Are you struggling with your fear of public speaking? Are you looking for ways to develop yourself as a speaker? Sure, you might not be a keynote speaker yet, but all speakers start as scared newbies. Read on to find out how you can overcome your fears, and begin the path towards confident keynoting!
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A lot of people can visualize it: You’re going up on stage, seeing a huge crowd in front of you. Suddenly you start to shake. You can’t remember your speech. The world starts spinning, and you feel like you might faint. Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The fear of speaking in front of people is so common that it has been estimated to affect some 75% of the population!
Still, why do you think this happens? Glossophobia or the fear of public speaking could be defined as the state of nervousness a person feels when he/she/they are put in a position where they have to communicate ideas in front of a group of people. Not all people suffer from this, and there’s no doubt that the art of public speaking isn’t something that comes naturally to all. The ability to confidently speak in front of people is an admirable one, and getting there is no easy feat.
So, how do they do it, the ones who can? Don’t all speakers get scared when seeing massive crowds? The fact of the matter is that no-one is born a great public speaker. Almost all speakers, even the superstars of speaking, have felt some degree of glossophobia at some stage of their career. What great speakers have managed is that they’ve found ways to deal with this fear, and beat back the paralysis that can take you over when standing on a stage, in front of an expectant crowd.
Fear of public speaking symptoms
Glossophobia comes with a wide range of symptoms. Here are just a few of them:
- Dry mouth and lips
- Panic attacks, and the feeling your throat isn’t working
- Intense shaking of the body, especially your legs
- Elevated blood pressure
- Chest contractions
- Difficulty focusing your eyes
- A humming in the ears
and so on
Where does the fear of public speaking come from?
But with the above list of symptoms, where does the fear of public speaking actually come from? There is no one, singular answer. Some might say that it stems from a fear of the crowd’s reaction to what is said. Others might claim that it is a deep-seated fear of being seen and scrutinized by a large group of people. Both fears may stem from childhood or develop in ones teens, yet it is also possible that someone who gladly jumped up on stage and naturally spoke as a child ends up having glossophobia as a teen or adult. There are in fact a mass of contributing factors which can incite glossophobia:
1. The Fear of Losing the Crowd
Having zero to low confidence in yourself is a significant reason. People tend to over-analyze and overthink what their crowd’s reaction will be, or even worrying that their speech may hurt their credibility. Believing in yourself is crucial, and if you can’t do this, you’re definitely going to be in trouble. If you’re constantly worried about what people think about what you’re saying, you’re likely to project insecurity and thus lose the crowd’s interest. Thus, the fear of losing the crowd can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. Somatic Response
Is your very body terrified of public speaking? If you view public speaking as a threat, your body will end up starting to take measures to keep you safe from that threat. Anxiety will kick in, hormones will release, and gradually this affects your senses. Your body may end up triggering a fight or flight response, one that may have you close to a blackout on stage. Speaking is not just an intellectual exercise, but one that involves the entire body, and if your body rebels – which it might do out of a desire to protect you – you may find yourself in a place where your brain isn’t afraid, but your body makes it so.
3. Mis-Matched Skill Levels
There are many arenas for speaking, and just because you’re ready for one, doesn’t mean you’re ready for the next one. Speaking to your own team doesn’t guarantee you’ll be prepared to speak to total strangers, and having spoken in front of 100 people doesn’t mean you won’t get paralyzed when speaking in front of am audience of a thousand. We all have our own limits, and when we come up against them, that’s when glossolalia can take over. In a similar fashion, when you speak about a topic you’re not comfortable with, you can get taken by a deep, unsettling feat.
4. Alien Contexts
Imagine speaking in a cavern, or on a base on the Moon. Seems scary, doesn’t it? We all feel that speaking is easiest when you know the room, know the building, know the city, know the country. The fear sets in when we don’t really know any of these things. When we don’t know what people will laugh at, or how the projector works, that’s when the fear of speaking gets accentuated. Being alone on a stage is bad enough. Being alone on an alien stage, in an alien country, can paralyze even more experienced speakers.
How to overcome my fear of public speaking?
With all these reasons to be afraid, how can one overcome the fear of speaking? Seeing as there are so many ways speaking can go wrong, a lot of people try to avoid it altogether. This, however, only makes the problem worse. If you don’t face it, glossophobia tends to get worse and can hamper not only your career but your life. With this in mind, here are eight (8!) tips for conquering your fear of public speaking through the principles of emotional intelligence:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice!
You can drastically increase speaking performance by practicing and planning ahead of time, even if this would be just you writing down a few bullet points. Better than that, plan your slide deck with care and then walk through it – several times. Listen to yourself speaking, and make sure that before you go on stage, you’ve run through your speech at least three (3!) times. You might for instance use the Orai app, put out your “Ugly first draft,” and then look through the transcript to see where you might improve. Then practice again. And again. And again.
2. Research, Research, Research
Make it a point of pride to study your topic as much as you can before you start preparing your speech. Make sure you don’t only know the supporting evidence, but also the criticisms and the alternative perspectives. Be ready for any questions, and prepared to present alternatives. Also ensure that you have novel examples, oddities that might make people think, and the latest studies to back your ideas up. The more insights you have, the less likely you are to get scared when going up to the present.
3. Practice Deep Breathing
A key part of glossophobia is difficulty breathing. People often end up gasping for air during their speeches, making them look bad in front of people. You can quickly sort this out by practicing “deep breathing”, something you can practice by taking slow and deep breaths. This will help you calm down a lot and eventually get rid of your public speaking anxiety. Check out Dominic Colenso’s breathing exercises for confident public speaking!
4. Get Organized
Far too often, people go on stage without having a clear plan for what they’re going to do once up there. Don’t fear planning, nor a script. If in doubt, plan every aspect of your speech and write down what you’re going to do once on stage. Sure, you can’t always follow a script, nor will you ever be able to deliver 100% of what you wrote down. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t organize your speech and write a script. Remember, it is much easier to be free when you have a framework, just like it is easier to improvise when you have a structure to improvise from.
5. Visualize success
You are going to pull yourself down if you think your speech is going to go wrong. Instead, focus on how good your speech will be, and just how many people will love it. Visualize the crowd smiling at you and hanging on to your every word. Look for the people in the crowd who are already smiling, and keep with them. This will help you keep a calm head.
6. Concentrate on What You are Delivering
Once they see the audience, a lot of speakers tend to focus on them and forget about their content. Focus on a few core messages, points you want to bring across. An audience will forgive you for many things if they feel that you are honest and true about trying to communicate something. Think less about style, and more about whether everyone in the audience knows exactly what you’re trying to say, and your fear will dissipate.
7. Make Timing and Pausing Your Friend
Pausing for a couple of seconds isn’t a bad thing when speaking. The silence may seem like an eternity to you, but your audience will most likely not even notice. Make your pauses poignant, and allow yourself time to speak your truth. Stay on message and remember to breathe in, breathe out! If in doubt, take a moment.
8. Get Help from Peers
There is always someone who’s better than you. Use that to your advantage. Take up activities that require you to speak up and ask for feedback. Many clubs and groups will help you out with your speech and delivery. Consulting peers is a great way to pave your path. Use the emotional intelligence of others to hone yours, and to hone your speaking. Remember, we’re stronger together!