Do you suffer from fear of public speaking? Here are 10 causes of speech anxiety and powerful tips about how to speak with confidence!
Want an attention-grabber the next time you give a speech? How about this: speech anxiety ranks higher than death as the fear people mention most often!
How's that for a widespread form of social anxiety?
Need a powerful technique to relax before your next speech or presentation? Got only a few minutes to spare? It's all in my essential cheat sheet for speakers, "How to Calm Your Nerves before Speaking."
The Prevalence of Fear of Public Speaking
To be fair: heights, insects, and deep water also rank above death in the survey that's still cited above any other. It's from The Book of Lists, which in 1977 reproduced a 1973 survey by Bruskin Associates.* Here's the full ranking of the "14 worst human fears": 1. Speaking before a group 2. Heights 3. Insects and Bugs 4. Financial Problems 5. Deep Water. 6. Sickness 7. Death 8. Flying 9.Loneliness 10. Dogs 11. Driving in a Car 12. Darkness 13. Elevators. 14. Escalators.
To bring that up to date to our 21st century, a recent post from a “knowledge, awareness, and self-improvement” site finds fear of public speaking occupying the #3 slot. In this list, a dread of loneliness and death edge out our social phobia. But fear of speaking reliably remains as one of our great waking nightmares.
So if you fear speaking in public more than riding an escalator, you're certainly not alone. Speech jitters still ranks high the world over on lists of things people would rather not do. But what specifically causes this type of social anxiety?
How to Overcome Stage Fright and Speech Anxiety
As the founder and president of The Genard Method in Boston, I've spent the past 18 years helping professionals eliminate their stage fright through our Fearless Speaking Program. In the video below, I explain this powerful coaching course for overcoming fear of speaking:
The Top 10 Reasons You Have Stage Fright
Here's what you need to know to start your journey to greater confidence and enjoyment of public speaking. These are the ten biggest reasons you have this fear, and my tips on how you can overcome it . . . and basically get your life back!
- Self-consciousness in front of large groups. This is the most frequently named reason for performance anxiety. Speech coaches often hear: "I'm fine talking to small groups, but when it's a large audience I get really anxious." Two strategies will help: (1) Remember that the people in a big audience are the same ones you talk to individually, and (2) Concentrate on just talking to them, not "presenting". You'll be at your best.
- Fear of appearing nervous. Do you fear that you'll look fearful? Many speakers do. It's easy, then, to believe that if the audience sees those nerves, they'll think you don't know your topic. But of course the two aren't linked. When you see that a speaker is nervous, don't you sympathize, rather than making a judgment on that person's professionalism? If anything, your audience will extend you sympathy not resistance.
- Concern that others are judging you. The tough-love message here is that people really don't care about you. They're in the audience to get something out of your lecture, presentation, or speech. They want their time to be well spent. Watching a speaker fail is embarrassing for everyone. So the audience is actually pulling for you!
- Past failures. Public speaking anxiety is often learned behavior. That is, at some point in the past you failed, and the seed of self-doubt was planted. But if you know your stuff and are prepared this time, there's no reason for things to go south like they did in the long ago. Not unless you insist that will happen, and believe it. Plan to succeed instead.
- Poor or insufficient preparation. See #4 above. If you haven't done your homework (including knowing your audience), there's no reason you should succeed. Blame nobody but yourself. Nothing undermines public speaking confidence like being unprepared. But nothing gives you as much confidence as being ready. Your choice.
Do you know how to hook your audience's attention? Get the guide to great openings! Grab listeners as soon as you start speaking with my e-book "How to Start a Speech."
- Narcissism. This is the toughest love message I give to clients with stage fright. Indulging in extreme self-consciousness while speaking is narcissistic. How can you influence others if you're totally wrapped up in yourself? You can't. So turn that bright spotlight around and "illuminate" your listeners. You don't matter. They do.
- Dissatisfaction with your abilities. Okay, this is a legitimate concern. But it's also one of the easiest of my Top 10 causes to remedy. You should feel dissatisfied if your speaking skills are below par. But dissatisfaction can be an excellent spur. Get the speech training you've been thinking about. Just knowing you have first-rate skills can provide you with a truckload of confidence. It's also much more likely to make you eager to speak.
- Discomfort with your own body. Why is it that we're all at ease physically with friends, but self-conscious and awkward in front of an audience? If that's you, read the tip above about having a conversation with listeners. That should help you relax into your body. Also, pay attention to how you stand, sit, gesture, and move when you're in a comfortable environment. Then recreate that natural movement with larger audiences. Here are 5 secrets of powerful body language for effective public speaking.
- Poor breathing habits. Unless you've been trained as an actor or singer, you're probably unaware of how to breathe for speech. Public speaking requires more air than "vegetative breathing." Also, you need to control your exhalation to sustain sound through the end of your idea. Diaphragmatic breathing is the way to do all of this. It's also great for calming your galloping heart. Here's a great video showing this in action.
- Comparing yourself to others. Don't do it! Your job is never to be an "excellent" speaker. It's to be interesting when you discuss your topic or passion. That's it. The really good news is that no one in the entire universe can do that as well as you, because you're the person to tell us about it. Truly, you're the one we came to hear.
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