Public Speaking Fear


By Doug Staneart 

Public Speaking Fear? Where does stage fright come from, and how in the world do you get rid of it?  Most people who stand up in front of a group and feel the butterflies in the stomach, the sweaty palms, and the shaky hands think that they are the only ones who feel public speaking anxiety, but presentation fear is very common. Surveys show that over 95% of people asked admit to having, at least some, public speaking fear.  Over the last 20 years, I’ve helped over 20,000 overcome their presentation anxiety, though, and here are a few things that I’ve learned in the process that might help you too.

Where Public Speaking Fear Comes From 

Anytime you try something new, you will be nervous.  However, when we try public speaking for the first time — by definition, — we are always experimenting in front of a group.  Think about how nervous you were when you drove a car on the freeway for the first time.  Think about how much more traumatic that would have been if 25 of your peers had been watching every move you made during that first drive.  So the initial fear or anxiety that you felt the first time you spoke in front of a group was absolutely normal.  If you didn’t feel nervous, that would be strange.   Over time, if you have successes in your new skill, your confidence grows, but if you have what you perceive to be a failure — even if you did okay — your nervousness will grow.  This is why most people have this fear.  Continuing the learning to drive a car example, if you only drove once every year or two and every time that you did, you had all those peers watching you, it would be difficult to develop a track record of perceived successes. 

How to Eliminate Public Speaking Fear 

The best way to eliminate the nervousness is to have a series of successes.  That’s why Toastmasters and other speaking clubs work so well when people attend over a period of time.  When you speak and have a success, your confidence will grow slightly.  So if you string a series of successful presentations together, you’ll diminish the fear pretty dramatically.  The biggest problem with toasting clubs, though, is that it takes months or years to make progress, and most of the time, people who attend need help right now!   A good public speaking class can help dramatically here.  A public speaking class where you can get up and physically speak in front of the class six to 10 times in a short period of time like two to three days will work wonders if it is in a controlled environment. 

Once the Public Speaking Fear Diminishes, Experiment with More Challenging Presentations 

After you start to feel more comfortable, it’s important to try more challenging presentations.  In reality, you have to force yourself to become more nervous again.  The reason why is that as you get better at the more challenging types of presentations, the simpler presentations become really easy.  Going back to the car driving analogy, if you only ever drive in the parking lot, you’ll never grow as a driver.  However, when you begin to drive in a neighborhood, and then you go back to the parking lot, the parking lot is easier.  When you get on the freeway, going back to the neighborhood and driving is a lot more comfortable.  If you became a NASCAR driver and got good at the bumpin’ and rubbin’ at 170 MPH with just inches between each car, then you will have absolutely no fear when you drive around your neighborhood.  It’s the same with public speaking.  When you get really good at the complicated, the simpler presentations become second nature. 

So if you are feeling those butterflies and sweaty palms, realize that you’re normal.  Find a place where you can string a series of successful presentations together in order to begin to grow your self-confidence.  Then experiment with more challenging presentations over time to continue to grow.  You’ll eliminate your public speaking fear in no time.

Doug Staneart is a public speaking coach based in Dallas, Texas.  He teaches a public speaking crash-course called the Leader’s Institute® Boot Camp where he helps participants eliminate their public speaking fear in as little as three days.  Request information about the Boot Camp at and, he’ll send you a free copy of his best-selling book, Fearless Presentations.

Author: , Date Published: 08/06/10

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