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How to overcome a fear of public speaking

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The fear of public speaking—known as glossophobia—is the most common type of social phobia. In fact, researchers estimate that up to 77% of the general population is afraid of public speaking.

While the mere thought of speaking in public might increase your heart rate and cause your palms to sweat, overcoming this fear could help you multiply your impact and get your message across much more effectively.

The Psychology of Glossophobia

Speaking is something we do every day — we greet our family when we get up in the morning, we pitch ideas to our co-workers and friends, we even debate big issues with our spouses using statistics, experiences, examples, and persuasive techniques.

The only difference between what we do on a daily basis and the “public speaking” situation is that suddenly, we’re the center of attention and the eyes of an audience are focused on us.

Three Sources of Glossophobia

“Fear of public speaking” is something we think about as a general phobia, but dealing with this fear and its paralysing symptoms is much more straightforward if we can identify the source of the fear.

Situation-Based Anxiety

Public speaking is a bit like participating in elite sports. It’s normal to feel nervous before you present, and that adrenaline is a necessary aspect of performance.

If your fear of public speaking is mostly situational, you should recognise—and welcome—this natural reaction and reframe it as excitement rather than fear.

Audience-Based Anxiety

In some cases, the fear might come from the thought of an audience with high expectations or perhaps some important audience members that you’re hoping to impress. If you notice your anxiety is mostly interpersonal, it can help to connect with and relate to your audience.

Before the presentation begins, take time to connect with as many audience members as you can to establish a relationship and keep the focus on them. This helps you to speak to their needs rather than focusing solely on your delivery.

Goal-Based Anxiety

Whether your presentation is centered around business, education, or politics, there is always an underlying goal for the speech. The overwhelming importance of this goal may heighten your sense of pressure to perform and increase your fear of public speaking.

On the day of the presentation, distract yourself from any future consequences by doing physical exercise or listening to music. Then, while you’re presenting, end every main point with a “bottom line” statement. This will help you to tailor your content and make sure you’re driving the message home.

How to Prepare for a Positive Speech

Are you ready to overcome your fear of public speaking and deliver an engaging, life-changing message? Follow these evidence-based steps to boost your confidence in front of a crowd:

Know Your Content Like the Back of Your Hand

In contrast to writing, which you can research as you go, speaking requires you to know your content inside out before you even step in front of an audience. Rather than rely on long-winded dot points, train your neurons and your tongue by reading your main points and statistics out loud. As your muscle memory begins to take over, you will feel more confident about delivering your content.

Practice Your Speech in Front of a Mirror

Another factor in feeling afraid of public speaking is simply not being sure how you come across. Find this out long before it’s time to present by practicing in front of a mirror. While you give your speech over and over again, work on the four V’s of delivery:

  • Verbal: Use shorter, simpler sentences.
  • Vocal: Vary your volume and speed.
  • Visual: Hold your head and shoulders straight and use gestures that go beyond the line of your shoulders.
  • Vital: Consider what it is that gets you passionate about your topic and what your audience cares about most. This will help you come across as warm and knowledgeable and increase your engagement with your audience

As you present your speech over and over again, time how long your presentation takes and keep some additional content in reserve in case your speech runs short and you have time left over.

Present to Small Groups of Family and Friends

Now that you’ve perfected your speech, it’s time to overcome your fear of public speaking with people who genuinely want you to succeed. Invite a small group of family and friends to come over and present your entire speech to them. If you’re particularly anxious, you might like to start with only one or two people and increase the number gradually from there.

Remove Any Obstacles to a Successful Presentation

You’ve learned your content back-to-front, perfected your delivery, and incorporated feedback from family and friends. Now it’s time to choose your outfit for the best, most confident, camera-ready you.

Keeping in mind the heat of stage lights (if you’re presenting on stage), choose a comfortable, well-fitting outfit and shoes that are appropriate for your audience and the topic of your speech.

Before the day, you might also consider getting your haircut, waxing your eyebrows and lip (if needed), and possibly even investing in cosmetic smile makeover if you’re likely to appear on camera. An appropriate amount of makeup and your most natural, warm smile will complete your preparation for a confident delivery.

Key Takeaways

A fear of public speaking is normal and natural, and it can be overcome using simple, tried-and-tested strategies. Rather than becoming paralysed by fear, let the normal physical response of nerves propel you to deliver an exceptional speech.

The secrets to effective public speaking are preparation, practice, and proven psychology. Prepare until you couldn’t forget your content even if you tried. Practice by yourself, with one person, then with a small group, and use psychology to reframe the experience and harness the nerves and adrenaline for power.

Just like athletes before a big game, it’s healthy to feel at least a little bit anxious. Visualise yourself achieving success, take a deep breath from your belly, and walk out onto that platform with confidence. Your message is important and your audience needs to hear it. If you mess up, analyse, practice, and improve. You’ll soon be amazed at how far you’ve come!

Have you overcome your fear of public speaking? Let us know how you achieved it.

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