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Public Speaking Fear-The Quick and Easy Way to Fearless Presentations

Doug Staneart  |  09/28/11
last updated

Public Speaking Fear-The Quick and Easy Way to Fearless Presentations The fear of public speaking is still one of the biggest and most debilitating fears. Public speaking fear causes competent professionals to miss out on fantastic opportunities to persuade and win people to their way of thinking.

So where does this fear come from? Better yet… How does the average person get rid of it?

The truth is that public speaking is a skill just like any other skill. The first time that you do it, you will be nervous. However, if you are still feeling the fear time after time, it’s probably caused by some of the things that you are doing to try to eliminate that fear. That’s right… Often the things that you do to try to reduce public speaking fear actually end up CAUSING this presentation nervousness.

Where Public Speaking Fear Comes From?

Anytime a person tries something for the first time, he or she will feel nervousness or anxiety about it. Remember back when you got on a bicycle for the first time? Or the first time you tried to drive on the freeway? We tend to remember situations like riding a bike for the first time or driving a car for the first time because in those situations, we felt an imminent threat to our safety — the bigger that threat to our safety is, the more intense the fear or nervousness. For instance, if you have ever been sky-diving or bungee jumping, you probably felt a lot of fear.

Last week, I took a trip to London with my wife. We ended up going to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We walked up over 500 stairs to the very top of the dome. When we got to the top, though, an usher was pointing to a small peek-hole built into the floor.

My heart started racing as I leaned over and peeked through. I knew that there was a solid floor between me and the cathedral floor hundreds of feet below. But that didn’t really help. My head started spinning, and I felt queasy. My subconscious mind came to the conclusion that if I wasn’t careful, my body would squeeze through this four-inch hole and fall to my death.

It was a crazy thought. I quickly looked up and realized that I was still in the safety of the confined room. And I started to think more clearly. When I looked a second time, it was still scary, but not nearly as debilitating. Fear when you attempt something new is normal. If it’s NOT there, you’re likely to have a much bigger problem than if it IS there.

If You Still Feel Fear Over Time, You Might Need Help from a Coach.

To a lesser extent, though, we feel this fear constantly when we try something new even if the threat of bodily harm is not apparent. For instance, when I got my first smartphone, I accessed the App Store, However, I was really nervous about downloading that very first “Free App.” How could it be free? Maybe there is a catch, right?

I felt the same way years ago the first time I entered a credit card number on Amazon.com and bought a book. Nervousness is normal when we try something new. The more imminent the threat to our safety, the more nerve-racking the activity will be. For instance, my heart beat a lot faster the first time I went bungee jumping than it did the first time I bought a book on Amazon.

A good analogy for this fear is when you are walking down a lonely street in a big city. If you see a petite woman in a white lab coat walking toward you, you may not feel a lot of fear. However, if you see a teenager with tattoos and gang paraphernalia, you might start to experience a bit of anxiety. If you see four people dressed the same way, and two of them are carrying baseball bats, you will likely feel great fear. The more that you are threatened by an experience, the more fear you will feal during the experience.

Public speaking fear comes from an internal sense of a threat. The more that you see the speaking activity as a threat, the more fear you will feel. So, the key to lowering the threat is to lower the risk.

Lower the Risk, Lower the Threat, Lower the Fear

When the risk of harm is lowered, the fear will diminish pretty dramatically. When I was high above St. Paul’s Cathedral, and I took that second look, I had consciously reassured myself that it would be impossible for me to fall. So the second look was not nearly as shocking as the first look. The first time I drove on the expressway, I was a nervous wreck (no pun intended). But after years of success driving at fairly fast speeds, now when I drive on the expressway, it’s second nature.

I’ve had days where I parked at my office and said, “How did I get here?” The process was so second-nature to me, that I didn’t even have to think about it.

The skill of public speaking can happen in much the same way. Public speaking training with a good coach can ensure that you gain confidence in a step-by-step fashion. So as you get up in front of the next group, you have a pretty good shot at having a successful experience. Since the risk of failure is now lower, your fear will lower as well. The lower that your risk of failure becomes, the lower your fear will be as well.

When you work with a speaking coach, you are better prepared for that first speech. You’re also more likely to have a successful experience. The fear may still be there on your first go. But once you kill that first speech, you’ll feel more confident about what you’ve accomplished. So the next time that you stand up to speak, it should be much easier. And the next time, easier still.

Are You Growing as a Speaker?

The point is that every time that you speak, you should have a success. You should set yourself up for success. And every time that you have an additional success, your confidence should grow. If that is not happening for you, then something is interrupting this cycle. For instance, some public speaking coaches use constructive criticism as a coaching tool. Typically, the class member will deliver the speech, sit down, and receive a critique of his/her performance.

These teachers aren’t helping the class members deliver the initial speech better. Instead, the teacher waits for the participant to fail. Then, the teacher gives a critique that reinforces that failure. As a result, when the student stands up to deliver the next speech, the person has a higher risk of failing again. “I failed last time, so I’m likely to also fail this time… As soon as I sit down, I’m going to get another critique.”

A good public speaking coach will help a speaker deliver a better speech in the first place. Then, the teacher will coach the student again to build on each of these successes.

Public Speaking Coaches Should Be Supportive — Not Critical.

Think about how ridiculous it would be to use this critique method to teach a kid how to ride a bike. You’d have to let the four-year-old get on a new bike and pedal and fall. Then, once the kid is really frustrated the coach would critique her performance telling her all things she did wrong.

The fear would be high on the kid’s first attempt. However, the fear would be even higher the second time this new rider tried to get on the bike. A good coach will hold the seat for the child and then praise her performance once she has a small success. Once she has even a small success the risk of failure lowers. And although she’ll still be nervous, she’s now willing to attempt something more complicated. As the successes grow, the confidence will grow as well.

Get a good public speaking coach, and your confidence will grow. The Leader’s Institute® offers Fearless Presentations® Public Speaking Classes in cities all over the world. Click the link to access a class schedule or to request information.

author Doug Staneart
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