Underlying Causes of Public Speaking Fear?

Questioner: Sabrina
Category: Public Speaking
Private: No
Subject: Underlying Causes
Question: QUESTION: Doug, I was wondering what you thought were some causes of the fear of public speaking, such as previous traumatic experiences or possibly other fears such as the fear of judgement that cause the fear of public speaking. Also, what do you know about people’s acceptance of this fear, and if many people cannot admit their fear to others?

ANSWER: Sabrina, the cause of public speaking fear (any fear for that matter) is pretty simple…

Anytime we try something new (any new skill whether it’s learning to ride a bike when we’re 4 or 5 years old, learning to drive a car when you are 15, or learning how to use a computer or new smartphone, etc.) we will have quite a bit of nervousness. If during the practice, we have what we consider to be a success, our confidence grows.  If we have what we consider to be a failure, our nervousness increases.  The more times that we attempt something and have one of the challenges, the more difficult it becomes to attempt the same skill in the future.

So if someone doesn’t attempt to speak in front of a group very often, and the person has a challenge in front of a group, he/she will have a tougher time speaking in the future.  The only way to overcome this fear is to replace the “perceived failures” with successes.

For instance, when we teach our Fearless Presentations ® class, we start each presenter with a fairly simplistic presentation to deliver in the beginning, and then we add more to it in future presentations.  So every time the speaker is presenting, he/she is building on past successes to build confidence.  It works every time.

People sometime do have a tough time admitting fear to others, because they think it makes them look weak.  As a result, they tend to avoid opportunities that could cause this fear to manifest itself.  As a result, they will often pass up opportunities succeed.

Doug Staneart

———- FOLLOW-UP ———-

QUESTION: Thanks so much for your reply! I was also wondering if you that these “failures” are not only leading to that specific fear, but also to a judgement of ourselves that we are therefore failures, which then can possibly lead to us fearing others judgement of ourselves because of our lowered self-esteem. I am also wondering if possibly other failures other speaking in front of people could possibly cause this fear. Such as a “failure” in another activity which then leads to a fear of people judging you, which will ultimately lead to a fear of public speaking. I also wonder if in these classes where you teach people how to get over their fears, whether you consider and use this as an effective way to help them understand and overcome their fear.

Answer: Sabrina, sorry for the delay in responding. I just realized that you asked a follow up question (I thought it was a duplicate of the original question.)

Yes, fear not only comes from true “failures” but also “perceived failures.” Once they occur, they will make self-confidence and self-esteem fall (at least a little). A perceived failure in one area can cause overall self-esteem to fall as well. For instance, when something traumatic like a physical attack or accident occurs to some people, they retreat and stop participating in other activities.

However, success or perceived success has an opposite reaction. I find that when people get a good public speaking coach and gain confidence in presentation skills that the self-confidence spills over into other areas of their life as well and self-confidence and self-esteem grows dramatically.

Many people who complete formal presentation training with a good coach tend to accomplish a lot of fantastic things in a short period of time. Many get promoted (sometimes two and three levels in a year or so), gain a lot of prestige and esteem from others, and more.

Doug Staneart
America’s Fearless Presentations Coach


Author: Doug Staneart, Date Published: 05/07/11

Doug Staneart is the CEO of The Leader's Institute. LLC and founder of the Fearless Presentations class. He is author of Fearless Presentations, Mastering Presentations, and 28 Ways to Influence People.

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