And that's not necessarily a bad thing. A little nervousness psyches us up for the big game and raises our level of performance. What's bad is when the balance tips from nerves to anxiety.
The reasons we dread public speaking fall into a small group, given below. If any of these resonate with you, take heart: each cause is followed by an easy solution.
1. Feelings of Exposure. There's no escaping it: we're figuratively naked when we present. To some speakers, it's more like being under a hot spotlight. Solution: Turn the "spotlight" around . . . after all, aren't you supposed to illuminate your audience? Stay in the dark where your nakedness can't be seen, and let your message shine.
2. Narcissism. Tough as that sounds, speech anxiety makes us crawl into a coccoon of our own self-regard. From inside, we look at the audience and wish the walls could be even stronger. Solution: Remind yourself that the audience is your universe—you exist for them, not vice versa. It ain't about you. Get that thought into your gut.
3. Lack of Training. Feel like you lack training in public speaking? You're right. Schools and jobs provide us with reading and writing skills, but no focus on speaking. Solution: Take a public speaking course that provides a systematic approach to this art form. Better yet: work with a speech coach, where the training is customized to you.
4. Social Anxiety. Glossophobia is a social anxiety. The problem isn't so much your preparation or performance skills as your discomfort in front of others. Solution: Don't think of an audience as a many-headed monster. They're the same people you enjoy talking to individually. Focus on friendly faces, not unfriendly ones.
5. Learned Behavior. Maybe it was Show & Tell in kindergarten, or that speaking part when you were ten. Humiliation at the hands of friends, teachers, or family members may have done it. For purposes of your public speaking now, it doesn't matter. Solution: Stop trying to uncover the root cause of your anxiety. Deal with its manifestations and how you can speak effectively today.
6. Feeling Unprepared. There's no excuse for being unprepared, right? Not necessarily. You may have been handed the presentation because someone else couldn't make it. Or you haven't had time to prepare because of your other duties. Solution: Understand that you are exactly the right person to deliver this talk. You've been chosen for a reason. Accept that you have enough knowledge. Trust yourself.
7. Too Much Visibility. You may be of two minds: you're excited about the opportunity to reach lots of people, but you're apprehensive about that high visibility. There's no doubt public speaking places you dramatically front-and-center. Solution: Think of the glory and career advancement that can be yours. Another thought: "What an efficient way to get my message out!"
8. Poor Body Language Self-Image. You need to be as comfortable in your body when everyone is watching as you are when you're at home. Learn the 5 Key Body Language Techniques. Solution: Watch how cats move with smoothness and economy. Notice how performers apart from speakers use movement. And study the ease and strength of Sean Connery as James Bond.
9. "I'll Be Compared with Others." Of course you will. So what? That's a natural reaction of audiences and you can't blame them for it. But you have a unique voice in terms of how you present yourself to the world, and truly, no one else is quite like you. Solution: Remember that other speakers would fail as miserably at trying to be you, as you will trying to be them.
10. Dissatisfaction with Your Own Voice. Yes, you probably haven't been trained to use your vocal instrument. To develop it, read "5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics." You also need to train your ear. Solution: Listen to audio books, where the best voice actors are found. Watch TED talks at ted.com. Not all TED'ers are good speakers, but enough of them are to make the time you spend there worthwhile.