Fear of public speaking is extremely common, often people fear it more than death itself! The experience varies from person to person – from feeling a little nervous to complete panic or freezing. Public speaking tends to be feared more intensely and more often by those who have social anxiety disorder (SAD). However, whether it is giving a formal presentation to an audience or asking our boss for a raise, being comfortable speaking in public is an important skill to learn.
Change is Possible
As daunting as it may seem, it is possible to overcome these fears and be able to deliver a speech more confidently. It will take some effort to change old habits and requires practice, but it is possible. Few people, if any, are born experts at public speaking. It is a learned skill, like many other tasks in our personal and professional lives.
Think of public speaking as something you can prepare for – not an innate gift you were born with or without. Change your idea of public speaking and follow the helpful steps below, you as much as anyone else can speak publicly with ease.
Tools to Manage Fear of Public Speaking
1. Prepare – study and know your topic, it will be easier to get back on track if you do falter and allows you to field questions easier if you’ve done your homework.
2. Organize – write a small outline of key points, keep it short. Don’t read from it word for word, use it as a guide for what point is next. Have all of your materials and notes organized. If you are using a powerpoint or other technology make sure it works the day before if possible or plenty of time before – so you can be prepared to do it without if technology fails.
3. Practice – say the speech out loud in front of a mirror (use facial expressions and gestures that you would in the speech). Video tape yourself, before watching it back rate how well you believe you did on a scale 0 (terrible)-100 (great): eye contact, stuttering, long pauses, fidgeting, shaking, sweating, blushing, voice quivering, hand gestures, acted friendly, etc). Then watch the video mindfully (as though you were watching someone else) be curious and try to ignore distressing thoughts. If you are distressed after watching, watch it a second time and if you are still distressed watch it a third time after a short break. Rate yourself again. Role play your speech in front of a friend or significant other – this is an excellent way to get the jitters out.
4. Breathe – focus on your breathing and relax. This will help you find a natural rhythm to your speech. Keep your sentences short and use short pauses in between points.
5. Envision success – envision yourself standing calmly, speaking confidently and imagine how you want it to go. Let the desire of a successful performance motivate you – not the fear of the worst outcome. You may have been asked to speak because someone felt you have some valuable information to share – be confident in that.
6. Eliminate Fear – what if you do lose your place or trip over a word? Knowing this may happen and how you’ll recover is helpful – and less likely to catch you off guard. The majority of audience members have made mistakes during a speech before. They won’t notice small hiccups – they are listening for new material – not if its presented perfectly. If you need, take a few seconds to get yourself back on track, reference your note card if you lose your place (even experienced speakers have notes – its ok to glance at it briefly). Your 5 second pause may seem like eternity to you, but to the audience it may appear like a planned and well needed moment for them to absorb the material covered thus far.
7. Exercise – a light exercise before can get your circulation going and direct oxygen to your brain. Take a brisk walk or do some light stretches.
8. Reflect – after the speech mentally applaud yourself for facing your fears and being proactive for preparing! There is always room for improvement, even the president makes mistakes in speeches – so just note some things to consider next time.
If these steps and practice don’t help with your fears, consider looking for professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven treatment for fear of public speaking.
How to Get Help for Social Anxiety
The National Social Anxiety Center is a national association of regional clinics with certified cognitive therapists specializing in social anxiety and anxiety-related problems. We have compassionate therapists who can help you to reduce social anxiety. Currently, we have regional clinics in San Francisco, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, Chicago, Newport Beach / Orange County, Houston / Sugar Land, St. Louis, Phoenix, South Florida, and Silicon Valley / Sacramento Valley. Contact our national headquarters at (202) 656-8566 or visit our Regional Clinics contact page to find help in your local area.
Some information referenced from Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/phobias/expert-answers/fear-of-public-speaking/faq-20058416