The thought of standing up in front of a crowd and delivering a speech can send some people into a tailspin.
Their palms might sweat, their hearts might beat double-time or scores of butterflies might flutter inside their stomachs. The Chapman University April 2015 Survey of American Fears reported that 28.4 percent of Americans fear public speaking.
Surprisingly, some very well known public figures have experienced the jitters when speaking before a crowd. Warren Buffet’s fear of speaking in public was so deep-seated he would vomit when faced with the possibility.
The actor Harrison Ford considers public speaking “a mixed bag of terror and anxiety.”
You’d never guess that Abraham Lincoln experienced stage fright when faced with speaking in public.
These celebrities all overcame this phobia; today, programs, books and experts have created ways to bring anxieties under control. Dale Carnegie, one of the most well-known and respected organizations, has been allaying the fear of public speaking since 1998 when it published How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Today, its message is delivered worldwide not only by book, but also through live courses and seminars, on-site trainings and virtual courses.
Learning to overcome your fear
Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, MD, of the Mayo Clinic explains that fear of public speaking can manifest in a number of ways, from “slight nervousness to paralyzing fear and panic.”
He asserts that being prepared and practicing before delivering your presentation can help you overcome this phobia. Additionally, familiarity with your topic and planning what you’ll say helps reduce nervousness. For instance, he suggests making notes on an index card to keep you focused. Hall-Flavin points out that a visit to the site before your presentation provides an opportunity to scope out the room, find out what type of equipment is available and note any other relevant details.
Most important, according to Hall-Flavin, is focusing on your material, not the audience. He suggests that when an audience is hearing new information, they tend to pay attention to the message, not to the person delivering it. Your nervousness may go unnoticed, he asserts.
Beverly D. Flaxington, corporate consultant and expert in human behavior and stress management, among other things, has been helping people manage behavior and change for 17 years. In a blog post for Psychology Today, she addresses the matter of public speaking anxiety, which actually has an official term: glossophobia.
Boosting your self-confidence
Flaxington takes a no-nonsense approach to this common fear, pointing out that, regardless of the reason – fear of “being judged, rejected, humiliated” – the underlying issue is lack of self-confidence. While boosting self-confidence doesn’t happen overnight, she offers some ideas to help the process along.
Although she echoes some of Hall-Flavin’s suggestions, Flaxington disagrees when it comes to the audience. Unlike Hall-Flavin, she places significant emphasis on the listener. Her theory is that shifting focus to your listeners redirects thoughts away from yourself. While any speaker should be familiar with the material he or she is presenting, doing so with the audience in mind can make the event less stressful. She advises the public speaking-shy individual to do some homework to understand what the audience already knows and what they’d like to learn. With this knowledge prior to the speech, the speaker can organize material and deliver it so that the audience walks away from the event with a clear understanding of the message.
Public Speaking and Presentations Skills Specialist Suzannah Baum dispels one piece of advice that has been doled out for years: do not picture your audience naked. She admits that this vision might dispel your nervousness, but it might also prevent you from concentrating on the speech and clearly communicating your thoughts.
Rather, she emphasizes preparing and practicing everything. Knowing your material and repeatedly rehearsing can help increase confidence, she reports.
Fear of public speaking is not likely to disappear overnight. But by following the experts’ advice to prepare and practice, you might begin to gain confidence and chase those butterflies away.