Stage Fright? Learn How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Do you find yourself anxious or afraid of public speaking? Are you focusing on all the things that might go wrong? There is a way out of this.

Public speaking is a necessary skill for the success of many of us. It is a way to influence the crowd, introduce new ideas and create discussion. However, there are some people who are afraid of public speaking, in fact the fear of public speaking for some of us ranks higher than the fear of death. Some people believe that you need to be born to be good at public speaking, not realizing that it is just another skill to master. However, before you can master this skill, before you can take time to develop your skills and build confidence in front of an audience, it is important to bring your emotional response to balance. If you want to overcome this fear once and for all, you need to understand how it works. This article will provide you with some tips on how you can start working on overcoming the fear of public by yourself and take some first steps which can help you become more confident speaker!

The mistaken beliefs about public speaking

There are a handful of mistaken beliefs or myths people hold about public speaking. Let’s talk about each and every one of them.

MYTH: Public speaking is not a skill--it's something you either have or you don't, like being tall or having blue eyes (or being good at math).

REALITY: Public speaking is a skill that requires a specific amount of time, effort and dedication to become good at and master. Proper mental states, like curiosity, playfulness or curiosity are much more conducive for learning this skill, but it is a skill nevertheless.

MYTH: Some people have a natural talent for public speaking and it’s easy for them. Others struggle.

REALITY: There is nothing unnatural about being able to make yourself heard and understood in front of any number of other people present. There might be, however, certain blocks in some people’s mental environment that prevent them from being natural. The reality is that all people have a natural talent for communicating, once they learn how to do it.

MYTH: Public speaking is not important, or at least not as important as other things you do in your life and career.

REALITY: Even if you don’t do public speaking as a part of your job or career, it might be quite important to know whether you can comfortably do it or not. Inability to do public speaking at ease points to the fact that there might be some blocks in your inner landscape that may require your attention. These inner blocks can actually be an obstacle in other areas of your life.

Before we address some of the reasons why people have fear of public speaking, let’s discuss one important aspect of any fear: fear is a learned behavior. When you were born, the fear of public speaking wasn’t present in your mind or body. It was only after you have gone through a specific experiences that you learned how to do this fear, how to create all the internal images that are triggers for your physical symptoms (increased heart rate, sweating, change in your breathing pattern, change of your voice – tempo, pitch etc.).

What is also important to note is that many people experience the feelings of anxiety or fear long before they actually perform the activity of “public speaking”. In that case it is not the “fear of public speaking” that they are dealing with, it is something else that they might want to address: the fear of what they THINK is going to happen.

There are many types of fears people experience in relation to public speaking:

  • The fear of failure
  • The fear of being judged
  • The fear of not being able to speak
  • The fear of being anxious whilst giving a speech
  • The fear of making a fool of yourself, of embarrassing yourself

The most common reasons that cause fear of public speaking

There are many reasons why people experience fear of public speaking. The most common triggers are:

REASON: Not knowing what to say and how to say it.

Some people are afraid that they will not know what to say during the speech or that they might be asked a question that they won’t have answer for.

Preparation is very important when public speaking - not only preparation of the speech itself, but mental preparation as well.

SOLUTION: Prepare before the speech & mentally rehearse

To perform well during a public presentation and to be realistically confident in the first place, you need to know your subject inside out. You then have to sensibly structure your talk so that it has flow and hangs together in a coherent way. You have to be sure of your subject. This doesn't necessarily mean knowing absolutely everything there is to know about the subject, but to be truly confident and appropriately relaxed, you have to be prepared to also share knowledge with the audience, which means being prepared to learn from them as well. I always, at least in part, feel I am sharing information, knowledge and perspectives with my audience and not just delivering it to them like a letter through the mail.

Remember, if you get a question you don’t know answer for yet, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the subject. The best course of action is to mentally rehearse this situation:

Imagine you are giving a speech and somebody asks you a question you don’t know the answer for yet. The question is pointing towards a new perspective, approach or viewpoint that you haven’t considered yet. This means that by receiving this question you are going to learn something new.

  1. The first thing you can do is to feel good about the question, as you are on the way to learn something new.
  2. After feeling good about receiving the question, you can thank the member of the audience for the question and feel the gratitude that you have received it.
  3. You can say something like: “That’s a good question, I haven’t considered that one. Let me write it down and I will get back to you with the answer after the speech.”(or in some later point in time)
  4. Write down the question and find out the answer whenever appropriate, just become curious about the answer.

