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In the modern era, a highly-required skill is Public speaking. It does not matter whether you are student or a working professional or a business person. There will be times in your life when you have to give presentation(s) or speak in front of an audience.
Public Speaking can be a terrifying experience if you are not prepared for it. It might even discourage them from speaking in public in the future. When you are just starting to speak in public, it is best to be ready for the experience that you are about to have.
Fear of public speaking (Glossophobia), is considered one of the greatest of all fears. It affects 3 out of 4 people or 75% of individuals. If you fear speaking in public, or you have to give a presentation soon, you should definitely read this article to help yourself become a better speaker.
Why do you fear speaking in public?
Before we find out why you fear speaking in public so much, let us first look at what fear is. Searching on Google for the “Definition of Fear”, you will find that it says fear is: an unpleasant emotion caused by the THREAT of danger, pain or harm. Dictionary.com will tell you that fear is: a distressing emotion aroused by IMPENDING danger, evil, pain, etc. whether the threat is real or IMAGINED.
Fear in short is the emotion that you feel for a situation that is a threat to your livelihood. If you saw a tiger running after you, you feel fear as it is a threat to your life. If you saw a bomb explode nearby, you will feel fear as it is a threat to your life. Both these examples are REAL scenarios when you might feel fear. But, when you speak in pubic, you do not really have a threat to life, why is it that you feel fear then?
Common Reasons of fear of Public Speaking
Dictionary.com’s definition of fear tells us that fear can also be IMAGINED. Here are a few things that you might be IMAGINING or thinking which causes you to fear public speaking: –
- How will the audience react to my speech?
- What if I make a blunder?
- Do I look good enough for this presentation?
- What kind of questions will the audience ask?
- What if they start throwing rotten tomatoes at me?
- I cannot speak in confidently in front of all these people.
- Is my presentation boring to make everyone sleep?
If you find yourself having these kinds of inner dialogues, you fear public speaking. Whenever you want to start speaking, the first thing you feel is a sudden sense of gripping fear. You feel your heart beat rising and your body being paralyzed due to fear. Your cognitive thinking process suddenly stops and you are unable to think. This physical response to fear is known as Fight-or-Flight response. Humans face a fight-or-flight response when faced by a life-threatening situation.
Understanding Fight-or-Flight Response
To overcome the fear of public speaking, you would first need to accustom yourself to the Fight-or-Flight response. You will always feel this being triggered in your body every time you start speaking in public. So, let us have a deeper look at this fight-of-flight response that is triggered in you.
When fear strikes you, here are a few symptoms that you might feel: –
- Heavy breathing
- Dry Mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Sweaty Hands
- Increased Perspiration
- Vigorous Shaking of hands and feet
These are the physical symptoms which might be triggered in your body causing you to feel scared. There are many other physical symptoms, but these are the most common ones. When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, your body responds accordingly to save itself from harm.
A few people who fear public speaking a lot might even experience total blackouts. The fast heart rate and shallow breathing causes a deficiency in the blood stream making your unconscious.
If you are an inexperienced speaker, you need to accept that YOU WILL BE SCARED. Even experienced speakers feel scared when giving a presentation, but they do not run from it. Accept the fact that you will be scared and be aware of the symptoms that will arise – such as the ones mentioned above.
Public Speaking fear at different times
Now that you are aware of all the symptoms of fear of public speaking, we can start to counter those one by one. From sitting in your chair before a speech/presentation till the time you end your talk, you can CONTROL the fear response. Let’s dive right into it.
When you are sitting
You might find yourself being scared to speak before being invited on to the stage. Notice the things that happen in your body such as vigorous shaking of hands and feet, faster breathing and heart-beat. If you do find yourself in this situation, you need to center yourself.
Sit up straight with your hands on your knees. Keeping your hands on your knees will prevent you from shaking your hands and will also give you a sense of balance. Next, if you find yourself breathing fairly quickly, force yourself to take long breaths. This will help you become calm almost instantly.
Walking till the designated spot
When you stand after your name being called, DO NOT RUSH. There is no need to hurry to the stage for giving the presentation. Stand up slowly all the while being aware of the fear symptoms. Once you have stood up, remember DO NOT RUSH. After standing up, just center your balance. Stand with your feet firmly on the ground and distribute the weight evenly.
