Discussion – 


Why am I scared of public speaking?

At the start of our workshops, I always like to guage how people feel about public speaking.  And in general, I tend to see the the same answers.  About 5% don’t feel any type of nerves, 80 percent feel a bit nervous beforehand but feel okay once they get started, while the remaining 15% have a strong fear of public speaking that sends their bodies in a shaking mess.

Glossophobia is the fancy name for the fear of public speaking.  You will see many articles claiming (incorrectly) it is people’s biggest fear. It is not. Sharks for instance, are much scarier.

However, a fear of sharks is unlikely to affect your career. While even a mild form of glossophobia can prevent you from taking risks to share your ideas and to speak about your work. It can literally hold back your career.

At the same time, any negative public speaking experiences will make it less likely that you will speak in public in the future — fear teaches you to protect yourself from risky situations.

So, why are we afraid of public speaking?

Fear of public speaking is not particularly related to the quality of your ability to give a speech.  It is more about how you, the speaker, feel and act when faced with speaking in public.

To put it another way: you have probably sat through boring rambling presentations by a boss who thinks they are quite good at speaking.  Similarly, you can witness a fascinating presentation by someone wracked with fear.  It is all about the perception of the speaker.

There are many, many factors why people become afraid when having to speak in public.

Broadly speaking, four main contributing factors are:

1: The way your body naturally reacts to fear

2: The way you think about public speaking

3: The situation you are speaking in

4: Your skills as a public speaker

1. Physiology

Whether we like it or not, our bodies automatically respond differently in stressful situations.  Fear arouses the autonomic nervous system in response to a potentially threatening stimulus.

In other words: when faced with a threat, our bodies prepare for battle.  This is otherwise known as the fight or flight response.

But here’s the problem: we all react slightly differently.  One person might be nervous and show no signs of anxiety.  Another person may be just as nervous but shaking like a leaf.

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about the extent of your physiological response.  It just means we need to work a bit harder at not entering fight or flight mode.

2. Your Thoughts

The next important factor to consider is how a person thinks about public speaking and about themself as a speaker.

Fears will increase when people overestimate the stakes of communicating their ideas in front of others, viewing the speaking event as a potential threat to their credibility, image, and chance to reach an audience.

If you think a bad speech will harm your career then you are naturally going to feel more anxious.

The healthy approach is to understand that your presentation may not go down as well as you hope.  But you don’t think it’s the end of the world.

3. The Situation

This one is pretty obvious, but worth considering.

Most studies point to the fact that the situation you speak in has a big effect on anxiety levels.

For example, when there are senior people in the audience with a greater understanding of the topic.  Or perhaps you are pitching a new idea that may not be well received.

Think of it another way: most people don’t get nervous about speaking to a class of kindergarten students.  Similarly, they don’t get nervous about speaking to a small group of colleagues.

This suggests that the fear isn’t just about speaking in front of other people.  It depends on who the people are.

4. Your Skills

Finally, a key factor that contributes to the your fear of public speaking is related to your own speaking skills.

A common misconception is that good public speakers are just born that way.  However, if you look at communicators like Churchill or Obama, you will see they put hours and hours of work into their public speaking skills.

Once again, does it matter whether you are actually very good? Nope.  All that matters is your own perception of your skills.