Curiosity and gratitude is something we naturally feel when we are learning a new subject. Curiosity drives us towards discovery, gratitude makes us feel good about ourselves and the world around us. Use it to your advantage.

REASON: Being the center of attention / fear of judment

Some people feel like all eyes are on them. They feel like they are being watched, judged or rejected by the audience. Some people see members of the audience being bigger or more prominent than themselves and some people imagine the faces or eyes of the audience being out of proportion.

SOLUTION: Changing the perception

If this is your case, I want to invite you to do one exercise right now: I want you to close your eyes and imagine yourself in front of the audience as you are giving the speech. When you are there, I want you to pay close attention to the members of the audience, to their eyes and faces. There might be something strange about the members of the audience or about their faces or their eyes. Once you discover what it is about the audience that causes you to experience anxiety, try changing all the people in the audience back to the normal state. If they are bigger than you, make sure to shrink them to a normal size. If their eyes or faces are not natural or supportive, make sure to change them to warm eyes with a nice supportive smile and see for yourself if this makes a difference.

REASON: Audience knows more than I do

Some people assume that members of the audience know more than they do about the subject, they become afraid of giving a speech because of that.

SOLUTION: Challenging the belief

In order for this assumption to be true, you would have to know everything about all the people in audience – you would have to know about what they know and what they didn’t know. Not realistic proposition. It is impossible to know what people know and what they don’t know. Whenever you are having a speech you can assume that everyone in the room knows more than you do about something. Sometimes, some people are even going to know more about what you are teaching than you do. That's inevitable, and it's also an opportunity for you to learn from them, which will benefit others the next time you are giving a speech. However, you can also trust people's intelligence enough to select whether they want to be learning from you or not. You can have confidence in the judgment of the people who have decided they want to learn something from/with you and come to your speech.

The more people in audience, the more people interested in what you have to offer.

REASON: Reaching the critical mass

Some people feel just fine giving a speech to a certain number of people in the audience, but once that number reaches a “critical mass” or more, people can start to experience anxiety. Some people say that they are fine with talking to more junior members of the audience, but once there are people who are either older or more experienced, they start to experience anxiety.

SOLUTION: Reframing the audience

If people decided that they want to come to learn something from you, it probably means that they believe that you have something of value to say to them (otherwise they would not be bothered by coming). The bigger number of people in audience, the more people believe in the value of what you have to offer. The higher number of people in audience is therefore a good sign and can be actually seen as a confidence booster – the more people come to listen to you, the more confidence you can have about yourself and about your topic, as it attracted more people. The same goes for people of different ages. If your talk attracted older people, again they believe that they are going to learn something of value from you, otherwise they would choose to do something else instead.

REASON: I must be completely relaxed in order to perform well as a public speaker

Some people hold an assumption that they need to be completely relaxed, with no adrenaline running through their veins and only then can they be good public speakers.

SOLUTION: Learn about how slightly elevated adrenaline is a good thing

It is not a good idea to be completely relaxed when public speaking and the reason for this is that adrenaline is your fuel and you'll need a certain amount to lend you energy and enhance your recall. Slightly elevated adrenaline can be a very good thing because it gives you a mental state with heightened senses, a boost of energy that elevates your power and performance. For members of the audience, your adrenaline kicks up the energetic charge in the room and their experience is more intense and vivid. Therefore, it is a good thing to feel a little empowering tension at the beginning of the speech and it is something you want to welcome and embrace.

More ways how to overcome the fear of public speaking

It is possible that all the solutions we offered above might do the trick for you and you are feeling much more empowered as a public speaker. However, if you're still looking for a yet another way how to overcome the fear of public speaking, hypnosis can be a great option. Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness where your mind becomes more receptive to suggestions. For example, if you have a phobia or anxiety towards something like public speaking then hypnosis will allow us to help guide you through that process so that we can assist in removing those fears from within yourself and give them no power over how presentable or confident you feel when speaking in front of people.

Hypnosis also works well alongside Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which focuses on changing habits and behaviors by understanding how our brain works at its most basic level through language patterns and self-talk statements such as: "I am confident" versus "I'm nervous". By changing these types of statements into positive affirmations about yourself it will start helping alleviate any fears related specifically towards public speaking events like presentations, speeches etc.

It's important to remember that fear of public speaking is a common problem. You're not alone in having it, and there are many ways to overcome it. The most effective way with our clients has been the combination of hypnosis and NLP. If you have tried everything else and still can't get past your fear of public speaking then try scheduling a FREE 30 minute session with us and let’s look at it together.

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