“There are two types of public speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” ― Mark Twain
Would you rather be dead than give a speech?
That’s what most surveys say anyway. When asked about their fears people rank public speaking as number one, and death usually comes in around four or five. Recently I was interviewed for Radio Live about this research, and what we can learn from this. You can listen to my radio interview here.
Why is it so normal to be afraid of giving a speech? Well what people are actually afraid of is being embarrassed, making a fool of themselves or otherwise being uncovered as incompetent or flawed in some way. Some people also end up simply being afraid of feeling anxiety, or other people noticing that they are anxious.
The core problem here is shame, and the power of the social emotions to influence our behaviour. People need meaningful contact with other people. For most of human history a human being without a group was a dead human being.
So shame, and the fear of exclusion or judgement by a group of people, has an incredibly powerful effect on our behavior. And it’s actually being shunned or judged negatively by the group that feels like a fate worse than death.
So what can you do to find the courage to overcome your fear of public speaking?
Firstly knowing that this response is normal can help. These tips might also help:
• Make it matter. It’s much easier to do something hard if it matters. Think about your long term goals and how giving the speech or presentation lines up with them.
• If you’ve never given a speech, practice on your own, with one other person, or a small group. When people keep doing something anxiety provoking the fear decreases over time. The nervousness might remain but with time and practice it becomes manageable.
• Prepare, and know your topic. Sometimes our avoidance can lead us to avoid any preparation until the last minute. Be familiar enough with what you want to say that you don’t have to read it, but by all means refer to notes.
• Don’t expect perfection. The anxiety will make us want to get it perfect. But the best speeches are natural, human and even a little bit flawed. If you stumble or trip up, keep going. Most people won’t notice, or judge you. Remember nearly half of people hate giving speeches too!
• Learn some simple breathing exercises. It really helps to attend to the physical side of anxiety and the easiest way to do this is by monitoring and regulating your breathing. If all else fails, take a deep breath.
And above all remember that your worth as a human being is not being measured by your speech giving skills. As many as half of all of us are terrified of public speaking, and that includes people who don’t have Social Anxiety.
Public speaking is hard, and it takes courage to overcome that fear – everyday courage; the kind my programme will help you build.