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Fear of Public Speaking

Public speaking is often on the list of people's most feared activities. This is a normal and perfectly understandable fear. Stress and anxiety are perfectly natural human responses to speaking in front of a group of strangers. It would be very unusual for a person to feel nothing when speaking in front of a group. I'd imagine that person to be an extreme rarity or perhaps they might not care very much about the outcome. The need for social acceptance by others is hardwired into us. That's why public speaking affects us all on a deep physiological level... but of course some people are more affected than others.

I know from first hand experience some of the feelings associated with intense public speaking anxiety. Admittedly, I never had a fear specifically associated with speech. But I did suffer from severe panic attacks which left me unable to cope with ordinary circumstances and social interactions. I've since gone on to become a public speaking teacher and have learned a thing or two along the way. Namely, that a fear of public speaking (or anything) is manageable with the right knowledge. Here I'll discuss the importance of getting speaking experience, learning to relax, taking proper care of yourself and overcoming perfectionism.

It's been said that the only way to deal with a fear is to do the very thing you're afraid of. This is the central premise of exposure therapy, a common form of behavior therapy. You must face your fears to overcome them! It's important to do this incrementally so as not to overwhelm yourself. Yet it will be to your advantage to take up any opportunities that allow you to speak in front of groups. You might try out a local toastmasters club or perhaps take a public speaking class. Anything to get you speaking, out of your comfort zone and interacting with others will help to lessen your fear of public speaking.

Next, it is important to learn how to calm down your body and mind. This may sound obvious or trite but it cannot be understated. The better you are at utilizing your parasympathetic nervous system (that's the body's relaxation response), the better you will be at calming yourself down during and before a speech. I recommend relaxation and mindfulness exercises as a start to reducing one's stress levels. You can find those on the resources page of this website.

It's also essential to keep yourself in a healthy environment. That means sleeping well, eating well, exercising and getting adequate social support. Each of these factors is vital to remaining healthy and happy and thus performing any skill to the best of your ability. It is not always possible to get 8 hours of sleep, to eat perfectly, exercise every day or be free from personal problems. But they will certainly affect physical and mental faculties, including your ability to speak effectively. Do the best you can to keep yourself healthy. In all, you must be well to speak well!

Lastly, I'd like to bring up how important it is that you not worry too much about being the best speaker in the room. Perfectionism can result in self-criticism to the point of interfering with your productivity. It can also set you up for failure. If you overwhelm yourself with all the things you need to improve then you might stifle your ability to progress in your speaking skills. Dare to be average. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it can really empower you to begin improving your skills.

Of course, an acute case of public speaking anxiety should be addressed with a therapist or health professional. But perhaps for most people these tips can be of use. I know from personal experience how anxiety can prevent you from accomplishing goals and speaking effectively. That's why I recommend for anyone that is nervous about speaking to get experience, to learn to relax, to take good care of oneself and to avoid the need to be perfect. In these ways the fear of public speaking can be managed.

I don't believe a healthy human being can be entirely free from fear. Fear can be a healthy part of life as it helps us to navigate through dangerous situations we may face. When fear becomes overwhelming, this information may assist in making it manageable. Rather than wishing to be free from fear, I think we can seek to weaken its power over us. Hopefully this article can help to spread the word of ways manage public speaking anxiety and to ensure that it doesn't prevent us from speaking or living at our best.