indicate that you have stage fright?
What does it mean to be afraid of speaking in public?
All speakers would, to some extent, experience physical, mental and emotional reactions. If someone told you otherwise, remember what Mark Twain said
There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars
Here is a rough list of signals that hampers our body, mind, and emotions. See how many, and which ones you might relate with.
|Physical Signals – “I have…”||Thoughts Signals – “I will…”||Emotional Signals – “I feel…”|
|Shaky Knees||Get Embarrassed||Worried|
|Stomach Ache||Look Stupid or Misinformed||Anxious|
|Racing Heartbeat||Lack Knowledge||Shy|
|High Pulse||Bore my Audience||Upset|
|Sweaty Palms||Forget or Blank-out||Irritable|
|Blushing||Mess it up (words, slides, subject)||Afraid|
This is an indicative collection and real symptoms for stage fright could vary for each individual. Looking at the list though, you might wonder why are people afraid of public speaking? The reasons could be many, including physiological make-up, beliefs, mental associations, conditioning, knowledge, and skills. It could also be situational such as type of audience, expected outcomes, and degree of evaluation.
But. Here is a burst of sunshine, irrespective of what you go through and why it happens. Transformation is possible. The good news is that public speaking is a skill and, just like swimming, driving, or gardening, it can be mastered.
So, how to get over the fear of public speaking?
The fact that you are reading this article indicates your commitment to breaking your comfort or discomfort zone. Congratulations. Now is the time to answer the “how”. A cookie-cutter approach to get over the fear of public speaking may not be a good idea. One can gain knowledge but applying it in a personalised context is very important. Here are eight points that can be helpful to begin or improve your journey on the path of fluent and confident speaking in a group.
1. Be open, willing, and affirming
When beginning to work on anything, motivation is one of the key ingredients. Being open to the possibilities gets us closer to our goals. It drives us, pushes us to work on ourselves, and makes the unthinkable real. The chances of achieving success are higher when we start with the belief that it is achievable. So, set out on your path by affirming to yourself – “I am willing to overcome my fear of public speaking” and “I see myself speaking in front of others with ease, confidence, and credibility”. In our interaction, while coaching and training people in public speaking, we have noticed that the results come faster to those who take the lead and accountability. We believe in you! Do you?
2. Reflect, and assess the status quo
It is important to start with an objective view of the status quo. Reflecting on where we are gives clarity. For example, one of our clients could identify that speaking or making a presentation in a familiar environment, when its planned and the subject is known, is comfortable. However, if an audience is made up of well-informed strangers, or if it involves speaking spontaneously, the anxiety levels are high. For someone else, expressing their point-of-view in a group meeting could itself create worry.
These reflections get deeper when you start to identify and assess what gets triggered in terms of physical, mental, and emotional reactions and what is the intensity. These could be experienced when thinking about or being in a speaking space for real. So, where are you right now?
3. Define goals and set milestones
Create goals. Once you know where you are, it is then a good idea to identify where you want to be in the area of public speaking. Goals serve as a road map and help you track progress. When defining milestones, get specific and realistic. For example, a goal that states “I want to speak confidently” is not very specific. What does confidence mean to you? How would you know when this goal is achieved? Also, while it is optimistic to expect exponential results too soon, it would be worth exploring if it is realistic and achievable.
Another point to consider is that the goals of public speaking would vary for different people. Someone might want to become capable of successfully managing team or committee presentations, while another person may aspire to address sizeable public gatherings and large group webinars. Where do you want to be?
4. Nurture your own style
Many people refer to someone as a “great speaker” and aspire to be like them. However, someone else may find that same person unimpressive. This can be a subjective space. In coaching sessions, we focus on bringing objectivity. We have noticed that the qualification of someone as a good public speaker is supported by statements such as “she is so confident and not nervous at all” or “the audience finds him interesting”. While such statements might be true, sometimes assessments are based on perceptions than reality. Remember, imitation can be taxing, especially when you are moving away from who you are.
What becomes important is to identify, acknowledge, and leverage your strengths when developing the skill of public speaking. You may seek inspiration and adopt a practice that works for you, in light of your preferences. Someone may feel more connected with data or statistics to bring essence to their content while another may prefer storytelling or humour. How you engage your audience would also depend on your personality. There is no right and wrong.
5. Leverage self-help resources for public speaking
You would be able to find endless resources for public speaking just by running a search on the internet. Based on your learning preferences, you might want to read books, articles, or white papers, watch videos, attend webinars, participate in courses, or get involved in an interactive platform. So, go on, explore, and make a start – somewhere, anywhere.
A word of caution though. It is not uncommon for us to hear from our clients that they picked up a technique in an online course but they cannot figure out how to apply it in their context. Or, reading something in a book and not knowing what it truly means. Gaining knowledge is good, but it is equally important to consider what you can apply. Does that make sense?
6. Grab opportunities to speak in public
You must learn to speak by speaking.
Select a topic that you know and you feel excited to share. Look for opportunities to speak in front of people. Family dinner, tea-time discussions, team meetings, kitty parties, community gatherings, webinars, virtual discussions when working from home, client meetings, induction sessions, or social speeches. Once you make up your mind, you would be able to spot (or create) an opportunity.
Wherever possible, you could seek feedback from the listeners. Not all, but a trusted few. Be open to getting critiqued, incorporate changes, and be okay to keep certain things the way you prefer. So, are you ready to roll up your sleeves?
7. Get a coach for public speaking
Investing in a coach could fast track your accomplishments. A good coach should enable you to establish the status quo, get clarity of where you want to be, facilitate goal-setting with timelines, progress tracking, share resources, celebrate wins, and provide continuous feedback. Whether it is structured to gain insights, techniques for representing ideas, or tools to leverage your strengths, coaching can help you concentrate your efforts in the right direction.
Choose a coach who is willing to work with you, support you, enable you with tools, challenge you, is transparent, asks questions, gives feedback, and is comforting too. Are you ready to speed up?
8. Get therapy for the fear of public speaking
Fear of public speaking is referred to as Glossophobia, which can, in some cases, border on social anxiety disorder. Phobias cab lead to heightened anxiety, coupled with other extreme reactions. For such a person, rationality gets impaired and it becomes imperative to learn to manage yourself first. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), behaviour modification, and virtual reality therapy are some approaches adopted by psychologists and counsellors to help people with the fear of public speaking.
Whenever we are working with clients who experience high anxiety and stress levels, enabling them with techniques such as breath-work, successive relaxation, meditation, or guided imagery show results. Besides, through psychotherapy, you get an opportunity to explore negative thought patterns, release suppressed emotions, and create new thought processes. This in turn helps transform actions and create new emotional experiences. Would you like a vent?
Take action to speak-up
Developing a skill such as public speaking takes time and a fair bit of self-belief or trust. Trust that you would find your style, set your rhythm, and find your listeners. Trust that you would be able to align with your audience, you will be able to express fully and improve efficacy. Now that you know how to get over the fear of public speaking, it is time to take action. Ready?
How can Unakriti Help?
Individual Virtual Sessions
- Choose to work with a Transformation Coach. Get just the right approach, structure, tools, techniques, and resources. Transform your context and transform your chances of favorable outcomes.
- Consider booking a virtual counseling session if you experience self-doubt, stress, high anxiety, inhibition due to past incidents, or other negative emotions.
Get unconditioned, non-judgemental, empathetic listening, clarity of thoughts, and boost your self-belief. All this while retaining your location flexibility and confidentiality.
Bespoke group sessions
We design bespoke interventions, workshops, and webinars on public speaking skills for professionals, students, educators, teachers, and freelancers. Write to us to discuss what you are looking for.
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