Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to give another presentation? It sounds like a dream come true for people who suffer from public speaking anxiety. And frankly, that’s the majority of the population. The thought of standing before a group and talking is just about the scariest thing imaginable for most people — scarier than death! We literally spend hours every day communicating with other people. Sometimes its two or three or more people who are involved in the conversation. And sometimes one person is doing most of the talking. Maybe it’s because it’s happening in someone’s office or around the water cooler that no one is feeling afraid or anxious. But guess what? It’s all public speaking.
Be Okay With The FearThe severity of public speaking anxiety is as different as the person who has it. Some people feel slightly nervous at the thought of speaking in front of a group; others are paralyzed with fear. Regardless of where you fall on the scale, you can’t overcome your fear until you admit it exists. Get it out in the open and then you can really deal with it. Okay, so you’re afraid of public speaking. Now what? Well, let’s look at the reasons you’re so afraid. It’s safe to assume the people who suffer the most from public speaking anxiety are the ones who know how important presentation skills are to their success. (But really, everyone should know that.) They’re afraid they’ll give a bad performance in front of their bosses or peers. Here’s the question we always ask: What’s the worst that can happen?
- You’ll make a mistake (and feel embarrassed)
- You’ll forget what you’re supposed to say (and feel embarrassed)
- You’ll trip, mess up your slides, knock over the microphone, or look out and realize everyone is staring at you (and feel embarrassed)
Public Speaking Anxiety Versus FearYou’re probably sitting there thinking to yourself, “I’ve done presentations where I knew my material forwards and backwards and I still felt afraid.” That’s not uncommon. In fact, there are a lot of seasoned public speakers (and even entertainers) who will tell you no matter how many times they talk in front of a group or give a performance, they still feel nervous before they step on stage. But ask yourself this: Once you start going, do you begin to relax, or does the fear worsen as you move through your presentation? Your answer to this question will indicate whether you are simply afraid, or if you suffer from public speaking anxiety. The two are very closely related, but not exactly the same.
Public Speaking Anxiety DefinitionAnxiety is a feeling of fear or worry about a situation that is seen as menacing, and public speaking certainly fits the bill for a lot of people. This is where the fear of embarrassment comes in. People who suffer from public speaking anxiety worry about their performance—they ruminate about it. And many times, even during their presentation and when they finish giving it, they continue to worry. How did I look? What did I sound like? Did I speak too fast? Fear, on the other hand, is the body’s response to a threat, whether real or perceived. In the case of public speaking, there is no real fear—it’s all your mind. And once you begin your presentation and your brain realizes there is no real fear, you begin to relax. When you’re finished, you feel a huge sense of relief.
Coping With Public Speaking AnxietyIf you are regularly called on to give presentations—or you want to be better at public speaking—and you suffer from public speaking anxiety, you first need to come up with some coping skills, because you may never completely get rid of the anxiety. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a great public speaker; it just means you need to work with your anxiety symptoms instead of against them. For example here are some public speaking anxiety techniques:
- When your mouth feels dry, take a sip of water
- When you feel your knees knocking, shift your weight
- When your hands are trembling, put them together
- When your voice is quivering, pause and smile