Fear of public speaking can be personally and professionally devastating. Not only does it diminish your speaking pleasure; it can delay your professional advancement, disturb your peace of mind, and even disrupt your sleep.
For a quick-and-easy way to overcome speech nervousness, download our cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves before Speaking."
If speaking anxiety has been a nagging worry of yours for years, why not spend a few minutes now trying to find some resolution? What follows are some thoughts on how you can put your public speaking fear into perspective—as indeed, you must do if you are to conquer public speaking phobia.
Understand, please, that everyone has a slightly different experience when it comes to fear of public speaking. Some of us get nervous beforehand and fixate on the upcoming speaking situation. We might have trouble concentrating on tasks as the day gets closer. But others of us don't experience such anticipatory anxiety; instead, our symptoms are related to stage fright when delivering our speech, when self-consciousness and feelings of exposure can become severe.
Physical Symptoms and Mental Games
Physical symptoms, on the other hand, are quite common among fearful speakers. Sweaty palms, a shaky voice, a heart that seems to be trying to break out of the chest, dry mouth, and a distancing effect where we seem separated from our audience (or even believe that we can't see them), are all symptoms of public speaking fear that manifest themselves physically.
Of course, we also play mental games with ourselves. An interior dialogue, in which we push all of our own hot buttons, often takes place. Once that happens, our most important task—focusing on our message and our listeners—becomes virtually impossible to carry out. We find ourselves silently saying such things as the following:
“They don't like me.”
“They can see that I'm nervous.”
“I know I'm going to go blank and forget everything I'm supposed to say.” And:
“Oh, God, I hate this. I just want to get this over with!”
Do any of these sentiments strike home?
Worst of all, we may practice avoidance behavior, staying away from public speaking altogether, a clear example of speech phobia. So what if it makes us change our major in college, limits our career choices, and keeps us from getting promoted? Anything is better than going through that nightmare again! Isn't it?
The good news is that nervousness connected to public speaking is okay, and even beneficial. Without those butterflies in the stomach, we run the danger of becoming too placid and mellow—without any of the edge or energy that make a presentation engaging for audiences. It's only when the balance tips too far in the direction of excessive activation that nervousness becomes a debilitating fear. At that point, fear makes us irrational.
Don't Give Fear an Opportunity
In public speaking, irrationality can lead us to conclusions that are simply not grounded in reality, so that we practice a kind of magical thinking. Just because we feel anxious and nervous, for instance, doesn't mean that our audience is responding the way we think they are. The chances are good that they're not even noticing our nervousness!
Being nervous doesn't ensure a bad performance, either, as we also sometimes “magically” think. Even in an unfavorable situation, where 3 or 4 people out of a hundred may be negatively biased against us, should that change our behavior? We should talk instead to the other 96 or 97 percent of audience members who are interested!
We may love to beat up on ourselves, but our audiences really are not looking for an opportunity to join the fight. They're usually genuinely interested in what we have to say.
That kind of negative self-talk is your fear speaking, and fear is a liar. Fear is out to undermine your strength, however it can. Don't give it the opportunity.