Are you fearful of speaking in public?


For some people, the very thought of speaking in public is excruciating. Being fearful of speaking in public can stop them from putting themselves forward: it can hold people back from saying yes to speaking opportunities: it can prey on their minds and cause doubts and dips in self-esteem.
fearful of speaking in public

It’s not the only way to communicate

Let’s face it: you don’t have to speak in public.  There are many ways you can communicate and standing in front of a group or appearing on a screen in front of others is only one of a myriad of ways we can put ourselves across. You can write reports, you can email, you can telephone and speak one on one. There have been many a manager that has passed the baton of public speaking to their junior member of staff (sometimes citing self-development or lack of time as an excuse for their own unwillingness to speak themselves).

Why speak in public?

I am always interested in the reasons why someone decides that speaking in public is important to them now.  What is it that has created the desire and need to conquer being fearful of speaking in public? Or the uncomfortableness of speaking publicly? What has made NOT speaking more uncomfortable than the speaking in public?

You’re not alone

Public speaking is a common fear, affecting many people around the world. I find that reassuring somehow. It is never ‘just us’ if the fear kicks in: we are not alone.  The sense of anxiety we might experience when speaking in public doesn’t detract from our own value or worth: the fact that we might have sleepless nights doesn’t mean we are any less of a person or be less professional or less competent.

The fear of public speaking in front of an audience can manifest in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s the actual delivery: physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, or nausea. It can also be the sleepless nights and the ongoing anxiety that precedes the talk.  Sometimes it is the emotions on the day – anxiety, nervousness, mind blanks.

So why do people have this fear? Why does public speaking seem like a huge step out of many people’s comfort zone?

  • Fear of being judged

    Many people worry that they will be judged or criticised by their audience. They may be afraid of making mistakes or saying something stupid. In some cases, clients tell me it’s about the fear of being seen as stupid.

  • Nothing worthy to say

    Linked to this is that people worry that they don’t have something worthy enough to say. I often hear the phrase, ‘Who would want to listen to me?’

  • Fear of failure

    Some people fear that they will fail if they give a bad presentation. They may be afraid of forgetting their speech, bombing on stage, or not meeting the expectations of their audience. Added to that is the worry that they will not achieve what they wanted to achieve from those presentations – the sale or the proposal or the job.

  • Fear of attention

    Some people are simply uncomfortable with being the centre of attention. They may feel awkward, shy, or self-conscious when all eyes are on them. Indeed, this can be debilitating for many people who hate the spotlight.

  • Fear of the unknown

    Public speaking can be a daunting task, especially for people who have never done it before. The uncertainty of what to expect can be a source of anxiety for many people.

I have been known to summarise it a Fear of Messing up and a Fear of Missing out. Messing up on the message, content and delivery.  Missing out on the potential opportunity of this method of communication.

What can you do about it?

  • Clear messaging

Get clear about what message you are wanting to deliver.  When you know what you need people to take away with them, it is much easier to choose the relevant content and to structure it in a way that makes more sense to your audience.

  • Prepare

The more prepared you are, the less anxious you will feel. Practice your speech beforehand, and make sure you know your material inside and out. In this instance, I would always recommend that you practice out loud, not just in your head.   It is only once the words have hit the fresh air, that you will know whether they make sense or whether there is a better way of expressing your thoughts.

  • Focus on your audience

When you focus on your audience and what you want them to learn or take away from your speech, you’ll be less focused on your own anxiety. Connecting with the audience using techniques, structure and words and stories, means that the attention is less on you and more on the people listening.

  • Relax

Take some deep breaths and try to relax your body. This will help to calm your nerves and make you feel more in control. Breathe is your biggest resource when speaking.  It helps you relax, maintain control connect with your message.

  • Be positive

Believe in yourself and your ability to deliver a great speech. A positive attitude can go a long way in overcoming your fear. I don’t mean this in a Rah Rah way.  Being ok with being you, knowing that you have thought about what the audience need to hear most and being prepared not to be perfect but to be perfectly you, can help you develop a personal style and confidence.

fearful of speaking in pubic

Fearful of speaking in public?

If you have made the decision to deliver presentations, then there is only one good way of getting good at it. And that is to do more of it. Be prolific. With practice and feedback, some of being fearful of speaking in public dissipates and a confidence grows which may never translate to Fearless but could become Resourceful (to deal with whatever happens and to that with your own personal style.)

If it is time to tackle that fear and you want to chat about it, then get in touch.

Public speaking is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice.

Don’t let your fear hold you back from achieving your goals.