This is a question, I have been asked by almost every speech coaching client that I have assisted in gaining control over their anxiety. In my past 25 years as communications coach, I have found that fear of speaking stems from a few places. Now that is not to say that every person has had a uniquely unpleasant situation that helped to create the anxiety. What I am suggesting is that while situations are unique to that person, I find that the three places that the anxiety stems from are:
1. Having little to no experience with speaking publicly. You may be someone who has been creating the magic behind the scenes and have grown accustomed to that but now you are asked to be in the spotlight sharing what you know.
2. You may have had a not so great public speaking experience somewhere in your past. Negative experiences seem to linger quite a while. We seem to forget all the good experiences but those not so great ones remain forever. It’s not uncommon for an adult to remember a bad situation from 20-30 years ago. Clearly the individual has moved on from the negative experience, it is not forgotten and has let a mark.
3. You might be a person who has managed the nervousness and learned how to control it but something happened and a presentation did not go well. Some folks rely on their public speaking ability vs actually preparing and practicing. These folks thought they could “wing it” and they didn’t put a whole lot into preparing or practicing their presentation. Well, somewhere along the way, usually during the presentation, they realize that they aren’t prepared and what they thought would sound great, doesn’t sound so great.
All three of these situations boil down to being evaluated. No one loves being judged or evaluated. We didn’t like it as children and we really dislike it as adults. As adults, we logically know that we cannot control what our listeners think or feel about us but that doesn’t stop us from worrying and stressing about it.
No matter what the cause of your public speaking anxiety, you need to gain control over it to overcome fear of speaking. The longer you wait to exert your control, the harder it becomes. I did not say impossible, just harder. If you suffer from presentation anxiety, seek out assistance now. You have the ability to control your presentation anxiety.