Public Speaking is a skill required for any career in today’s times. But it is also true that this is the most feared activity for most people. And no, imagining people in their underwear doesn’t work – whoever came up with that advice! More often than not, we struggle with sweaty palms, racing heartbeat and sometimes sleepless nights about the impending speaking situation. The higher the stakes, the more scared we feel. But there has to be a way to be great at speaking in front of people and be confident every single time.
Before we look at how to cure the fear, let’s understand a little bit about the fear of public speaking. There can be two kinds of fears:
Trait based: Some people are afraid of any speaking situation. They’d rather suffer a violent death than face people. Well! That was just a strong imagery. But you get the point! The fear is characteristic of a person.
State based: You may be generally a confident speaker in familiar situations – family groups, team meetings. But what if you were sent to make a presentation to a client. And your performance critical to win that client. The apprehension you feel is a state based one. Fear of public speaking in certain challenging situations.
No matter which kind of public speaking apprehension (PSA) you have, it manifests at 3 levels:
Physiological: The reflexes of your body in a stressful situation – sweaty palms, fast heart beat, parched throat.
Cognitive: The mental reaction to a public speaking situation – thoughts like you might forget your speech or what if people laugh at you! Our mind plays tricks on us and we imagine the worst.
Behavioural: The first two lead to this during an actual speech. Clench your fists, freeze at the sight of the so many eyes staring at you – are examples of behavioural manifestations of the fear of public speaking.
Well! We’ve discussed the fears enough. And there’s no point feeding them unless we know what to do about them. Fear of public speaking can be overcome with practice and here are a few things that you can do:
Systematic desensitisation: As the name suggests, you systematically become less sensitive to speaking situations. And you don’t even have to step in front of people for this. Just sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and imagine yourself in increasingly stressful situations – from talking to friends to an unfamiliar group to much bigger groups – whatever feels more stressful to you. Work on one situation at a time. Imagine yourself really facing them and overcoming your fear.
Visualisation: This helps work on building confidence through an entire speech. Once again, sit comfortably and visualise yourself successfully performing a speech from introduction to conclusion. This helps your subconscious be better prepared for actual public speaking.
Cognitive restructuring: This helps overcome the cognitive level of fear of public speaking. It’s about rationally evaluating your fears and restructuring your thought process. If you fear that people will laugh at you or make fun of you, re-think it. You’ll be dressed formally and look the part. There is no reason why they’d react the way you think they would.
There are some other simple things that you can do become more comfortable with public speaking. Jump into any opportunity to get of addressing people. Join a group that can give you additional practice and feedback. Practice to structure your ideas quickly so that you can get comfortable with impromptu speeches.
While I have briefly put together tips on how to overcome the fear of public speaking, I have this very informative chapter from an online course. It talks in great detail about public speaking apprehension and discusses the tips I mentioned at length. It’s slightly longer than your attention span might like but I highly recommend that you give it a try:
Here’s a scale to measure you public speaking anxiety – your own Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety (PRPSA). It involves some calculations, so make you sure you have your calculator handy!
If you wish to learn more about becoming a confident speaker, I have a customised, one-to-one program for you – 5 important steps to become a confident speaker.Whether you want to master the basics or polish your technique, you can choose the skill and I will help you. You will be working one-to-one with me and specifically on the skills you wish to improve, at your own pace. Drop me a line and we can schedule a free 20 minute discovery session to discuss your needs.