Why are you so fearful of public speaking?

I spend a lot of time reading articles from magazines, newspapers, and blogs whose authors proclaim they have the solutions for the fear of public speaking. The reality is there is no solution to that fear. As a person who has spoken for 25 years as well as coached others for the last ten, there will never come a time when you are cured. The fact is fear is a part of public speaking. You can be anxious because it is a new topic that you are speaking on, you didn’t prepare as well as you would have liked, or you really want the speech to go well, the reasons are endless.

One of the root causes of this fear is always the same. We are not always afraid of giving the speech or really even what comes out of our mouths. For the most part, we are always concerned with what are listeners are thinking about us and the message. The underlying and all-pervasive reality is listeners contribute to our fear, and since speaking by ourselves is never going to get anyone anywhere it will always be with us. The question then becomes how do I deal with managing my fear of my listeners?

Now don’t get me wrong. I do not think we are afraid of our listeners because they exist. I doubt many of us look at the people in a board room or in an audience or even a client and think “Goodness, I am afraid of these human beings!” No, we are afraid of the judgement they will pass. Do they like us, our voice, the speech, and will they take the actions we are suggesting? So when dealing with the fear of public speaking, one must come to terms with not being able to control the listeners or what they are thinking. Using my extensive experience as well as research into listener psychology, I offer the following tips to help with that:

  1. People are more predictable than you think!

When we think of groups of people, whether our managers, listeners, or customers, they all share commonalities. All groups of people share common attributes we can consider as we prepare a speech. We share age ranges, gender, socioeconomic backgrounds, family make-up, race, sociopolitical background, etc. The more you know about who you are presenting to, the better. As you uncover this information, people become more predictable. At times, obtaining this insight is simple. If you know where the group is from, job titles, and the purpose they have for listening to you, you can deduce most of this information. This will reduce your fear of public speaking because you can adapt what you say to more directly appeal to the listeners you have.

  1. Preparation is key!

When we think of giving a public presentation, sometimes the idea of thorough preparation is too stressful so we put it off. After you learn about who will be listening to your message (#1 above), use that information to help craft your presentation. The more time you put into preparation and practice, the more confident you can feel about knowing your messaging. Your listeners will appreciate a presenter who put time and energy into organizing a well thought-out message that addresses their concerns, needs, and curiosities.

  1. Don’t worry it won’t be perfect! Then again, neither are your listeners.

In the entirety of the time I have watched, coached, or given speeches, I have probably seen two speeches that I considered flawless in delivery but I doubt they were flawless to everyone who watched it. What I am saying is giving a perfect speech is impossible, and when we hold ourselves to this level of expectation, we are bound to fail. So, simply put “Don’t!” Practice as much as you can. Prepare as much as you can. Then, give the presentation knowing something might go wrong and how you deal with that will define how people remember it. You see, a fear of public speaking is a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you fear it, it will go wrong. If you accept it, then you will overcome. The idea is see errors as opportunities to adjust, learn, and move forward.

  1. It’s your time!

One of the most often repeated pieces of advice speakers hear in all situations is “picture your audience in their underwear.” There are many problems with this statement ranging from the use of the term audience which evokes pictures of acting instead of presenting, as well as the fact that imaging this is in no way helpful. In the moments before the speech, speakers need to focus on their message instead of themselves. Yes, your listeners are part of the focus, but before a speech, never forget the speaking time is yours. When you speak, it is your time. Before you speak, focus on your message, your ideas, and the fact that the people you are going to talk to want to listen to you.

  1. If you like it so will they!

One of the most important things communication professionals know and most other people forget, is that non-verbal communication is in many ways more important than verbal communication. The elements of your speaking that will really benefit you the most are posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and a simple smile. Whether you are in front of one person or one million, the communication the listeners will more likely focus on includes your level of confidence, the connection they feel, and how comfortable you make them. The best part about this is that these skills are easily developed, practiced, and employed.

Fear is absolutely something that we all deal with. These tips will be helpful in alleviating that fear in a productive and lasting way! Just remember: if you are excited to present to whomever you are presenting to, you have less to fear than you have to gain.

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