Where Does Public Speaking Fear Come 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? The reason why we tend to remember situations like riding a bike or driving a car for the first time is because in those situations, we felt an imminent threat to our safety. But to a lesser extent, we feel this nervousness constantly when we try something new. For instance, when I got my first Smart Phone, and I went to the App Store, I was really nervous about downloading that very first “Free App” because I was scared to death that I’d end up with a recurring charge on my phone bill that I’d never be able to get rid of. I felt the same way the first time I entered a credit card number into a website form. 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 when the first time I went bungee jumping than it did the first time than when I bought a book on Amazon.
Public Speaking Fear is NORMAL (and Part of the Growth Process)
Public speaking is a skill just like any other in that the first time you do it, you will feel nervous. The threat of “failure” is fairly imminent because we are often speaking in front of our peers, and the esteem from these peers is very important to us. If we do well, our confidence grows. If we have a challenge, our stage fright will grow. Often, this fear is created in school as we grow up. I’ve had hundreds of people attend my public speaking class and tell me that they’ve ALWAYS had this nervousness. They’ve told me of that time in 1st grade when they had the singing recital solo and their voice cracked, or when they were standing in front of class doing the math problem and choked, or that time they had to give the book report and they sped right through the entire presentation at 100 MPH. Because of these early situations, when we stand up in front of our business peers and speak, even if we do okay or fairly well, we’ll often consider it to be a failure. The more this happens, the more nervous we will be in future speeches. Many times we might be performing well in our business speech, but if we just THINK that we did poorly, the anxiety will show up as well.
If Your Stage Fright Doesn’t Reduce Over Time… Change What You are Doing!
The nervousness is normal when you begin to speak, but if it remains over time (or gets worse), you’re not growing. Try changing what you are doing. For instance, if you’ve been driving for years, and you’re still terrified to drive on the freeway, the process that you have gone through to grow confidence has been interrupted. “Wait, that’s absurd! No one can drive for 15 years and not gain confidence. Over time driving becomes second-nature.” Well, only if that new driver continues to practice and grow. If he/she avoids driving and only drives once, maybe twice a year, that fear may remain and even grow more intense over time. The same thing happens with speakers. Instead of practicing, we often avoid opportunities. In other cases, we use crutches to make us feel more comfortable.
The way that most people prepare for a speech actually adds to nervousness versus reducing it. Here are a few of the common things that people do to try to reduce stage fright but that actually CAUSES FEAR.
- Starting with the PowerPoint slideshow: PowerPoint slides are visual aids for the audience — not cheat notes to remember what you’re going to say next. When a presenter starts by creating the PowerPoint deck, he/she will likely create a speak-click-speak-click-speak-click presentation that will be pretty boring. Once it starts to go poorly, the nervousness will increase even more. In Fearless Presentations®, we help participants prepare what they want to say first, and then help them design visual aids that made delivering the presentation much easier.
- Trying to Memorize a Speech: When a presenter tries to memorize a speech word-for-word and rehearse timings, a number of things can occur that actually cause the nervousness to increase. Things like, forgetting part of the speech, speaking to fast and running short of material or speaking to slow and running out of time, and not to mention the time and effort that trying to memorize a speech takes. Frustration will often set in, and the confidence of the presenter can be harmed. In Fearless Presentations®, we show presenters a very simple step-by-step process to design a speech where the presenter can adjust the timing at will if the requested length of the speech changes at the last minute.
- Over Rehearsing: We suggest that a presenter rehearse a “well designed” speech once, maybe twice, and then deliver the presentation. Over-Rehearsing can cause a present to slip into the Memorizing the Speech pitfall.
- Relying on Notes: Presenters often fill more comfortable initially if they have the crutch of prepared notes in front of them. However, public speaking is a communication between the speaker and the audience, so when the speaker’s attention is constantly being diverted to the notes in front of him/her, that connection, the rapport, is broken. It just makes the speaker more nervous.
- Listening to Well Intentioned Co-Workers or Friends: When we feel uncomfortable, we might turn to a friend or coworker for coaching. The challenge with this is that most people are very quick to pick up on mistakes, but not so quick to pick up on successes. Remember how above we talked about how success lead to confidence and failures lead to nervousness? Well, our friends and coworkers will often tell us all of our mistakes so that we can correct them. So we end our coaching session with a series of perceived failures. When we stand up to speak, if we catch ourselves doing some of these things, we often panic. A trained public speaking coach helps the presenter do a good job the first time and then builds on successes. This technique works much faster (and more comfortably) than the “wait until someone fails and then tell them about it” technique.
The Fearless Presentations® Public Speaking Class Eliminates Public Speaking Fear
So, some public speaking fear comes from (1) childhood memories, some comes from (2) past challenges speaking in the business-world, and some comes from (3) faulty preparation. Fearless Presentations® helps each presenter have a series of public speaking successes by changing the way that we PREPARE for a presentation. Our step-by-step process makes writing and delivering presentations much easier. Once you have a series of success after success after success with zero failures in between, the anxiety fades away… just like it faded after a few successes driving your car.