Now that you have found your center and are fully balanced on both feet, walk slowly towards the platform and notice the breath. Force yourself to not breath to rapidly and take slow, deep breaths. Maintain the balance of your body and do not rush.
Many amateur speakers make the mistake of starting their presentation as soon as they reach the designated spot for speaking. Speaking as soon as you reach not only makes you hurry your speech, but also makes the presentation less effective. What you need to do is ADJUST YOURSELF to this new environment that you are in.
Earlier, you were in your chair sitting comfortably away from the eyes of the audience. But now, you are in a different place with a different setting. You need to adjust to the new light levels, to the eyes of the audience looking at you and to the sounds that you are hearing. The audience actually expects a short pause after you reach the designated spot. Take a small pause and look around to adjust yourself to the new environment.
During the presentation
While you are speaking, you might find yourself hurrying through the content a lot. You might find yourself losing the ability to think and focus. You are focused solely on finishing the talk/speech/presentation.
When this happens, start taking small pauses after each sentence. A small one to two second pause. This will not only force you to slow down, it will also let the content sink in the minds of the audience. When you reach the end of a paragraph, take a longer pause of 4 to 5 seconds.
All great speakers have a practice routine which they follow prior to the actual presentation. They practice in front of a small audience of family and/or friends or in front of a mirror. Doing this will give you the experience of an actual public speaking session so that you can notice what kind of fear patterns arise in you so that you can be aware of them during the actual session.
Here is a sample practice routine session which you can follow: –
- Sit yourself down in a chair as if you are sitting before giving your speech.
- Stand up slowly so that you can have a sense of balance on your feet.
- Once you stand up, feel your feet and adjust yourself so that you do not rush.
- After standing, walk slowly towards the stage.
- When you are walking, keep attention to your breath and keep it smooth and slow.
- Reach a designated spot and re-adjust yourself according to the new environment.
- Take a small pause and then start your presentation.
- Give the entire presentation with appropriate pauses.
Remember that every speaker is different and you can adjust the practice routine according to your style as well as the environment that you will find yourself during the final day.
Public Speaking Tips and Tricks
You have learnt that you need to overcome your fear response to start speaking well in public. Here are a few tips and tricks that you can use WHILE SPEAKING.
Do not look directly at the audience’s eyes.
Try to look at the general direction of the audience. Instead of having direct eye contact, you should look at their foreheads and then move your eyes from one side of the room to the other. This will stop you from getting a surge of emotions and at the same time engaging the audience. Also, look at one spot for one sentence, then move to another side. This gives the impression that you are directly talking to them.
This goes without saying that you need to look great when giving a formal talk. Looking neat and tidy gives you a sense of confidence and a sense of balance. When you look good, you do not have the fear of being rejected by the audience. This instills a sense of confidence in you.
Start with a Joke or Anecdote
This is a great way of starting a talk and one of the best way to start the presentation in a confident manner. When you open your talk with a small joke or an anecdote, you instantly lighten the ambience and make yourself and the audience comfortable.
How to overcome the fear of public speaking?
In summary, here are the things that you can follow to overcome fear of public speaking: –
- Keep your hands on your laps while sitting.
- Breathe deeply to slow your heart rate.
- Do not rush your presentation.
- Keep your body balanced and centered.
- Speak slowly and pause frequently.
- Look around the room to gain confidence.
Speaking in public does not have to be a terrible experience. It might be frightening at first due to lack of experience. But once you understand that you can control the fear response, you will start becoming confident. You do not need to join public speaking courses or take formal public speaking training. You can train yourself to speak with confidence just by looking at great speakers and practicing on your own.
If you feel that you have conquered your fear of public speaking, have a look at a few audience engagement strategies which will help you increase your public speaking skills.
Lastly, you can read more about fear in the book How to speak without fear – ByNatalie Rogers. It highlights in detail all the aspects of fear and how to overcome it for effective public speaking.
Wish you all the best for public speaking dear reader. Let us know in the comments if you have any other strategy of your own. Please share the article on Social Media if you found it useful 🙂 !