Show of hands. What is the biggest fear people have?
If you said “death,” you would be wrong.
In fact, the number 1 fear is a fear of public speaking. So, when people say, “I’d rather die than give a speech,” they may be speaking literally.
Why are people so afraid to get up in front of an audience and give a speech? Basically, people are afraid of being humiliated in front of others. Some may have negative experiences in the past, such as having been laughed at by the other kids in school when in front of the class. But, for most people, it’s the generalized fear that they are going to get up on stage and tank; that people won’t like them.
This fear can manifest itself in many ways:
1. You get “butterflies” in your stomach.
2. Your palms sweat.
3. Your hands shake.
4. Your knees also shake and you feel as if your legs are about to collapse.
5. Your heart beats much faster than normal.
6. You experience a “fainting” feeling.
7. You have panicky thoughts.
Now, many of the above are quite normal reactions. In fact, some experts say a mild level of anxiety is good before you give a speech as it gives you a burst of energy, resulting in a more dynamic presentation. But, if the fear of public speaking is such that it is keeping you from advancing in your career, or keeping you away from certain social situations, then it’s time for you to act.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Most people don’t want to hear this, but the best way to conquer a fear of public speaking is practice, practice, practice. Facing any fear head on allows us to control it, rather than let it control us. Our over-reactions to our fears is really our brains trying to protect us from what it perceives as a threatening situation. Feeling faint is a good way to keep us off a stage, saving us from the threat of humiliation. But, the more we experience the “threatening” situation without the harm (humiliation), the more we’re able to extinguish that fear.
A good way to begin feeling comfortable presenting publicly is to start small. Start sharing stories with friends and co-workers. This could be something you read about in the news, or something you did over the weekend. The point is to practice speaking in front of others, and feeling successful at it.
If you have no problem speaking socially in front of friends, but shake at the thought of getting behind a podium and speaking in front of strangers, then practicing behind a podium is what you must do. Lucky for you there exists speaking clubs such as Toastmaster’s International, which meet weekly in cities all over the world. For a nominal fee, you can join a club in your area and practice speaking in public, as well as hearing speeches on a weekly basis. You will also receive feedback on your weaknesses as well as your strengths. You’ll probably be surprised to find out that you’re better than you thought you were.
But, I’m too Afraid to Practice
For those whose anxiety level or social phobia is so great that they’re having extreme trouble getting into the practice phase, there is some hope for you as well. Psychotherapy as well as hypnosis has been used by people who need to learn ways of coping with fear of public speaking. With hypnosis, you can help desensitize yourself to your fear, as well as visualize success speaking before an audience. Hypnosis is also helpful with managing anxiety.
For extreme anxiety, there are also medications such as beta blockers which can provide some temporary relief; enough to possibly help you gain a positive speaking experience.
The point is, you don’t have to allow your fear to rule your life. For some, the ability to give a speech in public can mean closing a sale, getting a promotion, or charting a new career path. It would be a shame, with all the resources now available to help you conquer your fear, to allow that fear to win.
Shari Hearn is a writer and creator of Public Speaking Tips and Advice where you can learn more about conquering your fear of public speaking with hypnosis.